Marsh Harriers and Bitterns in Jersey

   Last week I rejoined HMS IRON DUKE in Jersey after returning from HMS ARGYLL a little earlier than expected.  After a short pit stop at home, Mrs T dropped me off at Southampton Airport and a couple of hours later I was back onboard IRON DUKE alongside in St Helier.  At secure the following day I headed to the West of the island in the hope of seeing a decent number of Marsh Harriers come in to roost at St Ouen’s Pond.  The ‘Jersey Birds’ website had reported up to twenty-seven individuals, a site record, flying in to roost on previous days. 

St Ouen’s Pond, Jersey – 18 Nov 11

   Despite a fairly strong breeze I wasn’t disappointed, although I had to wait until after sunset for the largest count.  The highlight was when a slow, swirling vortex of Marsh Harriers drifted effortlessly in over the reeds in fading light.  At that particular time there was a minimum of eighteen Marsh Harriers in the air, by far the most I had ever seen together.  It was a memorable sight. 

Water Rail, St Ouen’s Pond, Jersey – 18 Nov 11

Water Rail, St Ouen’s Pond, Jersey – 18 Nov 11

Teal, St Ouen’s Pond, Jersey – 18 Nov 11

   Other highlights included three Water Rail on the mud in front of the hide, singing Cetti’s Warbler and two Bittern (one Sky Pointing and another in flight). 

   The following day I set off on foot to Havres des Pas, to the East of St Helier.  There I found a different selection of birds that included Brent Geese (numerous juveniles), Rock Pipit, Redshank, Turnstone and Little Egret. 

Little Egret, Havre des Pas, Jersey – 19 Nov 11

Good birding,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) Geosci (Open)

Dolphins in company with HMS York

We have now arrived back in British Waters after our brief sortie to Brest. This morning we were in the South West probably somewhere off the Cornish coast. I was walking around the upper deck back to work after stand-easy (tea break). Fortunately as I walked towards the flight deck I caught sight of a pod of Common Dolphins heading towards the ship. Numbering around 20-30 animals they soon closed in and started interacting with the ship.

Common Dolphins, English Channel, 22 Nov 2011 

Common Dolphins, English Channel, 22 Nov 2011 

 

I nipped down to my office and returned with camera in hand. The Dolphins were concentrating near to the stern wash right alongside the ship. The views were simply superb as they glided in and out of the surf at our side. My only complaint, (there is always one) was that if anything they were too close. I only had the 100-400 zoom on me and even set to minimum, they were often too big for the frame. I managed a few decent shots never the less even though I was virtually looking down on them at some stages. I could clearly see them darting under the keel passing from Port to Stbd. They stayed with the ship for half an hour before heading into deeper water.  

 Common Dolphin, English Channel, 22 Nov 2011

Common Dolphin, English Channel, 22 Nov 2011 

Common Dolphin, English Channel, 22 Nov 2011

 

Steve Copsey

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Starling Flock over the Brest U-Boat Pens

   HMS York paid a visit to the port of Brest in Brittany over the weekend.  I did manage a little birding on Saturday with a walk along the coast, but the light was very poor and no photographs taken during the walk were worthy of inclusion.  However when I returned onboard later in the evening as the light was beginning to fade and I witnessed the great sight of Starlings coming in to roost in the old German Submarine Pens in the harbour. 

German Submarine Pens during WW2

German Submarine Pens Nov 2011

 

   I had noticed the pens on our way in the previous day and even had a quick walk around them on the Saturday morning. They were built between January and September 1941. With regard to the Starling flock it was impossible to calculate numbers but I would estimate maybe ten thousand birds. I watched from the ship just after I returned and could see clearly as the cloud of birds swirled back and forth across the evening sky. Another fifteen minutes or so passed then the birds started to funnel down into the pens. Within another five all the birds had disappeared from view. Superb and all the better as it was totally unexpected.

Starlings, Brest Submarine Pens, 21 Nov 2011

Starlings, Brest Submarine Pens, 21 Nov 2011

Steve Copsey

Chough & Peregrine in West Wales

I spent the morning on the Ceredigion coast looking for some of the Welsh specialities. As I walked along the coastal path there were plenty of gulls, Cormorants and Shags on the rocks and Meadow Pipits in the fields. A single fungi caught my eye and I am told it maybe a Parasol Mushroom.
Parasol Mushroom, West Wales, 17th November 2011
A Red admiral and a Raven crossed the path but that was it for wildlife for the first hour or so. I retraced my steps and tried the opposite direction with more luck. After a while I spotted a Peregrine on the rocks and as it took fight and soared close to the cliffs it flushed a group of Corvids.
Peregrine, West Wales, 17th November 2011
These were four Chough. Two flew off to the south, whilst the other two took high to the air and soared higher and higher moving north along the coast. Anyone looking for Chough should study their distinctive call, to me, Jackdaw like but made up of higher notes.
Chough, West Wales, 17th November 2011
Exact location not given for the obvious reason but any part of this beautiful coast should produce these great birds.
Mark C

December Moth in Ceredigion

Today I visited Borth near Aberystywth but the wind put pay to any chances of finding decent birds. A Raven did fly over and was soon mobbed by Jackdaws as it passed.
The highlight of the day came in the evening when the
Mother-in-law called me into the kitchen to remove a flying beastie.  The moth was doing a “Wall of Death” around the kitchen as its wings moved like a Hummingbird Hawkmoths.
This turned out to be a December Moth, a very smart moth which actually flies from mid October to late December
December Moth, Aberystwyth, 16th November 2011
A new moth for me and the blog (I believe), you never know what will turn up at the strangest time and places, great stuff.
December Moth, Aberystwyth, 16th November 2011
Mark C

Lapwings in the English Channel

   Spent another lunch hour on the upper deck today.  The weather was rather grim and overcast but I did have a couple of new species for the week, one of which was quite a surprise.  HMS York was patrolling south of the Dorset coast about 8 miles offshore.  Early in the hour we passed a trawler with its nets out and as usual it had quite a number of seabirds in attendance. Although fairly distant it was mainly large Gulls along with several Gannets.  However I did pick up two Great Skuas on the fringes of the action.  I was hoping a few of the birds would drift over in our direction and I was glad to see one of the Skuas come within 200 metres.

Trawler and attendant Seabirds, English Channel, 16 Nov 2011

Great Skua, English Channel, 16 Nov 2011

   Fortunately a single Gannet and two Kittiwakes also came over and hovered above the stern for a few minutes.  I managed a few shots which I lightened to pick out detail.  Pickings were obviously not as rich as the trawler and they did not stay long.  I would have thrown yesterdays Mackerel in their direction but we had our helicopter ranged on deck so I decided against the idea.

Gannet, English Channel, 16 Nov 2011

Kittiwake, English Channel, 16 Nov 2011

   I then had a more unusual sighting.  I saw a small flock of birds flying very close to the surface at around 400 metres.  I immediately assumed Auks but was very surprised when I got the bins focused to see a party of 28 Lapwings zipping towards Dorset.  Not a rare bird but one which took me by surprise given the distance from shore.  The last bird of the session was a single Cormorant.  Not an unexpected bird, but of interest as when I looked at the images I could see the bird was ringed.  I did try and blow the shots up for a closer look but at the distance and high Iso there was nothing to be seen.

Lapwings, English Channel, 16 Nov 2011

Cormorant, English Channel, 16 Nov 2011

 

Steve Copsey

Seabirds in the English Channel

   With HMS York back at sea in the English Channel I managed just over an hour on the upper deck this lunch.  The ship was a few miles south of the Needles so I was not expecting waves of birds but I had a few to keep me occupied.  Gannets were the most numerous birds seen with 11 birds over the period. 

Gannet, English Channel - 15 Nov 11

   Also 9 Guillemots including a party of four loafing on the sea just a little too far away for a record shot.  The only birds that came remotely near were a few Gulls. 

Lesser Black-backed Gull, English Channel – 15 Nov 11

   The reason they came close was the fact that I was throwing bits of left over
breakfast mackerel from the back end.  One Lesser Black-backed Gull was particularly interested and helped itself to a few pieces as well as the remains of a Chicken Pie.  My juvenile/immature Gull identification skills are on the poor side of pathetic.  I will make more effort over this latest period at sea to address this issue.  However, I believe the bird below to be a first winter Herring Gull.  It certainly looks too pale for a Lesser Black and too light billed and pale winged for a Greater.  As always I could wrong, but if you don’t stick your head out it deprives your mates of an opportunity to take the schmichael. 

Herring Gull, English Channel, 15 Nov 11 
   A small number of Kittiwakes and Black-headed Gulls made up the numbers.
Steve Copsey

Purple Sandpipers at Aberystwyth

As I begin my tour of the UK, catching up with family and friends, I find myself in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales. I spent an enjoyable few hours walking along the front on a glorious November morning. I knew that Purple Sandpipers could be seen near the old wooden pier at the southern end of the sea front and I wasn’t disappointed when I found five.
Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth, 15th November 2011
Otherwise there were 15 Ringed Plover and 16 Turnstones on the beach.
A Rock Pipit was flitting amongst the rocks whilst Herring and Black-headed Gulls sat on the sea.
Rock Pipit, Aberystwyth, 15th November 2011
I couldn’t find the regular Black Redstart on the old college but a Grey Seal near the pier was a first for me.
Mark C.

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Pallid Scops Owl in Arabian Gulf

   Unfortunately, as in Kuwait, the ‘birding’ opportunities on patrol onboard ARGYLL were also limited due to circumstances.  The main stumbling block was the fact that I won the twelve hour night shift (1900-0700) rather than the twelve hour day shift.  Although I initially got up a couple of hours before the c1730 Sun set and stayed up on completion of my watch for an hour, the duration and frequency of my vigils reduced, as the constant exercises during my ‘off watch’ took their toll. 

 

   I was unable to identify the first three migrants that I spotted.  The first was a species of Wheatear that I flushed at first light as I walked on to the Flight Deck from the Port Waist.  I immediately froze, in the hope that the bird would settle back down, but it didn’t.  Instead it flew along the starboard side of the ship to the bow, where I was unable to relocate it.  The second was a repeat of the first, but this time it was a larger, darker ‘Starling’ like bird, but in the gloom it was impossible to identify as it flew off.  Next was three very distant large birds silhouetted against the dawn sky that were most likely either Greater Flamingo or Spoonbill. 

 

   However, I was able to identify the next two species.  First was a Collared Dove that unlike the other migrants was happy to remain perched on the Flight Deck nets, typical, until the ‘fitties’ commenced their circuit training.  Next was the ‘champagne moment’ of my time onboard to date.  As I stood next to the hanger contemplating just how dire the ‘birding’ had been so far and the missed opportunities with the earlier grounded migrants, a small bird flew behind me and perched on a conduit underneath the sponson.  I turned round to see a Scops Owl, no more than two metres away, looking down at me.  Aware that there was more than one possible species in the region, I hurriedly made mental notes of its features.  As it turned out though, there was no need to hurry because the bird remained on its perch throughout the day, although it was gone the following morning.  Consequently, I was able to get some descent photographs of the bird before I got my head down.  The encounter made all my efforts well worthwhile. 

 

Pallid Scops Owl, Arabian Gulf – Nov 11

 

Pallid Scops Owl, Arabian Gulf – Nov 11

 

Pallid Scops Owl, Arabian Gulf – Nov 11

 

Pallid Scops Owl, Arabian Gulf – Nov 11

 

Good birding,

 

Tony T   BSc (Hons) Geosci (Open)

Life in a ‘Blue Suit’ – Armenian and Baltic Gull in Kuwait

   With Mark ‘homeward bounders’ on LIVERPOOL, YORK no longer deploying and IRON DUKE UK running, there was every chance that the ‘Three Amigos’ would get an opportunity to meet up together later in the month for a spot of ‘birding’. However, life in the Royal Navy is far from predictable and on Monday 31 Oct 11, instead of sailing out of Portsmouth on IRON DUKE, I found myself on the 0400 Operation KIPION Troop Flight, from RAF Brize Norton, to join HMS ARGYLL in Kuwait as a temporary relief.

 

   Although I had two days alongside before the ship sailed, my ‘birding’ was restricted to what I could see from the upperdeck. Although the pickings were rather meagre all was not lost as the harbour contained a number of gulls. Amongst the numerous Black-headed Gull were several larger, much darker backed Gulls of various ages. I suspected that the majority, if not all, were Armenian Gulls, but it wasn’t until an adult dropped onto the water much closer to the ship that I was finally able to confirm the ID. Sadly, it is considered to be a sub-species of the Yellow-legged Gull, but with its darker back, dark eyes and bill marking it appeared to be distinctly different. I managed a gash record shot before an approaching container ship caused the bird to take flight.

 

Armenian Gull, Kuwait – 1 Nov 11

  

   Also present was a single Baltic Gull (sub-species of Lesser Black-backed Gull) seen on both days, several ‘Herring’ Gull like birds and an occasional Slender-billed Gull. 

   

Slender-billed Gull, Kuwait – 1 Nov 11

 

Good birding,

 

Tony T BSc (Hons) Geosci (Open)

Dartford Warbler at Hook: 10 Nov

Spent a pair of hours around Hook yesterday afternoon before sundown. My first visit for a while. A small flock of six Bullfinches inc two splendid looking males were in the scrubby oaks that line the path halfway between Christmas House and the shore. The tide had just started to drop and a single Great-crested Grebe was fishing in the harbour. It remained until the tide was well down which surprised me. Not 100% sure if the bird was still showing some head markings of a juvenile or just an adult moulting into winter plumage. I would hazard a guess and say this is a first winter bird.

Great-crested Grebe, Hook with Warsash, 10 Nov 2011

Black-tailed Godwits, Hook with Warsash, 10 Nov 2011

Around 80 or so Dark-bellied Brent Geese were in and around the harbour. A good proportion were this years birds so hopefully another decent year on the breeding grounds. 60 Black-tailed Godwits and several Dunlins also returned to the harbour as the mud re-appeared. At least 3 Water Rails were squealing away in the reedbed. Two quite close to the sluice but none were seen.

 

The main scrape was holding around 200 Teal maybe a 100 Wigeon and around 20 Pintail along with smaller numbers of Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall. Around a dozen Common Gulls and the best part of a 100 Lapwing were also present. Near the seats I came across at least one possibly two Dartford Warblers. A Dunnock in the same patch of scrub allowed a decent shot.

Dartford Warbler, Hook with Warsash, 10 Nov 2011

Dunnock, Hook with Warsash, 10 Nov 2011

Steve Copsey

Kittiwakes in the Bay

After my first day travelling up the West coast of Spain and Portugal, we entered the Bay on day two. There were a lot more gulls than on the previous days and this time there were adults amongst the many immatures. Both Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed were present.

Kittiwakes were numerous and some put on a good show near the ship. I could see activity up ahead and birds chasing each other, it was obvious they were fighting over food.

Kittiwakes, Bay of Biscay, 02 November 2011

At fitst the juvenile had the fish/eel and was being persued by the adults, however it soon let this drop and one of the adults quickly grabbed it.

Kittiwakes, Bay of Biscay, 02 November 2011

It was then the turn of the adult to be persued by another adult and the original juvenile.

Kittiwakes, Bay of Biscay, 02 November 2011

Other than that I only saw one Great Skua and a Storm-petrel that I couldn’t pin down.

This is my last entry from this deployment as HMS Liverpool is now back in the UK.

From now on its back to rarities that cross my path and the local Hampshire fare with some ringing thrown in of course.

Thanks for reading my Mediterranean adventures over the last seven months but believe me it’s great to be home.

Mark C 

Titchfield Haven: Marsh Harrier

Had an hour or two down the canal path this afternoon. Seems like the first time I have been out in the sun for months. Not a great deal to shout about. Although two Buzzards, a Kestrel and the juvenile Marsh Harrier certainly were nice to see. Not 100% with the Harrier age, but it did appear to have certain male traits in the wing. So it could be a second winter bird. I have nothing to hand to confirm the aging, hence the uncertainty.  The bird spent over half an hour quartering the reed beds flushing numerous Woodpigeons from the nearby scrub.

Marsh Harrier, Titchfield Haven, 6 Nov 2011

Marsh Harrier, Titchfield Haven, 6 Nov 2011

I did notice that the Posbrook floods were just starting to flood. No doubt helped by the deluge towards the end of last week. No wildfowl yet but I did see singles of Common and Lesser-black-backed Gull bathing. The bottom picture is the Great Grey Shrike that has been resident at Burley for a week or so. I caught up with it on Monday but only managed a distant record shot. Hopefully get down there again at some point.

Long-tailed Tit, Titchfield Canal, 6 Nov 2011

Great Grey Shrike, Burley, 31 Oct 2011

Steve Copsey

Seabirds off Portugal

As we turned North at Gibraltar the weather changed and although bright a 3 meter swell and strong winds were enough to upset the stomachs of a few “hearty” sailors.

I decided this would be a great opportunity to try and see a few seabirds so settled into a corner of the bridge wing, wrapped up warm with a flask of tea and a bar of nutty (naval term for any chocolate treat)

I didn’t have to wait long for my first bird, A Leach’s Storm-petrel.

Leach’s Storm-petrel, Atlantic Ocean, November 2011In three hours the following bird totals were seen

Madeiran Storm-petrel             1

Leach’s Storm-petrel                4

Storm-petrel sp.                       2

Cory’s Shearwater                    3

Great Shearwater (possible)     1

Great Skua                               3

Northern Gannet                      28

Gull sp.                                     15

Grey Phalarope                          15

The gulls I believe were mostly Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed,

All of them were immatures.

I was chuffed to see Grey Phalarope, mostly in ones or two but there was one group of seven.

Grey Phalaropes, Atlantic Ocean, November 2011

The other Stormey I saw was Madeiran or Band-rumped Storm-petrel, a new bird for me at sea.

Madeiran Storm-petrel, Atlantic Ocean, November 2011

A good day spent in the company of seabirds.

Mark C

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Last report – Migration in the Med

Well this will be my final report from the Mediterranean Sea. I have been

Here since early April and seen both Migration periods. Once all my data is compiled I will do another entry with a few facts and figures.

Today was a classic snapshot of the last week or so. I woke up to the following, in the Hangar were a Robin, a Blackcap and a Song Thrush. Around the ship were another Song Thrush, two White Wagtails, a Starling and a Black Redstart.

White Wagtails, Mediterranean Sea, November 2011


One of the Wagtails, a Song Thrush and a Starling stayed with us all day.

The Wagtail managed to find a few small moths to keep it fed, whilst the ship’s company tried to feed the other two various types of biscuit.

White Wagtail, Mediterranean Sea, November 2011

Song Thrushes were particularly common this week with four birds flying alongside the ship at one point.

Song Thrush, Mediterranean Sea, November 2011

A few more days until I get home, I don’t expect too many more migrants on the way as the weather has already changed for the worse as we have entered the Bay of Biscay. Still I will keep visiting the upper deck to see what I can find.

Mark C

 

 

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