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Reflections on Florida… Part I

18 Nov

Well I’ve been back from Florida a couple of weeks now and had chance to go through and identify pretty much everything we saw.

I should say that this wasn’t intended as a birdwatching trip by any means but I managed to pick up a lot of new species for me and had probably one of my richest hours of biodiversity in the wild at the encouragingly named “Alligator Lake” (more on this to follow in Part III). Also worth nothing that I didn’t lug my 500mm lens with me to the states so all images are take with (at best) a Tamron 300mm with 1.4x teleconverter!

My first hour or so out of the house was an opportunity for my 6 year old daughter to stretch her legs in a local playground a few hundred yards from our base in Lake City.

That hour gave me a taste of things to come…first bird up was a northern mockingbird singing his heart out in the bushes above a pair of american crows picking through the grass.



Next up overhead the dark form of a turkey vulture gliding around, closely followed by several more and a black vulture in tow.

Black vulture

Black Vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

A group of large-ish birds approaching from the North in a loose V formation gradually resolved into a group of 10 glossy ibis.

Glossy ibis

Glossy ibis

Then two birds I simply had no idea about… flying high with long black wings and a long black tail but a pale neck and head and long beak. It took me three days to work out they were anhinga. I’d never seen anhinga before and all the photos I’d seen seemed to show glossy black birds and it was the pale neck that had thrown me.



In one of the trees at the playground another mockingbird was in residence alongside the unmistakeable form of a blue jay which skulked in the depths of the tree. A tiny bird flashed in and out of view around the periphery – always managing to elude my camera but I eventually got a decent view of  a gold crowned kinglet.

A subsequent visit to the same playground also gave me my first views of the confusing juvenile little blue heron – confusing because it looks for all the world like a pure-white egret!

Little blue heron

Little blue heron

Parts II and III to follow


Wandering in Florida

28 Oct

First full morning in Florida and just been out for an hour to find a playground for my daughter. So far clocked up turkey and black vultures, boat tailed grackle, kildeer, glossy and american ibises, mockingbird, bluejay and gold crowned kinglet plus an unidentified stork/crane. Off to Alligator Lake this afternoon and then to buy a copy of Sibley. Photos to follow when we get home.

Jubilation and Expansion

5 Jun

This weekend has mostly been taken up with Jubilation… some time back I was persuaded by the good lady wife to apply for tickets for the Diamond Jubilee Concert… and then subsequently I was surprised to find I’d been one of the lucky 5,000 out 1.5m that got the tickets.

Even more surprising given that I have “previous” within the walls of Buckingham Palace – luckily I seem not to be on a blacklist.

Anyway.. birding opportunities were limited to gross generalisations :

  • Buzzards are on the increase massively. I’ve never seen buzzards close to London but I had4 sightings within the M25 circle this weekend
  • Ring-necked parakeets are also on the march. My kind host for the weekend lives in Surrey (Ewell) and had previously had regular visits from parakeets however in his new home he’d not had any sightings on 12 months. I managed three sightings from his kitchen in two mornings.

Other good birds this weekend emerged as we drove to pick up the little un who had spent the weekend with the grandparents and managed an osprey near Scaling Dam (host to a single male for most of last summer) followed by a merlin on the moors.

Minimal time to watch birds but an interesting weekend all the same.

Springwatch – Unspringing my Heron

31 May Heron Silhouette

Received an e-mail from Aunty Beeb this evening asking if it would be OK to show one of my flickr photos on Springwatch Unsprung tonight… who am I to argue?

Assuming no technical hitches with live TV, my photo of a silhouetted heron amongst teal at Druridge pools should be gracing BBC2 and BBC HD tonight (Thurs 31st May) but you can have a sneak preview right here….

Heron Silhouette

Heron Silhouette

More Welsh Wandering – Ospreys and Roseates

22 May

Further to my last post about my trip to North Wales, I managed to pick up a few new year ticks… some expected and some less so.

Most unepected perhaps was roseate tern at Cemlyn lagoons… I went to see the nesting colony of sandwich, arctic and common terns and I was not let down. Thousands of birds swirling in the air from time to time in a screaming dread I could see all three species in abundance when in the middle a single markedly pale individual floated past me with long flowing tail streamers and a dark beak. I snapped off a couple of shots to double-check later as I lost it out to sea.

Also on the lagoon a dozen red-breasted merganser including a pair obligingly close. After watching them for a while and taking a few more photos I returned out of the biting wind to the car whereupon I checked my photos. “No card in camera” the screen cheerfully reported. What? I opened the hatch for the memory card and there was my memory card in situ, but unlatched. D’Oh!

Anyway, an hour later the pager report chirped up.. roseate tern at Cemlyn Lagoon, so I at least I had confirmation even if no photos.

Also at Cemlyn I picked up my first ringed plover of the year.

The Llanberis pass offered up plenty of raven, pied wagtails, a pair of dipper and a single common sandpiper.

Also slightly unexpected were a pair of nesting osprey not far from Snowdon, a male circling around before heading for a nest atop a large pine tree… further down the road by a mile or so a big bold RSPB sign for “the Glasyn Ospreys” indicated I probably wasn’t the first to find them!

Back at South Stack I found choughs to be much more obliging than my last trip to anglesey – numerous individuals evident on each of four visits, including a pair nesting in a cave inside the cliff face. On the top of the cliff a cuckoo was reported eagerly being fed by an unwitting and long-suffering rock pipit.

I missed out on black guillemot at Holyhead Harbour, and also little owl which I was hoping for, but it was still a most enjoyable trip.

Welsh Wandering

18 May

Day 1 of a 4 day trip to North Wales – mostly taken up with driving and sheltering from the rain in my chosen base – Caernarfon.

Managed a quick trip up to South Stack RSPB in light drizzle for a brief stretch of the legs and managed a much more succesfull chough-hunt than my last visit where we gave up only to have 13 of the acrobats screaming an chattering over the car just after setting off.

This time around it was only 5 mins before one and then a second flew past me on the path to the RSPB tower. At the cafe and RSPB admission office another two rooted around in the short grass of a paddock adjoining the car park. Also in the gorse plentiful stonechats and wheatears were most unconcerned by my presence, and on the cliffs a good number of guillemots and razorbills were in residence. Plenty of gulls and a handful of gannets offshore with swifts and martins patrolling the cliff tops.

Driving back South via Trearrdur and several more choughs were foraging alongside jackdaws and carrion crows amongst the grazing sheep.

Hoping for better weather tomorrow so I can get the camera out.

Wandering around Dumfries and Galloway

7 Apr

Just back from a cracking week in Dumfries and Galloway, based at a converted mill at Auldgirth just north of Dumfries. With the bedrooms at treetop level and a balcony overlooking a rushing stream fifty feet below I figured it would be a good spot for wildlife watching in comfort and I wasn’t wrong – within 30 mins of getting up on Sunday morning I had a dipper in the stream below and a raven cronking as it flew overhead escorted out of the local airspace by two irate rooks.

Threave Castle gave me my first red kites of the year, circling low over the fields and moments later a pair of ravens flew past. Lots of vociferous reed buntings were chasing around and through the hedges along the river banks. Talking to the wardens there we were the first visitors of the year to the castle (it only opened that morning) but we were 30 mins too late to see an Osprey checking out last year’s nest and an otter in the river.

With the late March heatwave I figured we were probably a week or two too late for much at Caerlaverock WWT but there were still 4,000 barnacle geese in the fields and around 1,000 pink foots. Only 6 whooper swans were lingering and there was not much by the way of ducks, although a green-winged teal provided a life tick perched on a bank amongst 30 or so common teal and a few wigeon.

We paid a visit to Bellymack Farm near Lauristown for Red Kite feeding time – I used to travel past Harewood House near Leeds every day for work and was quite used to seeing up to 5 or 6 kites at a time, but 40 together swooping on the meat thrown out in the fields was something else (although the peak of over 120 birds must have been fantastic to see). Kites started to appear as we first arrived 30 mins before the feeding started and slowly built up – at one point a tree just 100 yards from the hide had 12 birds perched waiting for the festivities.

My final bird-related excursion was to Ken Dee Marshes RSPB reserve on an overcast and drizzly friday morning. No sign of the flock of greenland white-fronts which I think had departed a couple of weeks earlier leaving just a handful of greylags. From the hides over the marshes and pools hundreds of black headed gulls were screaming and wheeling creating one heck of a din but precious little else was around – I was pleased to pick up a couple of snipe – bogey species for me that I never manage to spot for myself except on this occasion where one kindly waded across a pool in plain view before utilising its invisibility spell when settling in to a tussock of grass. I knew exactly where it was but could I see it? Not a chance. Eventually it twitched and I was back on to it for a better look.

Lots of woodland birds around though – blue, great and coal tits (no sign of the willow tits that live in the reserve) plus nuthatch, treecreeper and wren, and great spotted woodpeckers drumming all around and flitting from tree to tree.

All in all a nice trip – would have been better a month earlier for birds, but as birding wasn’t the aim of the trip the weather may have been a bit less to the liking of the family (although it did snow for a while!)