Saturday, 26 November 2011

On the road again ...

Time to pack - Bogota here we come! That open field guide, by the way, is Hilty's Colombia bible - and that plate is just one of four covering tyrant-flycatchers. A mind-blowing trip to the world's number one birding destination awaits - more soon.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

On the road ...

The Topsham Red-breasted Goose appears diminutive alongside its dark-bellied Brent companions.

It's been a very busy few days, with brief trips to Scilly and Norfolk and scarcely a break in between, and the best part of a thousand miles clocked up en route. Part of the purpose of the Scilly visit was snipe photography, and some of the results will be seen in next month's Birdwatch with a photo-based identification special on Common and Wilson's Snipe. Very grateful to locals Kris Webb, Martin Goodey, Will Wagstaff and others for their help while on St Mary's, and also to my mate and October Scilly resident Steve Young for advice and help organising arrangements. The last day was stuffed with rarities, from Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers on Scilly to Red-breasted Goose near Exeter on the way home and, best of all, Sharp-tailed and Spotted Sandpipers and two Long-billed Dowitchers at Chew Valley Lake.

One of at least 15 Waxwings in Holt, Norfolk, at the start of the week.
Two days later I was back in Norfolk, and though with little time for birding I couldn't resist stopping off in Holt to enjoy my first flock of Waxwings this season. This showy individivual was among at least 15 feasting on berries at Gresham's Prep School; will it be another 'Waxwing winter'?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Burp, Water-flick, Head-up-Tail-up, and Down-up

What exactly are the above, and what do they all have in common? Perhaps the images below will provide some clues ...

Drake Eurasian Teal in display mode - perhaps undertaking the so-called Water-flick manoeuvre?
Males centre many (but not all) of their elaborate actions around a single female.
In case you haven't already guessed, they are among the major communal courtship displays of Eurasian Teal. Not my names for them, incidentally, but as described in Birds of the Western Palearctic (Vol I). The weekend before last I spent a while observing and photographing them at my Rainham patch, and fascinating to watch they are too.

Birds seem relatively settled when not actually displaying, and the males show no aggression to each other.
Bum rap: the middle male's raised undertail seems aimed at the following drake, rather than any nearby female.

In all honesty, observing them in life - as I hope these few images indicate - is a far more entertaining experience than reading about them in BWP. After a while, through a repeated sequence of pseudo-foreplay on the part of the drakes, it became possible to guess the moment when one would compress his body and raise his tail to flash black and yellow, a process lasting only a second or so. What I haven't yet figured out is the heirarchy of the displaying males in this process, and the importance of the closeness and position of the female while their displays take place - are they really showing off to her benefit, or is it a bit of rival posturing? Something to figure out on the next visit.

Isn't this posture great? It seems to be the most-repeated display, and again when males are in close proximity.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Late Holly Blue

Holly Blue in mid-November - what's going on?

The butterfly season should be well and truly over by now, so I was amazed to see a pale blue shape skip past the window this morning and land in the garden. Fortunately I had the camera to hand and was able to document my latest-ever Holly Blue, a species whose flight period is usually over by the end of September. Quite how unusual a local mid-November record is I'm not sure - there is no clue to latest dates in Plant's The Butterflies of the London Area (1987). So if anyone out there has more information, please leave a comment - I'd love to know.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Larking about

After a lot of searching, this superb Shore Lark - a major London Area rarity - finally gave itself up today.
Back from Norfolk last night to news that Britain's second Eastern Crowned Warbler had apparently been trapped and ringed first thing at Hilfield Park Reservoir, on the Hertfordshire fringe of the London Area, but not seen since. I decided not to waste a day there dipping with the crowds today but to go and look instead for the Shore Lark which turned up last week in the Surrey sector of London, and which was still present yesterday.

The bird looks like it has largely retained breeding plumage, somewhat unusually for October.
After several kilometres walking the banks of Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir at Walton-on-Thames sans lark, I opted to phone a friend for advice, and then retrace my steps closer to the water line in case the bird was foraging unseen in the lee of the embankment wall. Meeting up with another birder on site, Fraser, we duly found it poking about in moss - about the closest habitat to tundra (or indeed saltmarsh) in Walton-on-Thames. It's a terrific bird, still yellow faced and with 'horns', as well as a rather warm hue (almost pinkish in places); speculation that it's a North American Horned Lark rather than a Eurasian Shore Lark may be a bit premature, however (even if it failed to respond to the Shore Lark calls I played).

Eurasian or North American? Online debate has already begun about the potential origins of this bird.
It was a welcome addition to my London list, especially as I had searched for but missed the last one, which was at Rainham Marshes back on 7 November 1998 (and, I think, possibly a single-observer record). Thanks to Johnny Allan and to Dave Darrell-Lambert for the on-site advice today.


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