Tuesday, 25 March 2014


After a fantastic weekend, I'm not entirely sure why I had never previously been keen to see Adders. For years, I've bumbled around various heath and downlands and never seen them, but never been particularly bothered. I was generally too busy seeking out avian year ticks - be it Tree Pipits, Woodlarks, Nightjars, erm... Golden Pheasant...

I guess age (maturity!) plays its part. Becoming a more open-minded naturalist (person) as opposed to mere numbers-driven birder. That and a bag full of nice new camera gear (macro lens, extension tubes etc)..!

 Male Adder, Holt, Norfolk, March 2014

I glimpsed my first Adder near my father's house last July - at Holt Country Park, in North Norfolk. It was really quite exciting, but frustratingly brief - a matter of seconds as it slithered off in to a dense patch of gorse and heather. Since then, I've wanted to see them well and, knowing that this time of year is best to connect as the snakes make the most of the first warming rays of spring sunshine, I've spent a bit of time looking over the past couple of weekends.

First up was Sunday 16th. Sunny and strangely warm for mid-March, I was rather too hungover to search properly - much to the amusement of Marc Read and Kit Day - and a day around Dunwich and Minsmere produced no more than a single Grass Snake. Dartford Warblers, a pair of Garganey and singing Firecrest were pleasant distractions, though.

The following weekend - i.e. the one just gone - I was due to be up in Norfolk, looking after my Dad's dogs. The weather forecast hadn't been good all week and I didn't hold much hope for a successful reptile hunt. As the weekend drew nearer, the forecast slowly improved and, as it turned out, it was actually a decent enough couple of days - while not as warm as the weekend previous, there were enough bright spells to coax out snakes. I must have seen a dozen Adders, perhaps more, during the course of the weekend. I quite enjoyed how predictable they were and, by Sunday lunchtime, I was beginning to know each individual by its physical features and, more importantly when considering photography, their behaviour too! Some were no-go's, clearly already too awake (and wary) to allow a close approach. Others would just sit there lazily, no more than a metre or two away, soaking up the sun. Occasionally they'd shuffle round to assume a more effective position, but most of the time they just lay there, motionless.

The most frustrating thing was that none were ever truly out in the open (or in ideal setting for really killer shots). Nevertheless, I'm happy enough with some of the pics obtained over the weekend. Most were taken handheld with my 400mm stacked with extension tubes (hence sharpness isn't quite there), but some of the 'snake in setting' shots were taken with the macro. I can't imagine going a spring without seeing them again, so plenty of time to improve...

Holt Country Park is as great site. As well as the snakes, Crossbills were ever present (no Parrots from what I could tell), Siskins and redpolls were consistently flying over, Woodlarks were singing and there were also a handful of Common Lizards zipping around.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Highlights from France

I'd anticipated coming back from Southern France with a card full of Alpine Accentor shots among other things, but it didn't quite pan out that way. Instead, all I have to share can be seen below. Say no more.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A bunch of Ringers

Saw a dozen Ring-billed Gulls - of all ages - in Ireland last week, a few of which were probably good enough as finds but most no doubt familiar long-staying/returning faces.

Second-winter, Bantry (Co Cork), 16th February

Second-winter, Tralee Bay Wetlands (Co Kerry), 18th February

Apparent third-winter, Tralee Bay Wetlands (Co Kerry), 18th February

First-winter, Achill Island (Co Mayo), 19th February

Adult, Belumllet (Co Mayo), 20th February

Adult (top) and second-winter, Atlantic Pond, Cork City, 22nd February

First-winter, O'Callaghan Strand, Limerick City, 22nd February

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Pale American Herring Gull

This beast was first found by Conor Foley et al. in a muddy field at the northwest end of Carrowmore Lake on Monday 17th Feb; Rich Bonser and I attempted to relocate it late afternoon on the Wednesday but failed, only to return mid-afternoon on Thursday to find it back in the same field. It's not with many gulls (up to 20 Herrings, and a couple of Icelands) and is extremely mobile - we saw it for a few minutes on Thursday before it flew off; extensive searching of the area then drew a blank for the next couple of hours until it magically reappeared in the same spot. Again it proved mobile, and we last saw it in another manure-covered field in the next valley to the north at Fallagh, where it stayed until clearing off just ahead of an heavy rain shower. The gulls it is with feed west to Barnatra village, where there are a couple of sheep fields. Guess it must get in those too.

Evidently a very pale bird, but these photos should show enough for the bird to be diagnosed as an American Herring (rather than Thayer's or a hybrid) - something reflected in field observations after quite a bit of head scratching and deliberation. It's a really big bird, quite thick-set with a strong, extensively pale-based bill - the latter is generally not evident in my photos due to being covered in cow excrement (though can be made out reasonably well in the penultimate pic)! Though it has a pretty well-defined greater covert bar, the rest of the upperparts are quite pale and concolorous, which was one of the primary reasons for our initial concern about it being smithsonianus. Just look at those scaps! The underparts are quite pale, but solidly marked nevertheless. In contrast, rump and tail pattern (and upperwing pattern in flight) look typical for smithsonianus. Eye-opening bird!

Ross's Gull in Cork

The final of the fourteen species of gull we encountered during our week-long Irish trip was this delightfully salmony adult Ross's Gull at Kinsale. Of course, a good proportion of Ross's Gulls show a pink wash to their plumage but they rarely come this bright (at least in the UK) - the most intense hue was around the bird's tail base, on the rump and the vent. This was another new Irish bird for me, and infinitely better than the utterly underwhelming Lancashire bird (that later died!). Just a shame about the appalling light that morning, not to mention the oil all over the belly and, as you'll see in the perched shot above, on the tertials too.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Ballycotton Laugher

Having managed to miss out on the 2005/6 influx entirely, the first-winter Laughing Gull encountered on the first day of our Irish trip (last Sunday - time flies!) was only the second I'd ever seen in Britain and Ireland. As such I lapped it up, and the bird put on a great show, regularly allowing us to approach within five metres. Shame the early to mid-morning light was average at best.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Wingers, ringers, mingers... and a purple chicken

The past couple of days in Mayo has produced all of the above. I'll let you decide which is which.

Got to Killybegs this evening; lots of trawlers in, with Glauc and Iceland both seen in the harbour lights at 20:30!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Ireland: half-time

Day three of a seven-day tour of Western Ireland has just concluded; there have been moments of brilliance but it just feels like we're a bit too late to the party for all these monster counts of Glaucs. Indeed, the weather has been great the past couple of days (after an average Sunday). Highlights so far include Laughing Gull, a handful of Ring-billed Gulls, 44 'wingers' (mainly Glaucs with the rest kumlieni and lesser numbers of nominate glaucoides), female King Eider, a few Pink-feet etc. Nothing big yet though. Let's see how the next few days go; hoping the wind later this week has some effect and brings birds back in to shore.

Lots more shots when I'm back home.


3cy Ringer in the mix

Adult Kumlien's flies by

Juv Glauc

4cy Ringer