1st September. A new month but more of the same from the previous day with an early morning trip down to Keyhaven. Again I hoped to catch up with some Curlew Sandpipers so after checking out Cut Bridge and the Keyhaven harbour with no sign of any, I set off along the coastal track eyes and ears open looking for signs of migrants. A few Wheatears again and a single Grey Plover on the shoreline. A Snipe flying overhead was another sign of the changing seasons and on reaching the Fishtail Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler were present before a Sparrowhawk spooked them all away before I could raise the camera! Moving further on and looking for waders I saw two Black-Tailed Godwits by the canal and was rewarded as they began squabbling allowing me to get some good shots of the two birds as they tussled. After the Godwit fight I saw a Linnet with a mucky face from eating too many berries and grabbed a few quick shots before it took off. Noticing my Kingfisher photographer "friend" was doing his constant pacing again, I had a few second thoughts about sitting and waiting for the tide to rise to bring in some smaller waders. I did position myself on the sea wall and was eventually rewarded with a few decent shots of juvenile Ringed Plover and a jumpy Dunlin. No Curlew Sands there today but as usual, once the dog walker numbers increased the birds decreased. I was about to move when one such dog walker decided to let poochie run across the beach so not wanting to ruin poochies lovely morning I moved inland. Actually it was quite a nice change, I soon calmed down when I found a group of at least 7 Wheatears and then proceeded to get some lovely shots of them as they fed on an area of short grass just up from the Fishtail. One bird was particularly bold and posed beautifully for me, often coming closer to where I was standing. It's always great to have the birds come to you! I saw a few Whinchats but they were far too jumpy to approach, my closest view was at around 60 yards! Again there were many Whitethroats around and I got another nice shot of one, this time sat on a big clump of Blackberries. A Dunnock was doing the same thing so I was obliged to take that too although the few Yellow Wagtails that were around were mostly on the wing. A Sparrowhawk disrupted proceedings as it flew low across the scrub, making an attempt at one of "my" Wheatears but missing. It landed in a tree a few hundred yards away but I didn't manage to see it before it saw me and flew off low again looking for a meal. I headed back via the ancient highway again encountering yesterdays Long-Tailed Tit flock and also snapping Wood Pigeon that was quite happily sat in a tree enjoying the mid morning sun. Near the car I again found several Greenfinch, one of which obliged yet again for photos in the bright sun. Back at the car park it was packed out and a group of 40 birders were staring out at the harbour. I quickened my pace thinking something really exciting had been found but it was only a Wildlife Trust walk with a friendly group of casual birders. Chatting briefly to the leader of the walk, he informed me there was a Curlew Sandpiper in the harbour and surely enough there it was amongst the Turnstone flock. Good views for once but it was almost straight into the bright sun. I willed the bird to come round to give the resulting photos less of a contrast and after 15 minutes watching it did slightly but still it was a little frustrating that the bird I'd really wanted to photograph was showing superbly but I couldn't quite get the angle right. Never mind though, the resulting images are a massive improvement over previous efforts but there's still that reason to get out again and hope for that perfect encounter with an elegant little wader! (Still more pics to process of this bird)
2nd September. A much quieter day today photo wise with a similar walk from the previous days producing fewer migrants on the ground. The most noticeable difference today was the number of hirundines on the wing and there was a substantial number of Sand Martins on the wing. With a strong breeze they were hawking for insects barely inches from the ground but there must have been several hundred with maybe another few hundred Swallows and the odd House Martin dotted in here and there. At one stage a large part of the flock fed at the top of a patch of reeds, doing their best impressions of Storm Petrels as they flittered whilst almost perched on the reed tops. It was like an emergence of butterflies with a riot of movement of flickering wings and reed stems blowing in the breeze. I attempted a few shots of the Sand Martins but with the strong breeze, their already erratic feeding movements were hugely exaggerated and I only managed one sharpish "bottom shot" before giving up. Also much more notciable today was the numbers of Yellow Wagtails with at least thirty seen. A few Whinchat also sharing habitat with Wheatear and Stonechat but all kept their distance today so with no good shots taken and no Curlew Sandpipers around the point, I walked back along the coastal path, bumping into another birder near the car park. He showed me lovely shots of a Curlew Sandpiper that had been showing at "point blank" range until flushed by a dog. I hung around and waited for the small waders to reappear but had to content myself with a rather splendid Curlew that was feeding amongst a twenty strong group of Black-Tailed Godwits. The Curlew put on a nice show in good light and I also snapped a Mute Swan as it came in to land. I crept up on a Redshank feeding on exposed mud near the moored boats but failed to get a Turnstone feeding no more than 15 feet away on the car park wall! Only 6 new pictures for the website today but still a nice mornings birding.
3rd September. Christchurch - Nice Starling pictures. Write up and pics to come.
4th September. This was going to be it! Rather than going out and trying to find my own Wryneck, I'd go out and chase down one found by someone else. I set off early (as usual on these types of trip) and arrived at a greyer than promised Durlston Country Park at around 7. I got my bearings and then headed off looking for the far end of the park at Beau View from where the bird had been seen over the past few days. I didn't anticipate how hilly the area was and was quite puffed after passing the lighthouse and ascending a big hill to reach the promised land. I thought it looked a little quiet though figured the strong breeze had something to do with it. I set about searching the area thoroughly, scanning for any signs of movement. A few Bullfinch surprised me with their presence, I didn't think the scrub & gorse coastal habitat was ideal for them, and the white rumped bird population was increased by a noisy Jay and also a few Wheatear busily feeding. Mixed Tit flocks contained good number of Lotties with Great and Blue Tits mixed in. A few Chiffchaffs were amongst them whilst a couple of Whitethroats kept me trying to turn them into something a little scarcer. On my third pass of the area I bumped into a family party of Stonechats and on descending the hill down to the coastal path noticed a few butterflies, with Small & Adonis Blues mixed in with good numbers of Small Heaths. I'd noticed a birder scanning a certain tree which looked like "the tree" I'd seen the Wryneck in and staked it out for a while with no luck. It was looking like failure number 8 for my "Jynx" bird. I did another few circuits of the area including a wide sweep of coastal scrub outside the reserve with nothing more than Stonechats, Wheatear and a lone Buzzard noticed. It was late morning and obvious that the bird had gone so I headed back to the car park, taunted by a Green Woodpecker that flew every time I saw it. I pointed the car in the direction of home but on reaching Christchurch's traffic jams decided to detour to Stanpit for a quick butchers. I was glad I did as there were several young Wheatears feeding on the grazed area near the fenced off enclosure and with some patience I managed to get stunning some frame fillers of them. I also photographed a few young Stonechats & Linnets before turning my attention to the shorebirds, distantly seeing the leucistic Dunlin, several Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderling and a few Sandwich Terns along with the usual things. The tide was too far out for photographs so I decided to head back home, at least salvaging something from a disappointing start.
12th September. Another birding trip and another very early start. 4:20 departure this morning and I headed south and east through sleeping England down to Gosport, arriving at dawn to a small park in the middle of a housing estate to hopefully catch up with a rare shrike seen for the past few days. Staking out the area with three other birders including Steve from the midlands whom I last saw at the White-Tailed Plover and his friend who I met on the Scilly Pelagic. We waited and watched for signs of movement from the bushes and other than a large flock of House Sparrows busily snacking on Blackberries and a few Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats, single Wheatear, Whitethroat and a Kingfisher quartering the exposed tidal mud it was beginning to look like the Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike had moved on. It had been a clear night and with favourable winds too it wasn't looking too promising. More and more birders arrived with their optimism being dashed on seeing the assembled crowds' optics all pointing in different directions. After watching a few Dunnocks and Robins and having spent two hours waiting in perfect sunny conditions it was evident the bird had gone and I excused myself from the crowd. Dip again! I seem to find September tick hunting quite difficult! So it was time to switch to the backup plan so jumping in the car and heading further east down the A27 I found myself at Pagham Harbour trying yet again to lay the Wryneck ghost to rest. A bird had been reliably seen over several days from the North Wall path so parking on the lane to the east I crossed the metal bridge and soon found plenty of birders who informed me that it was still there and showing! Was this going to be the day I finally got my Wryneck?!! Joining up with a local birder we walked west along the top path towards an assembled group, politely excusing myself from conversations along the way with the desire to catch my nemesis. On reaching the group they said it had been seen 10 minutes ago but it was still around. Another 10 minutes passed and I noticed another birder coming from the opposite direction. He moved from the lower to top path before joining us and said that it was feeding on the lower path. I slowly led most of the group along the top path whilst a few others dropped to the lower path. Using a bramble bush as cover I peered round and there it was, a Wryneck in clear view looking back up at me from no more than 50 feet away! I fired off a load of shots before the birders on the lower path spooked it and it flew to cover. Mixed emotions! Eventually, the group reassembled on the higher path from where we could see the bird in a small tree around 80 yards away. It was obvious the bird was feeding well on the paths so patience was the order of the day and surely enough after 5 minutes the bird flew back to the lower path. This time I took control and asked everyone to keep the top path and move slowly along which worked well as we were all rewarded with great views of the bird as it worked it way along the lower path for at least 40 minutes. We were very lucky not to encounter a single walker / runner / dog walker in that time on the lower path with the few people passing all doing so quietly and inquisitively. During its "show" I fired off over 600 pictures getting a variety of poses of this strange species. Its snake like appearance and "wry-neck" behaviour was very evident with the bird often turning its head almost 180°. The markings of the Wryneck are superb and with the bird often presenting views of its back as it fed amongst the grass, it was wonderful to see the camouflaged nature of its plumage with the distinctive tail barring and streaks down its back. At one stage the bird perched in a small tree and it blended perfectly with the branches. Had it not been for the fact that a dozen birders were watching it, it would very easily have gone unnoticed. The Wryneck moved along the path and only flew off when it ran out of good feeding habitat with the grass becoming shorter than where it had been successfully feeding. I could have followed it to its new location in longer grass but decided that I'd already hit the jackpot and left the bird to carry on its business. Walking back along the North Wall, a few young Wheatears were evident along with a steady movement of Hirundines. A Black-Necked Grebe was allegedly on the lagoon nearby but as time was moving on I decided to head back via Farlington Marshes. News of a Red-Necked Phalarope on the main pool there was a good enough reason to make the tiny detour. There was a small crowd of birders on the sea wall so my hopes were raised on catching up with a species of which my pictures are truly abysmal! My luck wasn't in this time though, the bird had flown into the harbour an hour earlier and hadn't been relocated so I assembled the scope and began to sift through the birds on the pool and the shoreline. Lapwing, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Grey Plover, a single fresh Bar-Tailed Godwit along with many Black-Tails, Curlew, Oystercatcher and a single Snipe made up the waders whilst decent numbers of Teal and Wigeon marked the changing seasons as Swallows and House Martins trickled through - all going south. I waited as long as I could with my time constraints but there was to be no further sign of the Phalarope. I later learned that it wasn't seen again (as well as the shrike not being seen too) so it was the right decision to head off. Finally on my ninth "mission" I've bagged my Wryneck. What a relief!
23rd September. Time for a flying hit trip! I left work an hour early and headed south down to Avonmouth where a nice bird had been found in a most obscure location. Similarly to last year when I visited a Caravan park in West Wales to see 10 of them, I headed down to Cabot Park, a huge industrial estate a mile or so from the Severn estuary. Eventually finding somewhere to park I located the "concrete bridge" and began to look. After no more than 20 seconds, a flap of wings was from the juvenile Glossy Ibis I'd come to look for. Whoops! I'd flushed it from no more than 30 feet away as it had been very well obscured in the reedy ditch. The bird started to circle above, indicating its affinity to the area so I quickly made myself scarce to allow it to land which it duly did in another channel no more than 60 yards from where it had taken off from. I allowed the bird to settle and then moved to a point where it could see me. Remembering the approachability of the birds last year I was hopeful that this one would be similar and after waiting for a short while the bird began to feed and come towards me. I was conscious that I had to leave fairly promptly to pick up the kids but with the Ibis getting ever closer it was going to be tricky! As I waited a male Kingfisher whizzed up the channel, its bright red and blue colours illuminated wonderfully in the sunlight. It saw me at the last minute and changed direction. My Ibis patience was rewarded with some great views as the bird confidently fed in the ditch seemingly unbothered by my presence. When I left the bird was around 30 feet away and showing brilliantly, it didn't flinch at all when I moved to leave. Always the best way to depart! A slightly fraught drive back watching the time followed but I made it to pick up the kids with two minutes to spare!
25th September. A bright clear morning was forecast and with an influx of Northern passerines still very much evident I could wait no longer! I had two choices, the closest was to head up to Malvern where several birds had been seen through the week so I arrived in West Malvern 20 minutes before dawn, grabbed my gear and began heading up. I had planned to ascend the North Malvern Hill, find the bird and get shots of it in a nice dawn light. Best laid plans and all that... I made my way to the top of the hill, thankfully choosing the right peak to ascend after taking the wrong path and reached the summit, slightly out of breath as the sun rose. No birds though! A few Meadow Pipits, a couple of Linnets and a very strong cold wind. I got out of the wind for a bit to try and use my ears but couldn't hear anything unusual. I then made myself mobile again, searching suitable habitat whilst only finding Meadow Pipits. On returning to the peak for the third or fourth time, I heard an odd bubbly call and briefly caught sight of a Bunting. It flew over the top of the hill and out of sight as it used the wind to zoom away into the distance. Grrrrr! A few other birders joined me and whilst with one of them we both heard the call of a Lapland Bunting flying but couldn't locate it. Other than a few sightings of a family party of Ravens that was to be it as I had to head back to meet the family by 9:45 which meant a painful dip of a bird that had been showing well all week. Once back home I checked online and the bird had been seen 20 minutes after I left (showing well!). Feeling very miffed and after burning all my brownie points, I jumped in the car again and this time headed south west to where another Lapland Bunting had been showing very well. I arrived near Kenfig before 2, found somewhere to park and started walking out towards Sker Point. The usual fare on the way out with Stonechat, and a few Wheatear, along with Swallows busily feeding whilst moving south. Once I reached the reserve area I had a flypast from a Peregrine but a bit too distant for photos. I bumped into a few birders on their way back, Sid saying that it had been seen 20 minutes ago and Rob reinforcing that but saying the bird had last been seen flying towards the shingle. The bird had generally been faithful to one area, a hundred yards from the pool, along the path back towards Porthcawl so that was where I headed. I did a search of the area with no luck, only finding a charm of fifty plus Goldfinch. I wandered along said path and then, Whoa - I almost trod on something!!! The Lapland Bunting!!! It was no more than 3 feet from my right foot so I gently moved away with the bird looking at me to a more comfortable distance and grabbed a few shots - head shots! The bird then began to feed and I couldn't believe how obliging this bird was. I'd moved twenty feet away but even so the Lapland Bunting came closer to me, all the while feeding on seeds from one particular species of grass. At times the bird was so close that I could hear it crunching the seeds in its beak. Unbelievable! The light was difficult with sharp contrasts as the bird moved around the longer grasses and getting a balanced shot proved difficult. It was only when other birders came over that I managed to get better shots. Amazingly with half a dozen of us watching it, it became even more confident and started feeding in slightly more open surroundings, this time fully in the sunlight. For some serious overkill I had a look through one chaps scope at it from no more than 20 feet!! I watched the bird for around 90 minutes firing off far too many pictures but getting some great shots of a cracking little bird. In all that time it wasn't spooked once and never looked like taking flight as it busily fed, always on the same seed type. All its best poses such as wing stretches were done while it was partially obscured but even so no-one there had any cause for complaint! I eventually tore myself away with the bird as content as ever still performing perfectly for the several birders present. As I walked back, I felt relieved that with the several hundred Lapland Buntings reported all around the U.K. this year at least I'd managed to connect with one of them.
30th September. A Wilson's Phalarope at Dowdeswell Reservoir!