Napoleon’s nephew

This is yet another post that has dragged on and on; I’ve either been too busy to complete it, or every time I’ve been close to completion, something else has happened, causing me to delay publication; hopefully it was worth waiting for….

When I opened the curtains first thing on the morning of April 26th, I found two Red-legged Partridge strutting about the garden. Living in the country, we’ve had pheasants on numerous occasions, but I can’t ever recall ever having Red-legged Partridge before, so a garden first. Our cats were curious to start with, but as with pheasants, they soon ignored them.

Red-legged Partridge – Charter Alley, 26th April 2015

Red-legged Partridge – Charter Alley, 26th April 2015

Whilst on the subject of birds in the garden, I’d like to introduce a new entry level children’s bird book ’Birds in Our Back Garden’ by Annette Meredith, and featuring many images by yours truly! Annette is a passionate conservationist and produces nature books specifically aimed at the younger reader, so when she contacted me and asked if she could use some of my images, I was naturally only too pleased to oblige, especially as she has offered all the (small) profits from the book to the RSPB….strangely, they haven’t taken her up on her offer yet, as it seems to be a long process getting RSPB approval, but the wheels are at least in motion.

I am not making a penny from it I hasten to add. 

Great cover shot don’t you think……….

“Birds in Our Back Garden” is a great introduction to the fascinating world of common British birds. Too many bird books overwhelm the reader with the sheer number of birds, most of which are never seen; this book focuses on the birds that children are most likely to see when they step out of their back door. Packed with information and stunning, original photographs, the book first talks about birds in general, looks at lessons from history and explains why many species are threatened. The book then focuses on the most widely distributed garden birds in the UK, concentrating on common visitors to feeders, as well as looking at ways we can help many different birds to flourish. The last part of the book explains how the seasons affect the birds and ends with tips on things children can do to attract more birds to their gardens. Word definitions and fun facts are scattered throughout in separate text boxes to provide additional, interesting information. Children will love the checklist challenge at the end of the book that allows them to tick a box when they spot a bird. Each of the birds is illustrated with photos, so the book can also be used as a guide and resource for identifying common birds. The emphasis on the environment and conservation is intended to engage children and encourage them to think about topics such as the food chain, the ecosystem and protection of wildlife habitat. The book is part of the “Nature on our Doorstep” series, designed to inspire children to learn more about the world around us.

The book has so far received a five star rating in all its reviews; here is the first:

I can’t wait to share this wonderful book with my two young nephews, aged 9 and 7. The book is so much more than yet another ‘bird identification’ manual. It is packed full of useful and informative detail, which along with a strong conservation message and enhanced by stunning photography, makes it must read for children and adults alike.
I particularly like the way children are encouraged to spot, identify, record, draw and photograph birds found in their own back garden. This book makes a positive contribution towards encouraging the next generation to understand the importance of preserving these beautiful creatures that we all too often take for granted.

It’s so important I think, to try and encourage today’s children to become interested in the natural world, especially as there are so many other distractions nowadays. If you have young children, or grandchildren ‘Birds in Our Back Garden’ is a great introduction, and may inspire a life-long interest, just as the Ladybird series of books once did for me.

At present, the book is only available on Amazon (I think).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=sr_nr_n_2?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A266239%2Cn%3A69%2Ck%3Abirds+in+our+back+garden&keywords=birds+in+our+back+garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1427985440&rnid=1025612

On to other news…

I spent a couple of hours looking for spring migrants on the downs on the evening of Wednesday 29th, but they were sadly in short supply; non-existent in fact. As I walked back to the car, I found myself in company with a Red Kite, which seemed very curious about my presence. It made several close fly-pasts and naturally I was ready with my camera……..

Red Kite – Kingsclere, 29th April 2015

After a while, it realised that I wasn’t interesting at all and flew off. Good while it lasted though.

This image is the best I’ve ever taken of Lesser Whitethroat…. ‘But it’s rubbish!’ I’m sure you’re saying, and indeed it is, but as it’s my first and only ever shot of this species, it’s naturally my best, and I was thrilled to get it! It was found during a pleasant walk around Hartley Wespall on 4th May, where I also picked up my first sighting of Cuckoo so far this spring.

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) – Hartley Wespall, 4th May 2015

Some better shots followed when I found this gorgeous Tree Pipit foraging on the ground near Silchester. For once, a confiding bird that came within decent range for the camera; another year tick as well!

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) – Silchester, 4th May 2015

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) – Silchester, 4th May 2015

Some out-of-borough news – a British and Hampshire life tick….

On May 3rd, dedicated patch-water Andy Collins, found a first-summer (2cy) Bonaparte’s Gull at Weston Shore in Southampton. Other commitments meant that I couldn’t get there over the Bank Holiday weekend, but luckily the bird remained in the area and during the week became reasonably reliable along the Itchen at Riverside Park in Southampton. I made the trip down on Thursday 7th – polling day, and this bird certainly gets my vote! Several birders were already present when I arrived and I picked up the bird straight away – just the sort of easy twitch I like!

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) – Riverside Park, Southampton, 7th May 2015

Bonaparte’s Gull is found in North America, breeding from western Alaska to British Columbia, and east to Quebec. It winters further south, as far as northern Mexico on the Pacific and Atlantic coast including the Caribbean. It can also be found wintering inland from Lake Erie to the valley of the Mississippi. They are rare vagrants to Europe.

Bonaparte’s forage in flight or pick up objects while swimming or wading. They eat insects, crustaceans and fish and unlike other gulls, they rarely scavenge. They are graceful in flight, more like a tern.

Bonaparte’s gull was named after Prince Charles-Lucien Bonaparte, a French zoologist and nephew of Napoleon. He was the father of American descriptive ornithology, and was co-author of the monumental American Ornithology, written 1808-1813.

A cracking bird and yet another enjoyable Hampshire twitch; my second of the year – what will turn up next!

And finally, and to bring me completely up to date, a few images from the weekend…

Garden Warbler – Silchester, 9th May 2015

Reed Warbler – Vyne watermeadows, 9th May 2015

Reed Warbler – Vyne watermeadows, 9th May 2015

Greylag Geese – Ewhurst Park, 9th May 2015

Thanks for reading.

Barry

Mrs S to the Rescue!

A common shore bird, but on the other hand a scarce borough bird, turned up in the most unlikely circumstances on Wednesday 15th April; here’s the story.

I had just finished my lunch and was back at work when my ‘phone rang with an excited voice on the other end of the line. “There’s a small, very tame wader on the boating lake at Eastrop Park, could be a phalarope, any chance you could take a look?” The time was 13:30. With Eastrop being so close to the office, of course I couldn’t resist, so I extended my lunch by a further half hour, and within ten minutes was entering the park. It was a warm day, very warm in fact, and being that schools were still in their Easter holidays, the park was packed with parents and children. As I walked down the steps towards the main boating lake, I said to myself “There can’t be any waders here!” Kids were in boats, playing with balls, chasing each other about and generally having a good time. There were picnics and barbeques going on, and people milling about with ice-creams; in short, it was like a holiday resort and the last place on earth you’d expect to find any wading birds, or any birds for that matter, indeed, even most of the resident mallards had disappeared!

I walked the perimeter of the main lake and saw absolutely nothing and was about to give up. Dave had said the boating lake, but there is of course the ‘model’ boating lake as well, so I decided to try there in the little time I had remaining. At first nothing, but half way round, a small greyish bird flew along the bank with a child pursuing it – not a phalarope unfortunately, but a cracking Dunlin – still a local scarcity!

I literally walked right up to it, just like a phalarope in fact, and stood about two feet away – it was gorgeous.

I have to admit that I’m guessing a bit, but think it was an adult moulting into breeding plumage rather than a first-summer bird, but I’m not sure. I’m not confident about the race either, but the most likely is Calidris alpina schinzii, which breeds in the northern part of the UK, especially Caithness and Sutherland, the Orkneys, Shetlands, Grampians and Outer Hebrides, as well as Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and the Baltics; the more I read about the various races and plumage variations the more confused I become, so please let me know if I’m wrong!!

Now for the bad news – coming from work, I didn’t have my camera! I tried some shots with my ‘phone, but the images were useless, even from a few feet away, but nothing could be done…..

As I walked back to the office, I was deep in thought about how to get some images…Then it came to me – Mrs S was at home today so she could drop my camera off! The necessary call was made, and it was Mrs S to the rescue! I left work early, hoping the Dunlin would still be present; It was! I still didn’t have long, even then, as I was due to meet and go birding with County Recorder, Keith Betton at 5pm.

Over the next half hour, I rattled off literally hundreds of shots……..here are just a few…. 

Dunlin (Calandris alpina) – Eastrop Park, Basingstoke, 15th April 2015 (all images)

An absolutely stunning bird – many thanks for the call Dave.

Although this ‘bonus blog’ is dedicated to just one bird, probably the most significant bird that day came later in the evening. As mentioned, I was out birding on the downs with Keith Betton, when Keith noticed a distant bird on the ground in the middle of a field of crops. Through binoculars, it was impossible to identify and there was some debate, so Keith set up his ‘scope and with 70x magnification instead of ten, we could clearly see that it was in fact a female Merlin – my first ever borough Merlin! We watched the Merlin devouring something for the next ten minutes before it flew off. This rounded off a superb day……there was nothing for it but to retire to the pub!

The borough year list is starting to look quite interesting; with the recent addition of Merlin, Dunlin, Black Redstart and Ring Ouzel, non of which were seen last year during the sponsored birdwatch, I’m up to 107, which is higher than at the same time last year!

Barry Stalker

 

Sheer Elation!

This is one of those posts that I’ve started several times. I anticipated publishing it about a week ago but events over Easter delayed its publication. For once, I have a decent number of usable images, and again, Easter events have decided on the final selection, with some ‘less interesting’ images being removed and filed away for another day; I was spoilt for choice!

For the last three years’ I’ve managed to find a pair of Firecrest at the same location within the borough. It wasn’t completely straightforward this year as it took two trips to find a pair, but I now consider this to be a reliable site for the UK’s smallest bird (with Goldcrest). In previous years they’ve remained high in the trees, but this time they were low enough for some not great, but usable images. It was a pretty gloomy day and little daylight penetrates into the dark woodland, but I think I could have probably done better with a change of camera settings; next time perhaps.

Firecrest (female) – Basingstoke and Deane, 15th March 2015

Firecrest (male) – Basingstoke and Deane, 15th March 2015

Firecrest (male) – Basingstoke and Deane, 15th March 2015

Firecrest (female) – Basingstoke and Deane, 15th March 2015

At the same site I captured this Dunnock; a much underrated bird I think.

Dunnock – Basingstoke and Deane, 15th March 2015

Monday 30th March was a frustrating day. I received a surprise call informing me that a Great Grey Shrike was on the downs! Work commitments meant I couldn’t get there immediately, and then the bird disappeared and wasn’t seen for the next couple of days; that was that I thought. I then received a text on Thursday 2nd – the shrike was back and showing well! Immediately after work I dashed home, changed clothes, grabbed the camera and was at the site before 5pm.

Great Grey shrike have become near annual visitors to the borough in recent years, but I thought we were going to miss out this winter as the closest sighting to the borough was the well-watched Bransbury Common bird, just over the border in Test Valley District. However, here was one (possibly the Bransbury bird) well within the district boundary on private land, and as the owner expressly requested that I did not make the location known, this bird had absolutely no pressure on it at all and I had it completely to myself! The estate owner was thrilled with the images I was able to provide, and actually, so was I……

Great Grey Shrike – North Wessex Downs, 2nd April 2015 (all shrike images)

This splendid bird remained completely relaxed, often preening, and moved less than a hundred yards during the hour or so I watched it. It regularly returned to the same favoured perch; great for setting up the camera! 

Occasionally it would drop to the ground and was lost from view in the long grass, and every time it did, I edged a little closer. From a personal point of view, the following images of this stunning bird are amongst the most satisfying bird photographs that I’ve ever taken.

An absolutely gorgeous and very confiding bird; it was a privilege to spend time with it. I reluctantly left the site around 6pm but was wearing a broad grin as I drove home. 

As you can imagine, I was keen to get home and view the shrike images, but my broad grin grew even wider when I saw this Barn Owl in broad daylight (18:30) just outside Ramsdell; my first on the patch this year.

It was certainly a day to remember. The shrike remained in the area for a couple more days and was last seen on Easter Sunday.

Barn Owl – Ramsdell, 3rd April 2015 (there’s always a twig in the way!)

Read on, as the weekend got even better!

I had just phoned Mrs S on Saturday (4th), to say that I was going to Ewhurst and would be home shortly, but as I was walking along the lane towards the entrance, my phone ‘pinged’ and it was a text from local birder Peter Hutchins, informing me that he had found a Black Redstart in Whitchurch; the time was 12:35. Another quick call to Mrs S to delay lunch (why does she put up with me?) and I was outside the property by 13:00. I haven’t spoken to Peter but guess that he found it whilst working, as it would be a pretty unusual place to go birding – as a postman I guess he has an excuse! I always feel uneasy twitching on housing estates; a woman doing her garden was already eyeing me with suspicion and I decided that I wasn’t going to hang about long if the bird didn’t show quickly. I needn’t have worried, because at 13:10 a small, dark, Robin shaped bird appeared on the corner of the roof, flicking its tail – it was of course the target bird, a female, and only my second ever Black Redstart in the borough (first in April 2010, also female). Light conditions were very poor that day, and photography is never ideal with a grey sky as the background, but I stuck my lens out of the car window and started to snap away. It was then that I noticed the lady of the house looking at me curiously out of her front window! I had visions of the police arriving, with the conversation going something like “Name sir?” “Err yes, it’s erm Stalker” – need I say more, a stalker wearing a pair of binoculars and carrying a camera with a telephoto lens – I would probably still be in the cells now! There was nothing for it, I had to go and explain myself. It was presumably the woman’s husband who opened the front door, and he couldn’t have been more pleasant; he was thrilled to have the redstart on his roof and even took me into the back garden to show me his collection of bird feeders! Anyway, I left shortly after, very happy, with borough year tick 100 added to my notebook. Thank you Peter!

As expected, the images were poor. 

Black Redstart – Whitchurch, 4th April 2015

Little Owl has been difficult this year. I have two ‘nailed-on’ sites for our smallest owl, which haven’t let me down in years, but it appeared that both sites had been abandoned. I started to look further afield, but still without success. Then, on Sunday 5th, I was driving past one of these two usual locations and ……well, see for yourself. 

Little Owl – Baughurst, 5th April 2015

I couldn’t really leave out what are probably my best ever Red Kite images, taken whilst looking for Ring Ouzel on my first trip of the year to Beacon Hill, Highclere on Monday 6th – no Ring Ouzel, on this occasion……read on!

Red Kite – Beacon Hill, Highclere, April 6th 2015

Red Kite – Beacon Hill, Highclere, April 6th 2015

Last year I made the ascent of Beacon Hill six times, and every time returned empty handed, before finally giving up. On my second visit this year, I reached the hill fort perimeter footpath and immediately saw local birder Doug Kelson walking towards me. “Any luck?” I asked – Doug soon gave me the response I was hoping for – there were two Ring Ouzel on the north/east slope! Doug kindly showed me where he had seen them, but initially they weren’t showing. We scanned the hill again and sure enough we could see two males…….followed by another male…. and a slightly more distant bird, which as far as I could tell through binoculars was probably a female. Four Ring Ouzels!…………..Sheer elation!

I stayed on the hill for about an hour but the birds always remained distant and elusive. Eventually one came a bit closer and I was able to grab a record shot.

Ring Ouzel (male) – Beacon Hill, Highclere, 8th April 2015

That’s Beacon Hill done for another year!

Sponsored Birdwatch 2014 Update 

All the sponsorship money from last year’s Sponsored Birdwatch is now in, with a grand total, including Gift Aid, of £723.13 being collected on behalf of Cancer Research UK. A massive thank you to everyone who sponsored me. In no particular order, here’s the roll of honour……

Kim Chapman, Lucy Geary, Nick Hagyard, Hayley Stalker, Matt Evans, Jim Meikle, Duncan Mackay, John Clark, Alan Cripps, Keith Betton, Yvonne Fenton, John Fenton, Rita Wentzell and Terry Williams. 

That’s about it I think, but I’ll leave you with some random images from the last few weeks.

Thanks for reading

Barry stalker

Pintail – Ewhurst Park, 15th March 2015

Wheatear – Silchester, 21st March 2015

Peregrine – Basingstoke and Deane, 21st March 2015

Marsh Tit – Ewhurst Park, 21st March 2015

 

 

Surf’s Up!

I know, I know, it’s been an age since my last post and I don’t really have any excuses as I’ve been birding just as much as ever, perhaps even more!

My borough year list currently stands at 92, (2nd March) which is identical as the same date a year ago! It’s encouraging, but a bit of a false position I’m inclined to think, as last year I already had the likes of Great White Egret and Great Grey Shrike under my belt, whereas thus far, this year’s all been a bit predictable, apart from Pintail and Goosander I suppose. When I get some time I’ll enter my year list on Going Birding. Speaking of Going Birding, for those who don’t know, I’ve taken over the day-to-day running of the site for Hampshire. It’s not particularly demanding but it’s proving to be very interesting and I’m really quite enjoying it. 

Remember the trouble I had finding Common Gull last year? Not so this year! My first was at Little London on 11th January, in horse paddocks with black-headed Gulls and a further nine were seen on 21st January during a WeBS count on the Stratfield Saye Estate. Which species will prove to be problematic this year?

Common Gull – Little London, 11th January 2015

So, what to write about the local birding during February? I guess I’ll just have to talk about anything I have some usable images for, and herein lies the problem! A fairly successful day I suppose was 8th February; a WeBS day. Having already picked up Jack Snipe at The Vyne first thing, I headed over to Overton for three of my (now) six regular WeBs counts. On the outskirts of the town I stopped to witness an aerial battle between a Red Kite and a Short-eared Owl, which I had seen distantly from the car. The kite, which had badly damaged primaries on one wing, seemed content to share its air-space, but the owl certainly wasn’t and attacked the kite at every opportunity. I watched for sometime before they drifted west and out of sight.

Red Kite & Short-eared Owl - Overton, 8th February 2015 (10am)

Red Kite & Short-eared Owl – Overton, 8th February 2015 (10 am)

During the WeBs at a private site, I managed a couple of other reasonable shots… this Grey Wagtail came close enough to have its portrait taken and I was particularly pleased to capture a singing Treecreeper.

Grey Wagtail – Overton, 8th February 2015

Treecreeper – Overton, 8th February 2015

To round off a fairly decent day behind the lens, I stopped off at Ashley Warren, where this juvenile Red Kite was most accommodating.

Red Kite – Ashley Warren, 8th February 2015

News broke on Wednesday 25th February which prompted my first out-of- borough twitch of the year. An adult drake Surf Scoter had been found in Stokes Bay near Gosport; this would be a Hampshire tick for me. As seems to be the norm with Hampshire rarities, they are found during the working week, making it difficult for me to visit before the weekend – regular readers will know that this has cost me in the past! The weather worsened over Wednesday night making conditions less than ideal for sea watching, but the bird remained and was reported throughout the day on Thursday. Temptation started to take hold, especially as the weather forecast was for fine, settled weather on Friday. Decision made – I would head down to the coast on Friday afternoon, that way it wouldn’t interfere with my local birding over the weekend, plus there would be fewer grockles along the beach, even though technically I’d be one myself!

It was a nail biting Friday morning, as our celebrity was reported early in the day but not for the rest of the morning. Then, just as I was about to leave Basingstoke, a twitter alert arrived bearing the news I was dreading – apparently the bird had flown towards the IOW and had been lost from view; typical! Should I bother, or should I just spend the afternoon birding locally? I decided to take a chance and arrived on the coast just before 2pm. If the bird was showing, then surely there would be a few birders about, but I couldn’t see any and began to fear the worst. I scanned the bay but could only pick out a Great Crested Grebe on the water. Looking around, two chaps with binoculars were standing outside a beach cafeteria but didn’t look like typical birders; I enquired anyway – they were birders, and relayed the good news that they had just been watching the scoter but much further west in the bay. Ten minutes later and after a short drive I was watching two drake common Scoter in company with Hampshire’s fifth ever surf Scoter – superb!    

The Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) is a medium-sized Nearctic diving duck which feeds primarily on molluscs and crustaceans, such as razor clams. They breed in Alaska and northern Canada and winter on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. The specific name perspicillata is from the Latin for conspicuous or spectacular, in reference to the bizarre multi-coloured bill of the drake. They are scarce vagrants to Europe but turn up regularly.

Conditions were great for photography but they were always a little too distant for anything other than record shots. I watched them for about two hours, in which time they regularly flew east and west along the bay, often returning to exactly the same area; they dived constantly.

Surf Scoter (centre) with two drake Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015

Surf Scoter with Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015

Surf Scoter with Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015

Surf Scoter (left) with two Common Scoter – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015

Surf Scoter (left) – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015 (the sailor must have had a decent view)

That was the story of my first ever Hampshire Surf Scoter, and very enjoyable it was too.

As I walked back along the beach I took advantage of this gorgeous Oystercatcher and a small flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese which flew over heading west. I was in the car and back home by 17:15.

Oystercatcher- Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015

Dark-bellied Brent Geese – Stokes Bay, 27th February 2015

And finally….

The last couple of weekends have been spent trying to find Willow Tit, which is becoming increasingly difficult in the borough. Five sites were visited over the two weekends requiring a great deal of leg-work. I finally had a single sighting on Sunday (1st) with decent but brief views, as well as hearing the crucial song and calls. I used to find these attractive little birds easily, but haven’t seen one at the same site for two years running for a number of years. Walking back to the car my attention was drawn to a lot of flapping high above me, flapping which turned out to be a peacock! Even more remarkable is that it took flight and flew high over the trees and out of sight!

Peacock – Popham, 1st March 2015

I hope you enjoyed this latest attack of Hypergraphia – hopefully the next one won’t be too far away!

Thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

Man Flu

For my first post of the new year, I’d actually like you (if you’re a regular reader) to cast your mind back to November last year, and in particular November 9th which was a much more significant day than I first thought; you remember, the day I found my first Cetti’s Warbler in the borough at Overton. Over the Christmas period I had some time to sit down and update a few of the lists I keep, but found a discrepancy with the all-important borough life list. I keep two copies of this list, one in word format and the other excel, but I just couldn’t make them tally. One list was adding up to 150 species seen, but my ‘official’ excel list, and the one I normally keep pretty much up to date, was only showing 148. I was certain that the 150 was incorrect but just couldn’t find where! Eventually I decided to print a copy of both and make a comparison the old fashioned way by ticking each one off with a pen. To my surprise and delight, it was actually the 148 that was incorrect – somehow I had omitted both Grey Wagtail and Waxwing from the excel list!! So, not only did I find a local scarcity that November day, but I also recorded my 150th species in the borough; all since 2010.

Fast forward and I started the year with a bad cold, and unusually for me a nasty hacking cough. I wasn’t that enthusiastic anyway, and feeling rough curtailed my birding efforts even further. I made a bit of an effort early on New Year’s Day as I was keeping my fingers crossed that the cracking drake Pintail would still be on Ewhurst Lake. Luckily it was, so a great start to the year. An Egyptian Goose was an excellent bonus as well, being the first at Ewhurst since March 2013. The Pintail had gone by 4th but the goose was still present, and even better, had been joined by a red-head Goosander and two drake pochard! The lake had been building up with wildfowl and decent numbers of Tufted Duck and Teal had joined the 800 or so released Mallard, however, a shoot during the following week ensured that almost all had disappeared by my next visit on 10th.

I made the mistake of visiting White Hill, Kingsclere on 2nd January. I say mistake, because by time I got back to the car after an hour’s walk I was feeling decidedly unwell as the cold had really taken hold with almost flu-like symptoms (man flu I suppose!). I was absolutely shattered and should have really been tucked up at home whilst being waited on hand and foot……. Birding wise it was  actually a great success though, as I managed to see three Short-eared Owls! Two were hunting over the gallops in the early afternoon and a little later were joined by a third, before they all eventually disappeared west and out of view towards Ashley Warren. 


Short-eared Owl – White Hill, Kingsclere, 2nd January 2015


The Pintail was back on Ewhurst lake by the 17th, re-joining the now long-staying Egyptian Goose, and incredibly, the red-head Goosander had now been replaced by a drake! 


Egyptian Goose – Ewhurst Park, 17th January 2015

Pintail and friend – Ewhurst Park, 17th January 2015

Most of the sponsorship money is now in and it looks like the total will be around £700.00. Once again, a huge thank you to all who sponsored me.

Barry Stalker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dull End to an Outstanding Year

‘By luck I chose an excellent year for my attempt and think it will be very difficult for to achieve this figure again’……………..these were the very words in my end of year summary back in December 2011 after completing my first year birding the borough with a year-list total of 131 (including Quail which was heard only). This obviously set my personal bench-mark and I’ve been trying to beat it since! I never thought I’d actually do it, but three years’ on I’ve managed to eclipse this with a score of 132, and this year all species have been seen, and seen well, in what has been an outstanding year birding Basingstoke and Deane. The full list can be seen at  www.goingbirding.co.uk/hants – just follow the year listing link. 

There’s of course been a serious side to my birding this year as I’ve been listing for charity. I can’t deny that I’m disappointed with the number of sponsors I was able to attract, especially as I was listing in aid of Cancer Research UK. One person actually said to me ‘So you want me to pay you to go out enjoying yourself!’ – well, for one thing I’m not personally being paid, a common misconception it seems; enjoying myself, on the whole yes, but there are plenty of lows as well, such as not finding a Ring Ouzel at Beacon Hill, Highclere in six attempts. Believe me, you don’t see 132 species in this borough without considerable effort – around 600 hours were spent in the field this year, not to mention the cost of fuel etc. Amazingly, people who grow a moustache in November can attract far more sponsors, when the effort they put in on a daily basis actually lessens because they don’t have to shave for a month! Try sitting out in the rain on a cold November afternoon watching gulls fly to roost! Still, they’re all for good causes, so the charities get their money one way or another. Including myself, twelve individuals sponsored me or pledged money raising a total of around £540.00 (excluding gift aid, so should be over £600.00) for Cancer Research UK, and I’m very grateful to all of them – THANK YOU! Of course, it’s still not too late……………….sponsorship details and results can be found at  www.virginmoneygiving.com/birdwatch2014

Once again I’ve taken part in the BTO Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) at four sites, BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) on the downs, and the BTO Winter Hen Harrier Roost Survey. I’ve also been involved with monitoring Red Kite roost numbers as part of a coordinated effort by the Hampshire Ornithological Society, as well as helping to locate breeding Peregrines in the borough. When I’m not out birding I’m either preparing this blog, processing images or writing species’ accounts for the Hampshire Bird Report! Just a fraction of my birding exploits appear in the blog – if I wrote about them all I’d be writing full time!

I have the usual people to thank and I’m once again indebted to the various site managers, estate owners and game keepers who have allowed me to access private land; the year-list certainly wouldn’t be as high without them.

I’m really pleased that just four of the species seen were not self-found: Quail, which was the first I’ve actually seen and not just heard in Hampshire, the cracking Great White Egret at Whitchurch, the Great Grey Shrike at White Hill and the very confiding Corn Bunting at Ladle Hill – many thanks to the finders of these great borough birds. I’m also very grateful to Martin Pitt for allowing me to accompany him on his flush counts at The Vyne, which enabled me to add Jack Snipe to the year list and my borough list. Thanks also go to Peter Hutchins, James Andrews and Dave Walker for passing on information and local knowledge. And finally, special thanks must go to Mrs S for putting up with all this! 

Other notable species during the year, and all borough firsts for me, were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, and Cetti’s Warbler. A total of seven personal new borough species during the year brings my Basingstoke and Deane list up to 148, and although many species were seen locally before I became interested in borough birding, all the 148 have been seen since 2010 and all but a handful have been self-found.

The 5km patch challenge was a different story with just 77 species seen, in comparison with 93 in 2013 and 88 in 2012. The outstanding birds were the Goosanders at Ewhurst in January which were not only a site first but a personal borough first, and the farmland adult Yellow-legged Gull in September. Not much more to say about that really.

After the Common Gull in November the borough has been dead. I’ve been out just as much as ever but once the record was broken perhaps the urgency went out of my efforts a little; I don’t think so, but perhaps subconsciously it did have an affect. I would have written before, but I’ve once again gone through a stage where I’ve found it very difficult to obtain usable images.

My final birding of the year was taken up with the annual Surrey/Hampshire borders Christmas count which  is now in its 21st year. Again, my area included the River Loddon roughly between Hartley Wespall and Stratfield Saye and a total of 32 species (226 birds) were recorded in just under two and a half hours. The Red Kite roost near Bramley was also part of my remit and 32 kites roosted there on the evening of 27th.

Red Kites (14) – Bramley, 27th December 2014

STOP PRESS – STOP PRESS – STOP PRESS – STOP PRESS – STOP PRESS -STOP PRESS – STOP PRESS

Most of this post was written on or before 29th but there was yet another twist to this incredible year in the borough; a year which will surely never be beaten. I was out on Tuesday 30th doing the usual rounds, which of course includes Ewhurst Park and its lake. Now Ewhurst has been poor this year and I wasn’t expecting anything really, so I was absolutely ecstatic to find a cracking drake Pintail at 11:50 am. This was of course a borough year tick, but it was also a patch tick as well as a first for site! Incredible stuff!

Now for the image excuses, blah, blah, blah……….

Pintail – Ewhurst Park, 30th December 2014 (uncropped)

Actually, the cropped image is not too bad.

Pintail – Ewhurst Park, 30th December 2014

The borough year list is of course amended to 133 and the patch list to 78

The title of this post should read….An Outstanding End to an Outstanding Year!

So, what for 2015? I was going to relax my efforts locally but think I’ve struck a decent balance – routinely birding the borough and twitching (or attempting to twitch!) anything decent that’s in easy reach. I think I’ll continue in this way as it gives me the best of both worlds. As I write I don’t actually have the enthusiasm for a serious borough Iist next year, so I may not be quite as intense in the coming year – don’t bank on it though…………. after all, records are there to be broken!

See you out there – Birding Basingstoke and Deane!

A Happy New Year and good birding in 2015!

Barry Stalker

 

 

Gull Fest Breaks the Record!

After last weekend finding my first ever district Cetti’s Warbler and equally my previous year list record for the borough, I was what some might say ‘Well up for it’ this weekend. It was raining on and off on Saturday morning, so I decided to do one of my ‘suck it and see’ jaunts around the borough. This took me around the Wootton st. Lawrence area, through Oakley and out towards Overton. I stopped on numerous occasions to scan farmland; perhaps a rare Wheatear would turn up – well they have before! What was evident is the number of Redwings and Fieldfares that had arrived in the borough, and I saw several decent gatherings on the ground as well as flying over. I love hearing the harsh chak-chak of the Fieldfare and the soft and quiet seeip of the Redwing overhead - classic winter sounds.

My plan was to aim for Whitchurch and return home via Ashley Warren, which is exactly what I did. The highlight of the morning was a large flock of around 215 Golden Plovers and 300 Lapwings at Berehill Farm, on the outskirts of Whitchurch. I often stop at this pig farm as it can be good for gulls in the winter, but there were none on Saturday.
 Golden Plovers - Berehill Farm, Whitchurch, 15th November 2014 

Golden Plovers - Berehill Farm, Whitchurch, 15th November 2014

I was out doing the rounds again on Sunday morning and this time my travels took me past the small group of gravel pits on the east side of Ramptons Lane at Mortimer West end; just inside the borough boundary and indeed the county border. This site sometimes has gulls, and as it’s very close to the road and can be clearly seen from the road, I usually just stop and look from the car. More often than not it’s usually just a few Mallards or Tufties on the water, but as I drove past on Sunday there were clearly a lot of gulls present so I stopped further along the road out of sight, and walked back along the footpath which runs along the edge, as inconspicuously as possible. So far so good, the birds carried on normally, with about half splashing about in the water and the rest preening on the bank. There were certainly in excess of 300 gulls in the gathering so I started to go through them using my ‘scope. As expected, the vast majority were Lesser Black-backed Gulls but one bird in the water with a completely white head caught my attention; it was an adult Yellow-legged Gull - my second in the borough this year. After washing, most of the gulls moved on to the bank, including the Yellow-legged, and the shot below gives a good comparison with the Herring Gull, just above to the right, and the Lesser Black-backed Gulls around it. Note the subtle difference in the mantle colour between the three species, and how clean and white the head of the Yellow-legged Gull is compared to the streaked head of the Lesser Black-backs.

I suppose I’d better make my usual excuses for the poor images; the birds were distant and it was misty - there; done!

Yellow-legged Gull - Ramptons Lane gravel pits, Mortimer West End, 16th November 2014

Okay, let’s carry on scanning the flock - LBB, LBB, LBB, Herring, LBB, LBB, LBB, LBB….hey, what’s that? pale colouring, small head with dainty beak, scalloped scapulars and mantle feathers……. Bingo!!! It was a juvenile Common Gull……….at last I’d finally found one of these borough scarcities!

This was species 132 in Basingstoke and Deane this year - my borough year-list record from 2011 was broken! This bird had not yet moulted any of its juvenile feathers, but a few birds along the row there was a classic first winter bird showing a decent amount of grey in the scapulars - I was chuffed, and to complete the collection there was a third in the gathering, this time an adult - quite the gull fest; excellent!

Common Gull (adult) - Ramptons Lane gravel pits, Mortimer West End, 16th November 2014

So, with all the target species in the bag and the record broken (I never thought I’d be saying that!) what am I going to do for the rest of the year? Further increase my borough year-list of course!

Thanks for reading.

Barry Stalker

A Mathematician and an Arctic Explorer

How prophetic am I?…….erm excuse me, I said prophetic! At the end of my last post I mentioned the desire to add Cetti’s Warbler to my borough list and even said next week, perhaps! Well guess what, not one week, but exactly two weeks’ to the day I did exactly that….pleased or what! This was species number 131 in the borough this year and equals my previous record from 2011. In fact, strictly speaking it beats it, because in 2011 Quail was only heard, but this year all species to date have been seen well.

I had just listened to the 10 O’Clock news on the car radio on Sunday morning (9th) when I telephoned to obtain the necessary permission to enter a private site near Overton where I carry out a monthly wildfowl survey (WeBS) for the BTO. As I entered the gate and walked along the path towards the water, almost immediately I heard the explosive song of the Cetti’s Warbler in the distance – I couldn’t believe my ears! I was there to do a job of course so didn’t panic (much!) and went about my business in a calm and collected manner! The Cetti’s sang again about fifteen minutes later and by now I was much closer to it. There it was again, and now I was very close, but try as I might I just couldn’t see it. I stayed in the same spot for about ten minutes but it didn’t sing or call again; reluctantly I continued with my work.

Apart from Quail, my own self-inflicted year-listing rules do not allow species to be heard only and not seen, but as I walked I was sort of changing the rules to also accept Cetti’s – the song is so distinctive that it can’t really be confused with anything else. Just a flash of chestnut would do, or a quick flick of its unique tail, anything to claim a sighting of this locally rare skulking species! Luck was on my side however, as about fifteen minutes later it sang again, close-by, and this time I was able to pin it down for the crucial sighting and even some images – It was exactly 10:45 and I was over the moon!

Here are the images, not great I’m afraid as I was always facing into the sun, but do you know what, I really don’t care!

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014 (heavier crop of above)

Cetti’s Warbler – Overton, 9th November 2014 

Despite there being suitable habitat in the borough, Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) is rare locally – a bit of a mystery really because a few miles up the road and into Berkshire they can be found relatively easily in exactly the same type of habitat. Anyway, I was thrilled with my find; the day before I was bemoaning to Mrs S that my luck had ran out and I wasn’t going to add to my list this year!

Cetti’s Warbler is named after the Italian mathematician and naturalist Francesco Cetti (1726-1778), and was first recorded in Great Britain in 1961, strangely enough in Hampshire.

A typical WeBS count at this site would take around 30 minutes but I left the site at 11:55, one hour fifty minutes after arriving - a Remembrance Sunday to remember!

Sunday actually started very damp and misty, but as you can see below, it soon burnt off to leave a lovely sunny autumn day.

Grey Heron – Overton, 9th November 2014

Okay, wind the clock back and I’ve been out twitching again! The previous Friday (Halloween), I left work early and travelled down to the HWT reserve at Blashford Lakes near Ringwood, to try my luck for the Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) which had roosted there the previous evening and once or twice before. After a horrendous journey I arrived about 3:15 pm to find the hides on Ibsley Water absolutely packed! I set my ‘scope up at the back of the hide and like everyone else scanned the gull flock which was gradually increasing by the minute. Eventually the bird was found and the cry went up at 16:39 exactly – the second successful twitch in a week, a UK lifer and of course an excellent Hampshire tick. It was actually quite difficult to keep track of it amongst the hundreds of gulls coming in to roost, but once the hide had cleared (about 17:00) I finally got a seat and for the first time (and last!) tried some ‘phone-scoping – the results were so poor that I’m not going to use them here! Luckily others fared better with their efforts and I’m very grateful to be given permission to use one here – many thanks Mark. The Franklin’s is the small black-headed gull, sitting low in the water roughly in the centre of the image.

Franklin’s Gull – Ibsley Water, Blashford, 31st October 2014 (photo courtesy Mark Leitch, digi-scoped 16:50hrs) 

Franklin’s Gull breeds in the northern USA and central-west Canada. It migrates through Central America and winters off the west coast of southern Mexico, Central America and South America. It is a rare vagrant to Europe. The bird was named after the British explorer Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), who led an 1823 Arctic expedition when the first specimen of the species was ‘collected’. This was Hampshire’s second Franklin’s, the first being way back in 1970 – with that timescale, I doubt I’ll be around for the next!

That’s enough twitching for one week, so back to the local stuff.

I was asked the other day why Ewhurst hasn’t featured in any recent posts, and it’s basically because it’s been dead! I’m still of course making regular visits but there’s just nothing to report. Take Saturday (8th) for example; apart from a couple of hundred Mallards, which are mostly released anyway, there wasn’t one wild bird on the lake – ridiculous for a body of water of this size. There would usually be Cormorants at this time of year as well, but surprise surprise, there wasn’t a single one to be seen……….

The site has been ruined by disturbance I’m afraid. For most of this year the new boat-house at the north of the lake has been under construction (and very smart it is) and we’re now into the shooting season once again. If anything decent does turn up it won’t be around for long – a great shame because with a conservation minded owner it could be excellent; as it once was in fact! 

Boat House – Ewhurst Park, 8th November 2014

So with around seven weeks of the year to go it’s full steam ahead to try and break my year list record and take even more money off those who have sponsored me! All proceeds to Cancer Research UK.

Barry stalker

In memory of Air Gunner, Sergeant Clifford Neil Stalker, killed in action over northern France, 5th July 1944, aged 31 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haven Can Wait!

I was hoping to report that I have at least equalled my year list record but unfortunately nothing has changed since my last post and my borough year list has grinded to a halt on 130 – over a month since my last year tick!

Saturday and Sunday morning (25/26th) were spent driving around the borough scanning farmland for gull flocks in the hope of finding a Common Gull amongst them; the previous weekend was much the same. Needless to say I had no luck and actually became rather bored – It didn’t do my carbon footprint much good either! My travels took me to the extremities of the district and once or twice I accidentally strayed into neighbouring boroughs, including Hart District, where I took the opportunity of catching up with Hampshire’s only free-roaming Rhea; yes, free-roaming Rhea! Nicknamed Chris, this Rhea is an escape (obviously!) and now roams the countryside to the south of Odiham, being regularly seen in the Four Lanes End area.

I found it very easily and had a little chuckle to myself that I could find a Rhea in Hampshire more easily than finding a Common Gull!

Rheas are related to ostriches and emus and are normally found on the open plains of South America, but Chris looks perfectly content here.

Chris Rhea – Odiham, 26th October 2014

Well worth going to see if you’re in the area.

By late morning on Sunday I was in need of a fix, and as it wasn’t going to be the much needed borough tick I’d hoped for, what better than a Hampshire life tick as compensation? I don’t have a great Hampshire list but add to it when I can - regular readers will know that I make a habit of dipping Hampshire rarities! Anyway, the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm, so I invited Mrs S out for a spot of lunch……she didn’t know at this stage that it would be in the cafeteria at Titchfield Haven NNR! Her suspicions were aroused however when I loaded my camera into the boot and suggested she wore wellington boots!

A female/1st winter Siberian Stonechat had been found on the reserve the previous weekend and seemed settled, but my priority of course was Basingstoke and Deane so I decided to let my visit to the Haven wait until I had some free time – this sort of procrastination has cost me dearly in the past! Siberian Stonechats (in this case assumed Saxicola maurus - I’m no expert on the various forms!) are rare but regular visitors to the UK but this was the first ‘twitchable’ bird in Hampshire.

Being only forty minutes from home we arrived about 12:30 and duly paid the entrance fee; apparently some weren’t bothering…

I made a brief stop outside the gift shop to photograph this lovely Turnstone which was sat on the harbour wall opposite, before focusing my attention on our continental visitor.

Turnstone – Titchfield Harbour, 26th October 2014

We set off for the Meadow Hide on the east side of the reserve and several passers-by on the board-walk told us that the bird was still showing well – it was getting exciting! So exciting in fact that my pace had quickened to such an extent that I’d left Mrs S behind! The hide was fairly busy but as the bird had been present for a week, much of the foot traffic had probably already passed through, so after a short time we secured a seat at the window overlooking the area favoured by our celebrity vagrant. Several Common or ‘ordinary’ (as some people called them), Stonechats were posing along the fence line outside the hide, but the ‘Sibe’ was much more elusive. It wasn’t associating with the other Stonechats at all and stayed towards the back of the meadow, often concealed, but regularly coming out in the open affording decent ‘scope views. Every time it showed, great panic ensued within the hide as people tried to ‘get onto it’. 

We spent about two hours watching it but it never came any closer and photographic opportunities were few and far between. One fellow birder said to me tongue-in-cheek ’With that lens you could reach through the window and hit it on the head!’ The reality was that I certainly could not - see for yourself in this un-cropped image. 

Siberian Stonechat – Titchfield Haven NNR, 26th October 2014

With heavy cropping these were about the best images I could get – there are much better examples on Going Birding and elsewhere on the Surfbirds site. The tail pattern and unmarked rump are diagnostic but you can also clearly see that this bird is much paler than its cousins from Europe.

Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus?) – Titchfield Haven NNR – 26th October 2014

This flight shot clearly shows the unmarked rump, which on Common or European Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus/rubicola) would be streaked or spotted.

The ‘ordinary’ Stonechats, as I was hearing more and more, obviously felt left out and made sure we paid due attention to them by sitting close outside the hide, despite the bustle emanating from within. If only our eastern friend had behaved like this!

Common or ‘ordinary’ Stonechat (male) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 26th October 2014

Common Stonechat (female type) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 26th October2014

It was now around mid-afternoon and as lunch was part of the deal I thought we’d better head back! Luckily they serve snacks all day and we even sat outside on the terrace – perfect!

So for once a successful twitch and it was great to re-acquaint myself with Titchfield which was a regular haunt of mine before I got wrapped up in all this borough stuff! As we walked backed to the car yet another Cetti’s Warbler burst into song, a species you can take for granted here and one I’d love on my Basingstoke and Deane list…… next week……… perhaps…

Barry stalker

 

First Fires

All of a sudden the lovely autumn sunshine of September has disappeared and been replaced by more seasonal weather. We had our first frost on Sunday 5th, albeit a light one, and since then the wind and rain has been with us most days. For me, the gardening year has thankfully almost drawn to a close, apart from the chore of regular leaf clearing, and in our house the first fires of autumn have been lit. I try to leave this annual ceremony until the end of the month, but usually succumb earlier when our cats take up residence by the hearth on cold wet October afternoons! As much as I mourn the passing of summer I love this time of year!

Of course, with all this inclement weather swirling around the country there’s a good chance of some decent birds turning up and I need just two more species to secure my best ever year list total in the borough. Common Gull is the only target species left pencilled on my list and after that it’s all down to pure luck. Will we get a Waxwing invasion? Will I stumble on a Hawfinch roost? Will a Merlin take up residence on the downs? Will the borough finally get a rarer grebe? Will I even find a Common Gull!?

Anything can happen and probably will, to cap off what has already been an outstanding year birding Basingstoke and Deane.

Here’s the news…………

The light frost on the morning of Saturday 5th only lasted briefly but the residue dew and bright sunlight made for some good photo opportunities, especially with the many cobwebs on show. This one was on Silchester Common.

Silchester, 5th October 2014

This female/first winter Reed Bunting also made an appearance on the common; not a species I regularly see here.

Reed Bunting – Silchester, 5th October 2014

Later on the same morning, a pair of Egyptian geese flew east across Rampton’s Lane gravel pits, Mortimer West End.

Egyptian Geese – Mortimer West End, 5th October 2014

A Green-winged Teal was reported from Old Basing on the evening of 7th but not relocated the next day – this is the sort of unexpected year tick required to break my record!

Stonechats seem to have definitely recovered locally as yet another turned up on Saturday 11th, this time on Tadley Common.

Stonechat (female type) - Tadley Common, 11th October 2014

Wildfowl numbers are steadily increasing in the borough with The Vyne watermeadows holding 37 Wigeon, 23 Gadwall and 5 Shoveler on the morning of 11th. A peregrine also made a brief appearance, circling overhead before drifting off north; a first for me at this site.

Also on 11th, a Chiffchaff was singing in a neighbours garden and we had our first Marsh Tit of the autumn on garden feeders.

The WeBS season is in full swing and I was out and about around Overton on the morning of Sunday 12th. Nothing outstanding to report, but a Little Egret was on the source of the Test at Lower Ashe Farm and was in company with a Cormorant - also a personal site first.

That’s me up to date again I think.

As ever, thanks for reading

Barry Stalker