Right Place; Right Time

Following on from the superb Little Stint at The Vyne a couple of weeks ago, my excellent form continued with an almost equally good find – certainly a personal borough first but not actually a first in the borough. With so many great district birds this year I’m actually starting to believe I can eclipse my 2014 personal year list record of 133, and I certainly didn’t expect to be thinking in those terms this year. I need a few fairly common but by no means guaranteed passage species to make an appearance this autumn……the next two to three weeks will be critical and I’ll certainly be giving it my best shot! 

Back to the weekend…..

Saturday was rather disappointing….not only did I fail to see anything particularly decent, but I thought there was a problem with the camera or lens which had stopped auto- focusing; expensive I thought. I did the usual rounds but my mind was on the camera issue, and late morning I left The Mill Field, Old Basing, feeling rather dejected. Back at home, closer inspection revealed that I had accidentally set the focus to manual mode so there was nothing to worry about and the problem was easily rectified; phew!

Same routine on Sunday; out nice and early in the hope of some autumn migrants, and we’re talking Whinchat, Redstart, Yellow Wagtail or perhaps even Wryneck, a species I’d found almost a year ago to the day. Sadly none of those were on show first thing, but later I was in for a surprise. As I was walking along a footpath adjacent to some rough ground at Mortimer West End, I saw what I initially thought to be Buzzard, but as I followed it through my binoculars I could see that it was in fact a Marsh Harrier – I could hardly believe my eyes; another cracking year tick! The harrier, a juvenile, was in sight for literally a couple of minutes before it was lost to view over Benyon’s Inclosure, but the now perfectly focusing Canon captured some reasonable record shots – I was delighted with the shots, but even more delighted with my find.


Marsh Harrier (juv) – Mortimer West End, 30th August 2015 (all images)

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Marsh Harriers have been recorded in the borough once or twice in the past, but they are rare and infrequent visitors. There is no suitable habitat locally where they are likely to turn up regularly, so one needs to be extremely lucky to record one; a couple of minutes either way and I would have missed it…. right place; right time. Again, this is what makes local (wherever you live) birding so rewarding.

This time I returned home a very happy man!

Further outings over the weekend produced nothing of note; a Spotted Flycatcher and a couple of Lesser Whitethroat being about the best of the rest, but with the harrier on the year and borough life list I could hardly complain.

Barry Stalker



A Stint at The Vyne


After a very busy few weeks but with very little birding I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms! Mrs S sensed this and actively encouraged me to get out…………

So last weekend I was out early and as keen as mustard. I spent a few hours on Saturday morning doing the usual rounds but with little reward. I was hoping for a Whinchat perhaps or maybe a Yellow Wagtail to add to the year list. I returned home empty handed but had a really enjoyable time anyway.

Time was limited on Sunday (16th) as I had volunteered (!) to put some shelves up for my daughter and son-in-law, so again, I was out early. Last stop of the morning was The Vyne watermeadows which has already been very rewarding this autumn. The Vyne has more-or-less the only habitat in the borough to attract  waders in numbers, so its continued management is essential.

I had in fact already been to The Vyne on Saturday morning, recording five Green sandpipers, thirteen Lapwing and eight Grey Heron, but with the excellent conditions there at the moment, it really is essential to visit regularly. A scan from the south side revealed very little, so a walk to the hide was necessary, even though I was now running late! I found the hide empty, as is most often the case, and set my ‘scope up in the corner. I found a single Green sandpiper and little else, until a few minutes later when I came across a juvenile Ringed Plover, or possibly a Little Ringed Plover; to be honest I couldn’t make my mind up at distance, but then something else came in to view, smaller than the plover…………..…..it was a stint!

Even at distance, it could make out the double white ‘V’ on the back, pure white undersides, short black beak and dark black legs (precluding Temminck’s)……… it could only be a Little Stint – what a bird AND a borough first!

A quick call to Mrs S to explain my delay and I quickly got the word out. Then I didn’t take my eyes off the bird for fear of not being able to relocate it! Around twenty minutes later I was joined by local birder Martin Pitt, who had made a made a mad dash from Chineham on his bike! Always great to get others on to a local rarity, and I believe several others had the bird later in the day.

Due to the distance and the small size of the stint, I didn’t even attempt to photograph it.

I went home a very happy man and spent the rest of the day engaged in DIY with a broad grin on my face……another first!

What will turn up next…………

Thanks for reading

Barry Stalker




View from the Hide

Looking back through my borough records for the last five years I couldn’t find a single year-tick entry for July. This surprised me a little so I thought I’d better try and do something about it! Here’s the news…..

I had my second Common Tern of the year on Saturday 11th and in almost exactly the same circumstances as the first. I was right on the county border near Silchester when it flew over, again heading into Berkshire. There’s plenty of water just over the county border so it’s no surprise they turn up now and again; it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and luckily, this has happened to me twice this year. The light was grim, but it’s a better shot than the one from a few weeks ago. 


Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Silchester, 11th July 2015

At another location on the same day I found two Turtle Doves sitting together in a dead spruce. The light was still very poor when I took this image, but I’m fairly certain that the bird on the left is a juvenile as it doesn’t seem to have any collar at all; this didn’t occur to me until after I’d seen the images. I only viewed them through binoculars, so I returned a while later with my ‘scope but by then they had gone. I think Turtle Doves do breed in the borough in small numbers but if this is a juvenile, it’s the first time I can actually confirm it. I shall certainly return to try and find them again. Turtle Doves are under enough pressure on migration, and although I don’t think hordes of people would turn up to see them I think the location is best left undisclosed.


Turtle Dove (Steptopelia turtur) – Basingstoke and Deane,11th July 2015

In the same area and just as I was about to leave, a bird flashed past me and landed in a tree a short distance away. So brief was the view, that I initially thought it to be a Mistle Thrush, but closer inspection revealed it to be a juvenile Cuckoo – it was gorgeous. It always remained partially obscured but I was pleased with the images I obtained and even more pleased with the experience.


Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) – juvenile – Basingstoke and Deane 11th July 2011 


Hard to believe that this bird will soon be making the long and arduous journey over the Mediterranean and across the Sahara to central Africa! 


As regular readers will know, my usual circuit often means a visit to The Vyne water meadows near Sherborne St John; this is especially the case in spring and autumn. It seems strange to think of mid July as autumn, but for many species, post breeding dispersal and return passage is underway. Anyway, conditions have been improving on the meadows and it is now very suitable for waders, although it is rapidly drying out. The Vyne is about the best place in the borough to pick up passage waders and I was delighted on Saturday to find not one, not even two, but three Greenshank amongst around 80 Lapwing and my first Common Sandpiper of the autumn. This was the first Greenshank I had seen in the borough since 2011. Photography is never easy on the meadows and there was a lot of heat-haze on Saturday, but I came away with a couple of record shots and an excellent borough year tick; my first ever in July!greenshank_D7Y2363

Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) – Vyne Watermeadows,11th July 2015 (one of three)


Greenshank – Vyne Watermeadows, 11th July 2015 (two of three)

I couldn’t get a three of three!

I returned to The Vyne on Sunday morning, but the weather had changed to overcast with drizzle and all three Greenshank and the Common Sandpiper had seemingly moved on – although one never quite knows on the water meadows, as without walking the entire circumference of the lake much of the site remains hidden from view. An afternoon text (thanks again Jim) confirmed that all the Greenshank had gone, but they’d been replaced by something even better and a Basingstoke and Deane life tick – a Black-tailed Godwit!! It was then a mad dash, as I was shopping in Newbury with Mrs S………….shopping abandoned (she has enough shoes anyway!) and I was flying back down the A339!

As this was a new borough species for me I made a bit more effort in trying to get some shots, and although still distant, the hide afforded the best opportunity. This was the view from the hide. 


Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) – Vyne Watermeadows, 12th July 2015 



And finally, a flight shot showing the distinctive white wing bar and white rump.


So, two excellent year ticks, and for the same date I’m now ahead of my record year of 2014 by well over a month! I have also now year ticked a species in the borough in every month of the year.

Fingers crossed for a great autumn….

Barry Stalker





Best ever Tempura Prawns

As it’s been a while since my last post I have a lot to get through so I’ll get on with it……………….I’ve been twitching again I’m afraid, and not just in Hampshire!

I thought it was about time I caught up with Hampshire’s celebrity Mega at Titchfield Haven NNR; the Greater Yellowlegs. So on June 6th I headed off in the hope of a Hampshire and British tick. The ‘legs’ was first found way back in January, but it went missing and I thought my chance had gone, but it re-surfaced in April (where had it been?) and since then has become ‘part of the furniture’ at Titchfield. I should have gone way before I did but took a relaxed attitude shall we say…..

Anyway, I arrived early, hoping the bird would be viewable from the road which it sometimes is, as this would have given the best chance of some decent images. Alas it wasn’t, so I waited for the reserve to open, paid the entrance fee and I was one of the first in. I headed straight to the Suffern Hide, where it had already been seen first thing by the warden. It was actually a very easy twitch as the bird was already out on the mud, although distant, and keeping company with one of its closest relatives, a Greenshank. The hide soon filled and I was quickly reminded why I don’t like this type of birding anymore! Amazingly, so many people had still travelled distance to see this bird, even after it being present for over a month, but even now there was still debate about what they were watching. “It’s the one on the right” “No, No, it’s the one to the right of the Black-headed Gull, just beyond the post, to the left of the Oystercatcher on the right!” This went on for a while until someone brought order to the hide by shouting “It’s the one with the yellow legs!!”………….


Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)  – Titchfield Haven, 6th June 2015


Greater Yellowlegs (with Greenshank, left) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 6th June 2015

Actually, having the Greenshank in the same view gave a great comparison of the two birds, but they certainly weren’t difficult to tell apart, unlike another recent twitch………read on.


Greater Yellowlegs (with Greenshank, right) – Titchfield Haven NNR, 6th June 2015

Greater Yellowlegs breed in Canada and Alaska, and migrate to both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States and further south to South America. They are very rare vagrants to western Europe. Another excellent Hampshire tick was in my pocket!

Whilst at Titchfield, I couldn’t help but grab a few shots of some Avocets – always a pleasure to see and they remind me so much of trips to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere when I was a boy.


Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) – Titchfield Haven, 6th June 2015


Avocet – Titchfield Haven, 6th June 2015

Moving on and out of county………….. on 13th June I treated (!) Mrs S to a day at the coast, dropping in at Church Norton at Pagham harbour to pick up the Hudsonian Whimbrel that had taken up residence there. We arrived late morning, and just in time to receive news of yet another MEGA…a Black-eared Wheatear had been found in the New Forest – Hampshire of course! I didn’t panic, at least not outwardly, and joined the other fifty or so birders to wait for the whimbrel…an hour passed and nothing, then another half hour and still nothing. I had promised Mrs S lunch, so I reluctantly suggested we leave and come back in an hour’s time. We found a nice little pub where Mrs S enjoyed what was apparently her best ever tempura prawns……at least something was going right! A quick check on Birdguides half way through lunch and the whimbrel was now showing! Back we went, straight down to the front to find three whimbrel out on the sands. Picking out the yank was actually not that easy and I take my hat off to the original finder. “It’s the one on the right”, some people were saying, (I don’t think it was the same guy that was at Titchfield) and perhaps it was, but it wasn’t obvious at distance; a flight view was required. As luck would have it, a Hurricane was practicing aerobatics overhead, and the pilot duly obliged with a low pass (show-off!) and flushed everything, including the whimbrels! I didn’t track the right-hand bird especially, but one of the three stood out as having a uniform brown rump, instead of the white rump of European Whimbrel……..it was the Hudsonian and a life tick!

My attention very quickly turned to the wheatear and Mrs S had no objection to travelling back via Acres Down in the NF to try for a second MEGA in one day…………………as long as more refreshment was on offer on the way home; no problem there!

We arrived at Acres Down late afternoon to find that there were clearly a large number of birders present, but I found a parking spot relatively easily. A short walk from the car park and I was setting my ‘scope up along the fence line overlooking a caravan park. Within seconds I was on the bird, and it was every bit as gorgeous as it hoped it would be. From distance, it appeared that there was just a hint of colour on the upper breast, making it an obvious eastern race melanoleuca

Two subspecies are recognized: Oenanthe hispanica in south-western Europe/ North Africa, and Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca in SE Europe, Turkey to Iran. I believe that some authorities’ plan to give full species status to both – Western Black-eared Wheatear and Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear are found in south-east Europe to Iran and the Caspian Sea, migrating to northern Africa. It has more extensive black markings on the head and throat and is more ‘black-and-white’ than hispanica, lacking much of the orange tones exhibited by that race.

The Black-eared Wheatear inhabits open, rocky areas, with scrubby vegetation on slopes or foothills. It also occurs in gardens and agricultural land.

Black-eared Wheatears feed mainly on insects and spiders. It also consumes some molluscs, grasshoppers and all types of insects, as well as berries and seeds. It hunts from a perch and swoops down onto prey or catches insects on the wing.

It is a rare vagrant to north-west Europe. 


Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca) – Acres Down NF, 13th June 2015

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An absolutely stunning bird, well worth the journey, and yes, we did imbibe on the way home!

Okay, onto the most important part…..the local stuff, and I was delighted to catch up with a cracking Turtle Dove on Saturday 20th. I had in fact, already year-ticked this species on April 26th, but it was an obvious migrant just passing through and the sighting was brief with no chance to grab a picture. An increasingly scarce bird, not just locally, but nationally too. Always a pleasure to see and hear and always a summer highlight; enjoy them while you can…………….


Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)  – Basingstoke District, 20th June 2015

I know it was some time ago, but cast your mind back to my last post when I hoped that someone would find me a nice twitchable Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) in the borough… well someone did, many thanks Jim! A pair have taken up residence within the grounds of the Vyne National Trust property, so Saturday morning was all about trying to catch a glimpse of one. As the Vyne doesn’t open until 10 O’Clock, I had some time to kill, so I thought I’d try my luck with Common Crossbill in Benyon’s Inclosure, near Silchester, in the hope of finding a post breeding flock. Not a sausage, but boy am I glad I went! At exactly 08:30, my attention was drawn to a couple of what I thought initially were Black headed Gulls overhead….. but one of them seemed to have long pointed wings………….it was a tern! Both birds continued northwards but were gradually moving further apart from each other. Luckily the tern, which I now identified as a Common Tern, came a little closer, and although still distant, it was in range for a record shot.


Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) heading north – Benyon’s Inclosure, 27th June 2015

Common Tern breed just over the border in Berkshire and I guess this was on a sortie from there, or perhaps it was just a failed breeder. There is no suitable breeding habitat for this species within the borough and they are rarely seen. From memory, this was just my third sighting since I’ve been watching the borough seriously, and my first during the breeding season. I was naturally delighted with my ‘bonus’ tick.

Off to The Vyne then, and hopefully my second borough year-tick of the day………

I arrived just before ten as I wanted to be the first through the gate. Luckily I am a NT member, although nowadays I don’t make as much of my membership as I should and indeed once did. Anyway, year ticking this increasingly scarce borough bird would be well worth the price of the annual subscription!

And it didn’t take long to find one – it was exactly 10:28 when one appeared on top of a large willow and stayed long enough for a couple of shots. Saturday was very bright and the sun was harsh; not at all conducive to photography, but I was fairly pleased with the results….and VERY pleased with the year tick! Thanks again Jim!SpottedFlycatcher_D7Y0815

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) – The Vyne NT, 27th June 2015


Spotted Flycatcher – The Vyne NT, 27th June 2015

I went home very pleased with my morning’s work and expected my birding to be over for the day, but, incredibly, during the afternoon, I was driving through the village with Mrs S, when we saw a bird fly from a fence post and immediatly return to the same location on the fence…..on went the brakes, and a short reverse, and we were watching……….you guessed it………… a Spotted Flycatcher! Unbelievable; I’d been fretting about this species for a few weeks! I returned with my camera about an hour later and saw the bird almost immediately. It seemed to have a couple of favourite perches, so I had a quick word with the house owner (as I’d be pointing my camera towards his house), and set myself up in a concealed location for a very enjoyable hour…….


Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) – Charter Alley, 27th June 2015 (all images)

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Then something incredible happened………..

The bird I was focusing on started posturing and wing fluttering, before a second flycatcher flew in and passed food to it – it was courtship feeding by the male to the female – the first time I had ever witnessed this in Spotted Flycatchers! The shots aren’t great as I was using spot focus, but they tell the story and I’m actually delighted with them; the female is on the left.


female posturing and wing fluttering


Food pass

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The male departs – the whole thing lasted seconds

Courtship feeding of the female by the male is not uncommon in Spotted Flycatchers. It is believed that most of the nest building is carried out by the female, encouraged and rewarded by tempting food morsels brought by the male. It is not only while constructing the nest that insect prey is carried to the female, as she is often fed as she incubates the eggs and as she is laying them.

Although I only witnessed the episode through the viewfinder, it was a memorable experience.

Delightful little birds, but like so many species, in severe decline…….just thirty years ago, there were six times as many Spotted Flycatchers making their way from Africa each spring to raise their young in these islands. Indeed, just a few years ago I could rely on up to four pairs within a mile of my house, including breeding pairs in neighbouring gardens. Anyone who now has a pair in their garden are very privileged. Basingstoke and Deane is almost 250 sq. miles of course, so I’ve no doubt there are other pairs in the area this year. Having said that, I only had one response to my appeal for a twitchable bird……………..It’s okay, you can stop looking now!

I was so pleased to get what are probably my best ever shots of the species.

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And finally…

I’m delighted to have recently been invited to join the RSPB Wessex Stone Curlew Recovery Project Team, and now hold the required Natural England Schedule 1 Licence for the species. This not only means that I play an active role in the protection and monitoring of Stone-curlews, but I also get to see more birds, and much closer, in otherwise inaccessible areas. I also see the nests, eggs and chicks, and on Wednesday 17th June attended my first ringing session which was incredibly exciting for me; I felt very privileged. As the Stone-curlew is probably my favourite bird, I couldn’t have been more pleased to be considered. I’m looking forward to become more experienced with the field craft required to carry out the required monitoring of this shy and secretive species and to make a worthwhile contribution to the team.

For those unacquainted with the species….the stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) is one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds, restricted to just a few areas in southern and eastern England. Numbers declined dramatically in the sixty years between 1931, when the species was widespread with up to two thousand pairs, and 1991, when the population was down to just 168 pairs. The RSPB, along with Natural England, have been working with landowners, farmers and conservationists, to help to reverse the loss and increase numbers.

Phew, that was a lot to get through! 

Thanks for reading and enjoy the sunshine!

Barry Stalker





Spinning Around

I’ve been quite lucky with Whitethroat images this spring so I’ve put together a number of reasonable images in various habitats and all taken in the borough during May. The Whitethroat, or Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) is a little underrated I think, perhaps because they’re very common as the name suggests. These little warblers, which can be found across the UK in a variety of open scrub habitats, are summer visitors to Europe, arriving in the UK in mid April and departing in early October for their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

All the images are males. 




Now I need to photograph some females!

I fulfilled a long-time ambition on Saturday 23rd May when I found my first ever daytime roosting Nightjar; it’s taken over 40 years of birding! I don’t actively go looking for them, but I’ve always wanted to find one, and even better, photograph one. I was walking in suitable habitat near Silchester when I found the bird right in front of me, about 50 yards away, sitting on a log. Not wishing to flush it, I remained at this distance and gingerly set-up my camera; I was delighted with the images I obtained. I say images, but it was only one image in fact, although I did vary the settings to be certain I’d captured something……… after all, I might not find one again for another forty years, and by then I doubt I’ll even know what it is!

Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) – Silchester, 23rd May 2015

The following two images are crops of the above.


I’ve managed to year-tick most of the local summer migrants, so the year list won’t move forward much until the autumn I suspect, but it has been a cracking year so far. I’m still missing Spotted Flycatcher though, which are becoming increasingly difficult in the borough, at least they are at the sites where they’ve been reliable in the past. I panicked with this species last year, and ended up seeing three I think, but if anyone knows of any locally, I’d be very pleased to hear from you! 

I think I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that in the past I’ve done a fair bit of birding in Berkshire; I even keep a Berkshire list. This has tailed-off since I became so absorbed in borough birding, but I still make the odd sortie over the border when something good turns up. A species I haven’t seen for a long time is the wonderful Red-necked Phalarope, so when a female was found on the main pit at Theale gravel pits last Sunday, I just couldn’t resist. These gorgeous little waders can be ultra confiding, as most of their life is spent in open water and they rarely come in contact with humans, but this particular individual always remained fairly distant, but still gave excellent ‘scope views. Always a little too distant for photography, but I did my best with some heavy cropping.


Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) – Theale Main Pit, Berkshire, 31st May 2015 

A really charming little bird, constantly spinning around and picking insects from the surface of the water.


Small numbers of Red-necked Phalarope breed in northern Scotland and particularly the Shetlands and the Western Isles; they winter at sea in tropical oceans.

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Red-necked Phalaropes are rare inland and this was the first in Berkshire since 2001; it had gone by the following morning. As I write, two males are currently at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire….maybe I’ll be able to get one on my Hampshire list as well!

Thanks for reading

Barry Stalker

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).


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.


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