Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Scopeless in Florida

My family and I spent the last two weeks in October on holiday in Florida at the home of the mouse.  It wasn’t really a birding trip but we did manage to escape the crowds on a few days to visit some of the superb birding hotspots of central Florida.
This was my first time birding in the United States and I achieved 82 lifers.  Being a family holiday and not a birding trip I opted not to take my scope and I never really felt that I needed it.  There was only one day that a scope would have been a help and that was the day we spent at Fort de Soto.  But even then, I may have only added another one or two birds to the list, so not really worth the effort of lugging my scope half way around the world.

We stayed at the Disney resort hotel Art Of Animation. Though this probably wasn’t the best location for birding, a walk around Hourglass Lake did turn up a few good birds including Pied-Billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher, Red-Shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. 

We also found a gem of a place in the centre of Orlando, Mead Botanical Gardens.  This place showed up on Ebird as a regular spot for Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and within twenty minutes of arriving we had a good but brief view of this cracking little bird.  Other highlights at Mead Gardens were Barred Owl (Thanks to local birder Marcus Sharpe), Yellow-Throated Warbler, Black & White Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Blue-Headed Vireo.  

The only disappointment of the holiday was that Black Point Wildlife Drive on Merritt Island was closed for maintenance.  We did walk the Scrub Trail and drive Bio Lab Road, though I was expecting to see far more birds than we actually did.
A real highlight of the holiday though was watching Manatees from the watch point at Haulover Canal.  Other highlights from Merritt Island were Florida Scrub Jay at the Scrub Trail and the Canaveral Beach pay booth, Black Racer (snake) and male Painted Bunting at the Visitor Centre and the shear numbers of Belted Kingfishers all around Merritt Island.  Not to mention the none-birding highlight of Merritt Island, ‘Kennedy Space Centre’.  This place turns grown men into excited school boys.

Another couple of superb places that we visited were Circle B Bar Reserve and Fort de Soto.  Circle B Bar is an inland wetland reserve with a good mix of habitats and there seemed to be a constant kettle of Vultures and other Raptors overhead.  There is a good network of paths on the reserve, however it was a little unnerving walking along paths with Alligators in the pools at the side of them.  The highlights here were Short-Tailed Hawk (dark phase), good views of Bald Eagle, Caspian and Royal Tern, Green Heron, Yellow Warbler and Yellow-Throated Warbler. 

Fort de Soto is an island on the Gulf Coast South of St Petersburg.  This place is paradise with its white sandy beaches and palm trees.  I would love to have spent a few days here as one day is just not enough to do it justice.  The highlights were Magnificent Frigatebird, Reddish Egret, American Avocet, Black Skimmer, Groove-Billed Ani, Wilson’s Plover and Hooded Warbler. 

I only had five real targets and after the two weeks I was still missing one of them, Limpkin.
As our flight home wasn't until 19:10 we had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport. I had noticed a few reports on ebird from Kissimmee, so it seemed like a good place to spend a few hours chilling before the long flight home.  As we pulled up at the car park there were four Sandhill Cranes feeding in the front gardens of the houses.  After photographing the Cranes I turned around to walk back to the car and there on the grass behind me was a Limpkin eating an Apple Snail.  'A cracking bird to end our holiday with' I thought, then I spotted a bird flying low over the lake and as soon as I got my bins on it, I could see that it was a Snail Kite. So we moved around the lakeshore to a play park where I got better views of the Kite as my daughter played happily in the park.  Now that WAS a cracking bird to end the holiday with!


Here is a full trip list.

Pied-Billed Grebe*                    common
Brown Pelican*                         Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Magnificent Frigatebird*           Fort de Soto
Anhinga*                                   common
Double-Crested Cormorant*     common
Great Blue Heron*                    common
Great Egret                               common
Snowy Egret*                            common
Reddish Egret*                          Fort de Soto
Little Blue Heron*                      common
Tricolored Heron*                      common
Green Heron*                            Circle B Bar
Glossy Ibis                                Circle B Bar
White Ibis*                                everywhere
Wood Stork*                             Mead Gardens, Kissimmee
Canada Goose                         Kissimmee
Wood Duck*                             Mead Gardens
Muscovy Duck*                        Kissimmee
Mallard                                     common
Mottled Duck*                           Disney
Black Vulture*                          common
Turkey Vulture*                        common
Osprey                                     common
Snail Kite*                                Kissimmee
Cooper’s Hawk*                       Disney, Merritt Island, Circle B Bar, Fort de Soto
Northern Harrier*                      Merritt Island, Circle B Bar
Red-Shouldered Hawk*            common
Short-Tailed Hawk*                  Circle B Bar
Red-Tailed Hawk*                    Merritt Island
Bald Eagle*                              widespread
American Kestrel*                    Circle B Bar, Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Wild Turkey*                             roadside 528
Moorhen                                   Circle B Bar, Kissimmee
American Coot*                        Circle B Bar, Kissimmee
Limpkin*                                   Kissimmee
Sandhill Crane*                        Kissimmee, Roadside i95
Black-Bellied Plover                 Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Semipalmated Plover*              Fort de Soto
Wilson’s Plover*                        Fort de Soto
American Oystercatcher*          Fort de Soto
American Avocet*                     Fort de Soto
Greater Yellowlegs                   Merritt Island
Lesser Yellowlegs                     Merritt Island
Willet*                                        Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Turnstone                                  Fort de Soto
Sandling                                    Fort de Soto
Red Knot                                   Fort de Soto
Least Sandpiper*                       Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Short-Billed Dowitcher*              Fort de Soto
Laughing Gull*                            common
Caspian Tern                              Circle B Bar
Royal Tern*                                 Circle B Bar
Sandwich Tern                            Fort de Soto
Forster’s Tern*                            Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Black Skimmer*                           Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Mourning Dove*                          common
Common Ground Dove*             Merritt Island
Collard Dove                               Kissimmee
Monk Parakeet                            Kissimmee
Groove-Billed Ani*                       Fort de Soto
Barred Owl*                                 Mead Gardens
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird*    Mead Gardens
Belted Kingfisher*                        common
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker*          Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
Red-Bellied Woodpecker*           Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
Downy Woodpecker*                   Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
Eastern Wood-Pewee*                Merritt Island
Eastern Phoebe*                          Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens
Loggerhead Shrike*                     Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Blue-Headed Vireo*                     Mead Gardens
White-Eyed Vireo*                        Merritt Island, Disney
Blue Jay*                                      Merritt Island, Circle B Bar
Florida Scrub Jay*                        Merritt Island
American Crow*                            Disney
Fish Crow*                                    Circle B Bar, Kissimmee
Tree Swallow*                               Merritt Island
Tufted Titmouse*                          Disney, Mead Gardens
Carolina Wren *                            Mead Gardens
House Wren*                                Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet*                 Disney
Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher*                common
Gray Catbird*                                Circle B Bar, Merritt Island
Northern Mockingbird*                   common
Brown Thrasher*                           Disney
European Starling                         Fort de Soto
Yellow Warbler*                            Circle B Bar
Yellow-Rumped Warbler               Merritt Island, Mead Gardens
Palm Warbler*                                everywhere
Pine Warbler*                                Fort de Soto, Disney
Yellow-Throated Warbler*             Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens
Black & White Warbler*                 Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
American Redstart*                       Disney, Mead Gardens
Common Yellowthroat*                 Disney, Circle B Bar, Merritt Island
Hooded Warbler*                           Fort de Soto
Indigo Bunting*                              Disney
Painted Bunting*                            Merritt Island
Northern Cardinal*                         Disney, Mead Gardens
Red-Winged Blackbird*                 Circle B Bar, Disney
Common Crackle*                         common
Boat-Tailed Crackle*                     common
House Sparrow                             common


We were probably about a week too late arriving to catch any real migration, but 101 species is not bad going considering I only had four birding days and a couple of birding walks around Disney.  Florida is a superb place to visit and I highly recommend it for a birding or none birding holiday.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Still Here!

I am still here, I just haven't had a lot of spare time to update this Blog due to work and family stuff.
I have had a couple of trips to the Lake District, not really birding, however one of the trips was to see a couple of old birds! The two Lancasters looked superb flying down Windermere.

I have managed to get out a few times recently up to Cresswell and Druridge Bay picking up most of the regular passage birds.  I hadn't planned on going birding today but with the weather looking good for migrants I was keeping an eye on Birdguides.  Then when the report of Red-Breasted Flycatcher at Druridge Pools came on it was too much to resist.

The light this morning was dyer so to get any shots of this bird was amazing.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

When in Rome....

I spent a few days at the end of May in Rome with the family.  We don’t usually do cities but Rome was superb!!  Over the two and a half days we were there we walked about twenty miles seeing most of the attractions.  As we had such a busy time fitting in all the amazing things to see in Rome I didn’t have much time to do any birding.  Despite this, we did see some good birds, Blue Rock Thrush, Serin, Firecrest and Sardinian Warbler in the Roman Forum, Hooded Crow, Yellow-Legged Gull, Ring-necked Parakeet and Italian Sparrow everywhere, Monk Parakeet in the Vatican Garden and Short-Toed Treecreeper in Villa Borghese.

Italian Sparrow Villa Borghese

Sardinian Warbler Roman Forum

Yellow-Legged Gull Trevi Fountain 

Hooded Crow Roman Forum

                                     Short-Toed Treecreeper Villa Borghese

Coming from a part of England with strong links to the Emperor Hadrian it was amazing to see buildings that he rebuilt in 126AD and are still standing today, like The Pantheon that originally dates back to the reign of Augustus 27BC-14AD.

The Pantheon

                                                                    Roman Forum

Unfortunately a few of the monuments had scaffolding on them including the Colosseum witch did spoil the effect a little bit, however I did manage to get photos with very little scaffolding showing. 

The Colosseum

St Peter's

Rome has to be one of the safest cities in Europe as there are police everywhere. I have never seen so many police as we saw in Rome and they are all armed.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Going Cuckoo

I had a nice walk around Slaley Forest yesterday morning with the family.  Didn't see a great deal in the forest, but it was really just to have a look for suitable areas for Nightjar as it's been a few years since I've been down to see them.  The highlights were Jay, Bullfinch, Tree pipit, Redstart and a Red Kite over the Quarry.  In the afternoon we had a look around Derwent Reservoir but didn't see the Osprey that has been hanging around although it was reported on Birdguides.  Near the Dam on the South side of the reservoir was a very showy Cuckoo giving probably the best views I've ever had of a Cuckoo.  Unfortunately the light was on the wrong side for photographs but with a little help from photoshop I did manage to get something usable.

When we retuned home I checked Birdguides and saw that a male Red-Backed Shrike had turned up near Ashington.  So I jumped back into the car and headed up the A1068 to find it.  The report on Birdguides said roadside bushes but it seemed to be favouring an area about 200m west of the road.  So no photos, but still a cracking bird to see.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Hello Yellow

Driving between Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond this morning I spotted a Yellow Wagtail in the cow field.  So I slammed the brakes on, grabbed my camera and jumped across into the passenger seat.  Snapping a couple of quick shots, it then took off and flew straight towards the car.  I looked up from the camera expecting it to fly straight over or veer off,  but it didn't.  It landed on the fence right next to the car.  I quickly took a couple of shots with the wagtail just about filling the frame, expecting it to get spooked and fly off and once again this didn't happen, it just sat there looking around, so I zoomed out a bit to get it in frame better (now there's something you don't say in bird photography very often!).

It eventually got spooked by some passing cars, who's drivers were probably cursing me for being stopped in the middle of the road.  I think these photos are worth their inconvenience!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Pie Eyed

I had a nice walk around a small wood in South Northumberland this morning.  It’s a place I like to visit every Spring if I get the chance.  Today I saw six male Pied Flycatchers, on top of the four I heard singing last week at Allen Banks, so it’s looking like it’s going to be a good year for Pied Flycatchers in Northumberland.

I also had four singing Redstart but unfortunately none would pose for a photo.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Allen Banks

I had a nice walk this afternoon with the family from Allen Banks to Plankey Mill and back.  We heard four or five Pied Flycatchers singing but only saw one.  It’s nice to hear so many singing though.  I was getting a little bit worried because we didn’t hear any Wood Warblers until we were nearly back to Allen Banks.

 Some of the other birds seen during the walk were Blackcap, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper and Common Buzzard.  A bit of a surprise was that we didn’t see or even hear a Redstart, although the afternoon is not really the best time of day for finding birds. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

All gone a Wry

News that the Wryneck was still in Whitley Bay was too much of a draw to resist, so my first stop this morning was Whitley Bay Cemetery.  After searching with other birders for about an hour with no sign, it wasn’t looking good.  Then just as I was thinking about giving up it popped up right in front of me.  Then it was a case of catching the attention of other birders to get them onto the bird.  Although once found it showed superbly for everyone to get really good views and photos.

 I then headed to Druridge Pools.  Viewing from the budge hide the Great White Egret flew in and landed in front of the South facing hide.  So I ‘hot-footed’ it round there to find that the Egret had moved out into the middle of the budge field., where it stayed the whole time I was there.  Other birds of note were a couple of White Wagtails and good numbers of Whimbrel mixing with the Curlew and Black-Tailed Godwit.

Driving slowly back towards Creswell pond with my window down I heard a call from the side of the road which I recognised.  I stopped the car and looked back over my shoulder to see a stunning male Yellow Wagtail sitting on the fence, but as I reached for my camera it flew off into the field.  Passing the little burn near Bells farm I heard the call again although I couldn’t see anything, then another male Yellow Wag came out from the burn and flew off into the same field.      

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Sunny Druridge

I had a nice trip up to Druridge Bay yesterday with my first stop being at Cresswell Pond.  I only had a quick look at the North end of the pond hoping for Yellow Wagtail, but unfortunately with no luck.  I didn’t even see any Avocet although other birders had seen them.  There were a few Wheatears in the cow fields between Hemscott Hill and Druridge Pools.  On the Budge field the only bird of note was a Little Ringed Plover that flew off high to the North.  In the field to the North of the big pool the Egyptian Goose was feeding with the Curlew.  There were also a few migrants with Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat all singing.

Next stop East Chev, where a Stoat was lurking around the rabbit burrows next to the path.

A walk around the East end of the South pool produced my first Sedge Warbler of the year.  I also had three Marsh Harriers including a fly-through 'cream crown' and the regular pair drifting around the South pool.

Driving out of East Chev I had a nice Lesser Whitethroat singing from the hedge at the side of the bumpy road. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

All work and very little play

Due to a change of shift pattern at work I haven’t really been out much over the last month.  I did manage to escape to Kielder for a day at the beginning of March and even though the weather wasn’t ideal, I had some nice Goshawk displays.  The interesting thing though was the number of Ravens, with a total of seven or eight being seen at different sights throughout the day.

I also tried for Snow Bunting at East Chevington. Despite there being eleven reported the day before, I only managed to find a single female on the morning that I went.

The two Slav Grebes and the Black-Throated Diver on the North pool were also nice to see.

Last week I spent a couple of mornings watching the Redpoll coming to the feeding station at the North end of the North pool at East Chev.  Although there was a lot of variation in plumage, all were Lesser Redpoll.  One of the days I was there, the Mealies were reported just after I had left, although I think this was a case of confusing a couple of very pale Lesser Redpolls as Mealies.    

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Nice bit of Rump!

The last two days I've paid a couple of visits to High Shincliffe in County Durham to see the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.  Yesterday the weather was dull and very cold and the Warbler mainly stayed in cover all morning, feeding on a fat filled coconut in the middle of the bushes.  So no real chance of any photos that day.

So with better weather today and word that the Warbler had been feeding on a coconut that had been placed more in the open I decided to try again this afternoon.

However when I arrived the Yellow-Rumped Warbler was still feeding on the coconut in the middle of the bushes.  Luckily, with only about twelve birders there, I managed to find a spot with a clear view through a hole in the branches and even more amazing was that my SX50 managed to focus on the bird.  So I was quite pleased to get a couple of record shots.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Playing Catch Up

Last week I had a trip ‘South of the water’ to see the Glossy Ibis at Boldon.  Then this week one turns up at Lynemouth, although every time I tried to photograph it in sunshine it disappeared to the far side of the field.  It just seemed to come near to the road in dull weather. 

I have tried for the Green-Winged Teal at Druridge Pools three times and still not seen it!  In the last week I have also tried for Waxwing at Jarrow and Lesser Whitethroat at Tynemouth and dipped on both. I did manage to fluke the Great-Northern Diver in the dock at Cambios.  I only stopped to see how much of the river you could see from there and right in front of me up pops the Diver. Which was nice.  

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Bolam Lake

I had a trip up to Bolam Lake today to see if there were any Brambling still hanging around.  To the North of the main car park there were a few birds flitting around in the leaf litter, but a scan through them only produced Chaffinch, Great, Blue and Coal Tit. So I had a walk in that direction as it seemed to be where most of the birds were.  Scanning the Northeast corner of the country park it seemed like the ground was moving, it was alive with Brambling, there must have been a couple of hundred.  Unfortunately they were very flighty and never allowed me to get close.

But with the reach of my super duper SX50 I did manage a few photos of these superb little birds. Despite putting sunflower hearts on the wall in the car park I just couldn't attract the Brambling closer.  However it's always nice to get really close views of Nuthatch.