About Two Owls

Monday 24 February 2014

Catching Up on Events

Sunday 23rd February 2014
Only a small group today exploring the New Forest and targeting a few species that can be hard to find at times.  We started at Acres Down but the weather wasn't the best windy and moist, though there was the promise that it would improve later in the day. After exploring the area we came away with just one of our target birds Common Crossbill but we still had another location to find one of the others which was Brambling.  A little later we were walking through Mark Ash Wood and found a very large finch flock feeding in the leaf litter under the beach trees, obviously searching for beech mast seeds.  We scoured the flock but couldn't see a Brambling at all.  But like all finch flocks when they are feeding every so often they will all fly up into the trees or hedgerow for a short while before returning back to the ground to continue feeding.  When this happened I saw several white rumps disappear into the trees with all the Chaffinch.  So I knew it was just a case of waiting for them to come back down to ground to get a view.  Shortly after we were watching at least half a dozen of these superb northern finches feeding.
Brambling Mark Ash Wood © Nick Hull
We lunched at Bolderwood where had some nice views of Song Thrush and Goldcrest all feeding together on the ground, with more Goldcrest and Siskins in the the trees overhead.  After lunch we headed off to Fritham just to see the very gaudy Mandarin Duck and for Marsh Tit though we had already been lucky seeing them earlier at Acres Down, a good job we did as none showed themselves whilst we were there but plenty of Mandarins.  It was then on to Blashford to finish our day, the woodland hide gave us the usual variety of woodland birds.  It did seem that the number of Lesser Redpoll were less than usual  however a few really nice colourful males came onto the feeders.

Male Lesser Redpoll © Nick Hull
This one was also sporting a ring on his right leg.  We moved to the Ivy North Hide in the hope of another of our target species and we were in luck soon after entering the hide we were watching a Bittern.  It was from the reeds into the wood and with the use of my scope Jess managed a pretty good shot with her iphone as it passed across the opening between trees.

Bittern Blashford Lakes © Jess Evans
Viewing from the Tern hide added Continental Cormorant with one or two on the sinensis race showing their very white headdress and white flank patches.  Goldeneye, Pintail, "whinning" Little Grebes, Mediterranean, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed Gulls were just a few of the birds seen from this hide, which brought the day to an end.

Saturday 22nd February
Jackie and I had a fairly early start and headed down to Cogden Beach, part of the Chesil bank, over the last week there has been a good number of Little Gulls as well as the odd sighting of Glaucous Gull from the area.  Indeed when we arrived it was soon obvious that there were a good number of Little Gulls hawking over a cultivated field to the right of the car park, so off we headed to get a little closer views.  Once down on the beach we saw local photographer Pete Coe already set up and we joined him watching the the birds moving to and from the sea and feeding over the field.

So thanks to Jess who had loaned we her camera for our Norway trip I though I would put it to use again and see if I could get some reasonable shots as the birds passed close by.

Little Gulls - Cogden Beach, Chesil © Nick Hull
We also had a few Kittiwakes feeding over the field and at times they also would fly by very close. The bird below came within a few metres and I managed a reasonable shot as it passed. 

Kittiwake Cogden Beach © Nick Hull
On inspecting the photograph I noticed it seemed to have something hanging from it's gape but in the camera viewer we thought it was dried piece of grass.  But later at home when I blew up the shot it appears it maybe some sort of fishing line.  Though the bird was feeding well and looked healthy you can't but wonder how it's long term health will be affected.

Kittiwake © Nick Hull

Wednesday 19th February
We took our group out on the RSPB BirdBoat around Poole Harbour, there is a boat every month through the winter and they are an excellent way to see the harbour's birds.  We started before leaving the quay with two Little Gulls and a couple of Kittiwakes flying backwards and forwards between the quay and Baiter.  

On casting off we headed along the north channel to Parkstone Bay where we had sightings of some very nice summer plumaged Shags looking very smart in their green plumages and crests stood high on their heads.  We recorded our first divers here, a Great Northern and then a Black-throated both gave reasonable views though distant.  We cruised on and edged along the Brownsea Lagoon where we found a good assortment with Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Shoveler, Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin and much more.  Two Raven flew in before we left and landed on the lagoon wall showing themselves off before flying on up into the trees on the island.  Leaving the lagoon we crossed Brand's Bay, here we saw two more Great Northern Divers and another Black-throated and we came across our first Red-breasted Mergansers, Goldeneye and Black-necked Grebes.  
Great Northern Diver © Nick Hull
Passing behind Green Island heading towards Ower Quay a scoter flew in and landed on the water out in front of the boat.  As we approached it became obvious that it was the immature Surf Scoter that has been wintering in the harbour.  We crossed the central harbour and across to Arne and sailed up the Wytch Channel to Round Island jetty and we found another Black-throated Diver and two more Great Northern.  On the Arne spit we counted twenty four Spoonbill, along with a few Little Egrets and the resident Common Seal popped up to see who was around.  Then it was back across the harbour to the quay and we finished with a Black-throated Diver by the Fisherman's Dock presumable the one we had seen earlier off baiter.

Sunday 16th February
A walk at Hengistbury Head, on what was a very nice sunny morning, produced little but we did have some quality out on the groynes, we found Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtails and the House Sparrows were enjoying the sun lazing on the roofs of the Beach Huts.  The beach was strewn with debris from the storm the previous two days.  Mick was the first to find a small group of waders huddled together on one of the groynes on closer inspection they turned out to be three Purple Sandpipers and a single Dunlin.  Whilst watching these I had a conversation with another birder who gave us some fresh information that the Iceland Gull was still around and was last seen off the Double Dyke, so that's where we headed off to next.

A walk around the Head gave us many sightings of the usual gull species Herring, Black-headed, Common, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls but no Iceland.  A movement on the cliff and a Stonechat was found but the Black Redstart that also had been seen earlier wasn't to be found.  Walking further and stopping I decided to scope the sea further on towards Southbourne and I picked up the target, a coffee coloured white winged gull with a black bill, a first winter Iceland Gull so every one had good views of this scarce winter visitor.

Our walk back added Dartford Warbler and many more views of the more common species. We also had a look at the Heronry which is now starting to get busy with nest building.

Tuesday 18 February 2014


A three day birding break in the Brecklands of East Anglia, an excellent birdwatching area.  We will visit the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath where breeding birds include Common Crane, the very elusive Golden Oriole wonderful to hear echoing through the poplar woods.  Also Grasshopper Warbler, Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Hobby, and Red-footed Falcon turns up regularly at this time.  

We will also explore the nearby heathland areas for Stone Curlew, Woodlark, Wheatear and visit Lynford Arboretum for Firecrest and Hawfinch.  Our final morning will be visiting the Hawk and Owl Trust reserve at Sculthorpe Moor Nature reserve for Willow and Marsh Tit.  

Staying at the Greenbanks Country Hotel, rooms are en-suite on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. 
Cost £256 double/twin per person and single supplement £28.
For full details please contact us on email twoowls.birding@btinternet.com or ring 01202 620049.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Arctic Norway

Well, Jackie and I have been off sailing around Arctic Norway, our main objective was to see the Aurora Borealis more commonly known as the Northern Lights.  Though as keen birders we obviously kept our eyes peeled for any of the arctic bird species that can be found in the Fjords and harbours we visited.
Flying over Arctic Norway to Tromsø
We flew from Bournemouth to Tromsø Norway which is the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle and has the largest number of wooden houses in Northern Norway the oldest being built in 1789. It's probably better known for the location of where the German Battleship Tirpitz was sank during WW2 and for its Arctic Cathedral built in 1965, and of course famous for the main starting point of many of Roald Amundsen's many arctic expedition. 
Our Ship Hurtigruten's MS Midnatsol
After collecting our baggage at the airport we were transported by coach to ship the Hurtigruten’s MS Midnatsol but as we weren’t due to sail for an hour or so we had time to have a walk around the harbour area of the city.  We found the Arctic Museum and stepped back in history of the city and it’s hunting past of hunting Polar Bear, Seals and Whaling, Fishing and Amundsen’s arctic expeditions before going aboard and settling in to our cabin.  Not long after we were having our evening meal and the ship left port to head north towards Skjervøy where we would stop for around fifteen minutes at 22.30hrs.   
The great Norwegian explorer
At around 20.35hrs a call came over the ships tannoy that an aurora had just started so we were out on deck as quickly as possible, for what Jackie and I thought was a pretty good light show which lasted around an hour or so.  Pretty happy with what we had seen we went to the cafe to warmup and had a coffee to celebrate then to bed.
Our first Aurora Borealis sighting
Our first whole day on board we had breakfast around eight and was on deck for when we entered Havøysund and watch the sun rise over the Fjord. Here we saw our first sea duck when a flight of Common Scoter flew past the ship, then scanning from the deck we found several rafts of Common Eider, Kittiwakes, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Common and a few Black-headed Gulls.
Sunrise over Havøysund
Our next stop was Honningsvåg where we arrived at 11.15hrs and viewing from the panorama lounge I spotted our first Eagle, an obvious White-tailed Eagle, off to our left then another came into view and they drifted off and disappeared behind a snow clad mountain. As we were coming alongside the dock I spotted another being mobbed by Hooded Crows and one or two Raven so hastily I grabbed the camera and fired off a few memory shots.  Here we were able to leave the ship for a couple of hours, so we decided to explore the harbour area to see what we might see.  

Our first sighting was of a group of eider but this time not Commons but King Eider, unfortunately they were too far away to get a good photograph. Though further around the fjord towards the open sea we came across a larger flock this time mixed between Common and King. We also recorded Cormorant and Raven, House Sparrow, Great Tit, and just by a jetty when I tried to get closer to the Eider raft up popped a Black Guillemot.  We saw a few small groups of Common and King Eider fly in off the sea and head into the fjord.

We sailed on visiting Kjøllefjord, and Berlevåg.  It was after leaving Berlevåg that we were treated to a fantastic display with a aurora that lit the sky, that varied in shape whirling around arcing right over the ship.  Unfortunately no photograph could capture all of the sky so I tried to photograph a series of the different shapes that were being formed in a sky that was continually changing.

We were now in the area where the best birding and where the chance of sightings of Orca was possible but unfortunately we were passing through in the dark.  Our next brief stop was Båtsfjord and then on to Vardø then Vadsø. As we entered Vadsø the sky was just beginning to lighten and by the time we docked at Kirkenes the sun was up.

It was here that Jackie and I had booked a dog sled excursion and a visit to the Snow Hotel.  When we arrived the Alaskan Huskies were already waiting and keen to get going.  We were introduced to our Musher who just happened to be a birder as well.  The photo below was taken when we were allowing the dogs to cool down, it was a warm day -2 degrees and they were over heating which wasn’t surprising as they set quite a fast pace.  Our Musher said that if he didn’t stop them and take a break the dogs would just run themselves into the ground until they died from exhaustion.  

Jackie at the entrance to the Snow Hotel
This is Jackie at the entrance of the Snow Hotel we agreed that we wouldn’t like to stay in one of the room as the temperature inside was -5 degrees five degrees colder than outside.  After a snack of Reindeer sausage and a hot mixed berry drink in the cafe we went and had a look in the Reindeer enclosure where we saw a rare white individual.  We also checked out the hotel’s bird feeding station as they had been having Siberian Tit coming in to visit but I think there was to many tourists walking around.  Jackie and I then had a try at using the local shopping sled which I have to say we probably needed more practice in handling it but it was great fun particularly when going downhill.

Jackie with the shopping Sled
As with all good things our visit here was soon over and we were back to the Midnatsol and heading off out through the fjord on our way to Vardø where would get a chance to go ashore for a short while.  As we left it quickly became apparent that there were lots of Long-tailed Ducks dotted around in small groups and we had some great views of this delightful arctic diving duck.

Kirkenes Fjord where we saw many Long-tailed Ducks
We docked at Vardø in the dark of the late afternoon and we had time to have a quick look around the port and noted that there had been a few changes since we had stayed here back in 2003. The entrance of the hotel we stayed in now had some birding graffiti at the restaurant  entrance.

The Vardø Hotel-good place to stay if your a birder
All to soon we were back on the sea heading for Båtsfjord, then Berlevåg, Kjøllefjord, Honningsvåg and Havøysund before mooring up the next  morning at Hammerfest.  Here Jackie and I checked out the birds in the harbour then headed to the shops for a few presents for family and friends at home. Before checking out the birdlife in the harbour again. We found Common and King Eider, Long-tailed Ducks, Black Guillemots and a mix of gulls with what turned out to be an adult Iceland Gull among them.
Tromsø Bridge & Cathedral view from the Panorama Cafe
We arrived back at Tromsø at 23:45hrs staying the night at the Radisson Blu Hotel for the night.  We were up early next morning on to a coach to go to the Panorama Cafe. on the way we were shown and told about various aspects of the city and it’s history.  Such as the area where the German Battleship Tirpitz was sank during WW2.  We went up the Panorama Cafe in the cable car, we were at 421m overlooking Tromsø and this gave a fantastic view over the city.  In the photograph below you can see the bridge that links the mainland to the Island of Tromsøya, also in the bottom right the Tromsø Cathedral’s triangular shape stands out white against the multi-colours of the houses.

Night-time shot of the bridge crossing the fjord to the mainland and the Tromsø Cathedral