Thursday, 19 January 2017

Waxwings.... finally!

Neither Allan or I have ever seen Waxwings before. That's not to say we haven't tried, but it's safe to say they've been (especially for Allan) our 'bogey bird'. So with early signs of this winter being a waxwing winter, we have been keeping watch on the SOS sightings page to see when they'd show up in Sussex. On Sunday it was reported there were 33 on an industrial estate in East Grinstead, which is about an hour's drive from here, and with Monday being our day off we decided it was worth a trip in the morning. Arriving shortly after 9am in the pouring rain, there were no other birders around yet so had to find them ourselves. Fortunately it didn't take much more than a minute to spot them sitting at the top of a tree not far from where we parked!

Shortly after grabbing a couple of pictures, them flew off deeper in to the estate, so we followed the direction they went and quickly found them again, sitting in a tree adjacent to a whole border full of rosehips - bingo! Luckily there was a bike shelter in the perfect location where we could watch them move from the tree to the rose bushes and back without getting soaking wet standing in the rain. We spent about an hour in their company overall, a magical birding experience for the both of us.

At about 10.15am they flew off and we decided to head off to Old Lodge Nature Reserve as it was on our way back home. An hour's walk around the reserve also came up trumps, with nice views of Stonechats, Meadow Pipits, Goldcrests, Bullfinches and best of all a pair of Crossbills.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Winter Weather

Yesterday's horrendous rain turned to heavy snow at around 6.30pm as the temperature dropped, leaving a fair dusting greeting us this morning. This is the first snow of the winter, which has been mostly above average temperatures with a few short cold snaps. Off the back of a mild autumn and coupled with an abundance of natural food, feeder activity has been a bit short so far this season, with sales of food slightly below winter 2015.

We've had one brief visit from a Brambling so far (11th November) and a few Siskin flyovers but none stopping yet. Good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings were present late in 2016 feeding on the yew trees, but after the food was gone they mostly moved on, though flocks can be seen most days flying over. A Grey Wagtail was regular from late October through to December, joining the resident Pied Wagtails, and a Red-legged Partridge was an unexpected visitor to the nature area on the 24th November.

After October's Buzzard sighting, our first 'perched' photos from Feathers, I was hugely surprised to find one sitting on the fence post in the Nature Area as I entered the hide one morning in December. The grubby windows seemed to help hide me, enough to at least manage a few photos and a video before it flew down to the ground behind. I managed to stay hidden as I crept around the hide for a few clearer pictures before it took off.

The colder weather which arrived at the turn of the year seems to have increased the activity on the feeders significantly, especially with today's brief flurry of snow and 2°C temperature! A pair of Marsh Tits have turned up, quite a rare visitor for us, and are now taking beakfuls of sunflower hearts to store away. Flocks of Long-tailed Tits regularly pass through and Coal Tits are here most of the time too. Charms of Goldfinches, a few Greenfinches, plenty of Chaffinches, Robins, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Nuthatch & Great Spotted Woodpecker sum up the other regulars.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Birding at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Castle Water @ Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is quietly tucked away on the south coast and 'as the crow flies' is not far away from the RSPB's Dungeness Nature Reserve. Both attract many birds and visitors alike throughout the year, but for me Rye is less of a drive and hits that spot in my soul, where I find myself completely relaxing and tuning in to the wildlife around me. I'm not a twitcher by any means, I wouldn't even describe myself as a good birdwatcher. I don't particularly know what I'm looking at when sitting in one of the hides overlooking Ternery Pool or Flat Beach, but simply being there with little else other than the sight and sounds of birds is my cup of tea. That's not to say I'm not relatively clued up of course; I know the difference between a Redshank and a Ringed Plover, I just can't tell a Dunlin from a Sanderling unless I've got a good view and a good book.

Three things I normally have with me are warm clothes (it can get cold and windy!), my binoculars and my camera. Late last year I changed from a Panasonic Lumix FZ200 to a Canon SX50HS. The image quality on the Lumix is, in my opinion, superior to the Canons, but at a place like Rye it's handy to have the extra zoom that the Canon offers. The big advantage any 'bridge' camera over a DSLR and telephoto lens is the fact they are considerably lighter, something I appreciate as I like to walk quite a lot. This is another thing I love about Rye Harbour NR, it's a huge place so if you want you can easily spend hours walking, especially if you visit Castle Water hide, but equally it's ideal for a short walk too. Recently I have done both, I always enjoy my time here and often come away with a good picture or two. Here are my best efforts from the past month or so:

Flat Beach
Green Woodpecker
Golden Plover

Camber Castle
Camber Castle at sunset
Mute Swan
Little Egret
Flat Beach with Denny Hide in the background
The reserve is supported by Sussex Wildlife Trust as well as 'The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve'.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Autumn Migration first and lasts

Good number of Hirundines lingered on til the 14th October - House Martins and Swallows all swarming around above the shop, farm house and Church, feeding up before their long migration south. We are still getting reports from customers of Swallow sightings, mostly around coastal areas. The bulk of Chiffchaffs have moved on too, though there are still a few around and I'm sure some will stay over winter.

I saw my first Brambling and Fieldfares when visiting in-laws in Norfolk (Ingham) on the 15/16th October, then our first Fieldfares here on the 18th. A few flocks have passed over since, but none have stopped off so far and no Redwings yet either. Hopefully the Met Office's prediction of lower-than-average temperatures for November may bring a few in. Lots of Mistle and Song Thrushes have joined the Blackbirds over the past month, feeding mostly in the yew trees.

The sporadic visiting Grey Wagtail arrived back with us in September and is now around most days at some point. Numbers of Pied Wagtails have increased too.
Grey Wagtail
The nicest birding moment in October however belongs to a Buzzard. Although an almost daily sighting, not once in the 6 ½ years up to now has one perched in nearby tree for pictures. On the 19th, as I was outside sampling binoculars with customers, I suddenly spotted one sat at the top of the conifer tree in the farm house garden. Fortunately the bird has quite happy to sit for 10 minutes or so, not only allowing for great views through the binoculars but a good opportunity for pictures too, albeit slightly distant for the Lumix.

Fortunately the bird took off towards us and landed in the nearest tree to where we were standing - I couldn't believe my luck!
Shortly after it was chased off my a mob of corvids, but not before I managed a picture or two I was happy with.

Shop News

This month we have started to stock a small range of Spotting Scopes, some are available to try and buy in store with lots more available online or to order in. We currently have a super deal whereby you get a FREE Alta+ 233AO Tripod when you buy a Vanguard Endeavor HD 65A or Endeavor 82A telescope. This deal won't last forever so get in quick if you're after a high quality scope at a very good price! The 65 is actually my favourite of the two and is appreciably cheaper too.

We've also recently restocked our range of Archipelago bird carvings, these make a perfect Christmas gift for bird lovers and all the prices include FREE p&p!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Birding around Gnadenwald, Absam and Innsbruck, Austria

Allan and I were invited by Swarovski Optik to visit their factory in Absam, Austria, staying at the Speckbacherhof in Gnadenwald (less than a 10 minute drive away) for a few days in early October. Arriving in Munich airport on the 2nd, the weather was unfortunately dreadful which made a long coach journey to Austria feel even longer, with very few birds spotted on the way. Arriving late afternoon a the hotel also didn't leave any time for birding on the day, so an early start was decided upon for the 3rd before the factory tour.

A short walk up the wooded mountains in front of the hotel from 6.30am didn't reveal too much, in fact Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Pied Wagtail and Chaffinch were just about the only species seen, until we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast. Sitting on top of the roof of the hotel was a Black Redstart, and the Sparrows we had heard on our arrival and thought nothing of turned out to be Tree Sparrows, rewarding our efforts on a cloudy, cold morning. The clouds began to fade as we made our way to the Swarovski Optik factory, the tour and discussions providing plenty of insight in to how these products are made. A short break mid afternoon gave us a chance to sample some of the binoculars and scopes, another Black Redstart on the eco-friendly 'living roof' providing a perfect opportunity to test the clarity of the optics. A Common Buzzard and a number of House Martins in front of the mountains tested the ability of the telescopes. Then out of the blue came a Nutcracker, a lifer for me, flying over our heads before shortly disappearing.

Tree Sparrow

Arriving back at the hotel around half 4 gave us the opportunity in clearer weather to get out and explore the footpaths and hotel grounds a bit more. Half a dozen Tree Sparrows were easy to photograph, as were at least 3 Black Redstarts. Our walk took us a bit further than it had in the morning, but still only 10 minutes from the hotel, where we spotted and managed to photograph another Nutcracker. Activity increased all of a sudden as we realised we had stumbled across someone's bird (and squirrel) feeders. 20 minutes here revealed numerous Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Crested Tits, Goldcrest, Nuthatches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. A very dark Red Squirrel also entertained us with its antics. Back at the hotel from the balcony we saw a pair of Ravens, many Carrion Crows, Mistle Thrushes, a fly over Siskin, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker.

Red Squirrel
Crested Tit
A nice spot for bird watching...
Black Redstarts
Black Redstart
Tree Sparrows

The next morning we prepared our suitcases to leave, though our coach didn't depart for Munich until early afternoon. Swarovski had planned a visit to Innsbruck and weather permitting, a trip up the Nordkette mountain range in a cable car. Visibility wasn't great but the trip went ahead, and as we made our way up it was difficult to see the cable more than 50 yards ahead. At 7,500ft up, it was also pretty cold, something we hadn't planned for. A glance of a corvid flying past the cable car as we departed gave us hope though, and shortly after making our way outside we spotted 2 Alpine Choughs, flying between the mountains. Like boyish fanatics, we struggled to get any good photographs, until around 30 birds picked up from what could only have been 30 yards to the left of us, flying directly over our heads! What a magical moment it was, a lifer for both of us, and we could only laugh after spending quarter of an hour hopelessly chasing one or two birds.

Alpine Chough
Alpine Chough
Allan at the top of the mountain

The weather deteriorated once more on the coach journey north, but somewhere roughly half way between Innsbruck and Munich we did spot around 10 Great White Egrets in a field, a nice way to end the trip.

Thank you to Swarovski Optik for inviting us and to the Speckbacher hotel for their hospitality.