Monday, May 30, 2016

Anna's Hummingbird

Having spent most of the past month in California it seems that the time is about right to resurrect this blog. It's been a few months since I felt that I had something to write about and I have been without inspiration since. Now I am back from the USA and I have shedloads of images, some of which are worth sharing. To start off I am posting a few images of Anna's Hummingbird, principally because this was one of the first birds that I saw in San Francisco; it was fairly easy to photograph, even with a compact camera, and it is a really photogenic animal.
Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna   Male - California April 2016
 This particular species is the commonest hummer in California and it seems to have little fear of humans being found frequently in urban areas including the centre of large cities, provided that there is suitable food and, presumably, breeding sites.
We saw tens of these birds in most places that we visited in central California, especially males. it now breeds from extreme north-western Mexico, north along the Pacific coast to south-western Canada. In the south it breeds as far east as Texas and its breeding range is expanding. It can be found year round in California.

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna   Male - California April 2016
This bird is 10cm or 4" in length and the male is the only hummer in the USA with a rose-red throat and crown which is clear in the photographs above. However, you have to be viewing the bird at the correct angle. Move just a little bit, or the bird moves its head a little and the rose-red colour is replaced with anything from a dull orange through brown to black. As can be seen on the following three photos of the same bird taken seconds apart as it moved its head.

Male Anna's Hummingbird with dark brown throat and crown

...and the same bird in all of its rose-red splendour.
Here's the science: "The iridescent colours of the gorget are the result of the refraction of incident light caused by the microscopic structures of the feather barbules. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into rich, component colours. As the viewing angle changes, the refracted light becomes visible in a glowing, shimmering iridescent display." Further, "In the case of the vivid colours of the gorget, the prisms concentrate the colour so that it can be seen only from the front, as it would be seen by a territorial rival in a head-on confrontation."
And now...partially black and partially red.

The female is an altogether much drabber affair but they do sport a ruby-red central throat patch on  otherwise dingy grey-green underparts. The upperparts are a brighter green like the male.

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna   Male posing for the camera  - California April 2016
 The only other species of Hummingbird that we managed to locate during our visit in April was Allen's Hummingbird. This species is much scarcer than Anna's although it is still fairly common in the right habitat. This bird winters in south central Mexico and journeys north to breed along much of the Pacific coast of the USA. There is a subspecies that colonised the Los Angeles area in the 1960s which has since spread north and south along the coast. This is non-migratory and the mild climate of California allows these birds to have up to four broods per year.

Allen's Hummingbird - Selasphorus sasin - Male California April 2016
This is the only shot that I managed to get of an Allen's. Perched on a wire way high. I may have to go back to try for a better shot next year!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Norfolk February 2016

Over the weekend of 5th to 8th February I spent my time birding with a few mates in Norfolk. This is an annual outing and we stay in a great little cottage in Great Bircham which proves to be an ideal base for our forays out into the field. A few beers, some great craic, full English breakfasts and top birding always combine to make a memorable weekend.
This year we met at Lackford Lakes, not too far from Thetford, so that we could stick Long-tailed Duck on our list. The bird was easy enough to find but distance and poor light meant that I could only get a record shot. Still a good bird to kick off with.
Long-tailed Duck - Lackford Lakes.
After adding a number of pretty obvious species to our list we set off on the short drive to Lakenheath RSPB Reserve to look for Common Crane, Bittern and a reported Great White Egret. It was a bit windy and cold when we arrived but nothing like as bad as it was destined to become over the next couple of days. We were soon watching a couple of Water Pipits battling against the wind and then we had reasonable views of the Great White Egret but we failed to locate any Bittern. Probably due to the windy conditions. We heard bugling Cranes and then we saw five birds flying off with a flock of Greylag Geese. Again pretty poor pictures of Cranes' backsides resulted.

Bye-bye Cranes.
After three hours of not finding Bittern we headed north. Travelling through the fens towards Tottenhill just south of King's Lynn. We drove through the fens hoping to find wild swans and indeed we saw Bewick's, Whooper and Mute within 30 minutes of setting off. We wanted to call in at Tottenhill to have a look at a Black-necked Grebe that had been reported on a gravel pit there and which was viewable from the road. Checking the map we located the gravel pit and then risked all our lives by marching along the busy A10. Lorries and buses and more lorries whizzed by within inches whilst we failed to see anything at all on the gravel pit. So we set off back down the A10 for more close shaves with death! Only then did one of us suggest that there might, in fact, be more than one gravel pit, as there often are. Sure enough we were at the wrong pit and once we located the correct one there was the Grebe...viewable from the road!
Roydon Common was next for Harriers. This was a brilliant birding experience as we saw Pallid, Hen and Marsh Harriers at one time all together in a single scope view. Generally the birds were always too far away to photograph but I managed a decent record shot of Hen Harrier earlier.

A blurry shot of a distant Hen Harrier.
We ended the first day not seeing Golden Pheasant at Wolferton although it seems every other birder in Norfolk did.
Saturday morning saw us at Choseley Drying Barns where we connected with not one but two fantastic Rough-legged Buzzards as well as a couple of Common Buzzards and a mad Peregrine trying to chase everything away. Loads of Grey and Red-legged Partridges around these parts too. I managed to get a decent shot of a Grey later in the day at Lady Anne's Drive.

Grey Partridge - Lady Anne's Drive, Holkham.
Holkham Hall was our next stop...for Ferruginous Duck and Scaup. The Ferruginous Duck was difficult to photograph; it was wedged into the vegetation on the opposite side of the lake. The Scaup were equally difficult because it was very windy and cold so I couldn't be bothered! It didn't stop one of us trying out a new and unique method of looking for Tawny Owls in suitable roosting holes by sticking a scope near the entrance...not really thought this through though! there anybody there? An original but ultimately flawed way of checking for owls.
Well's Harbour was next so that we could add the long-staying Shag. Always picturesque which I take to mean take a picture of it! So I did.

The tide is out at Wells.
Burnham Overy Staithe was next. On the way down towards the sea wall we came across a flock of Golden Plover loafing in a field, the estimated size of said flock was 10000 birds! Bear in mind it was blowing fit to remove slates from a roof yet one of our group suggested we carefully scan this flock for a possible American Golden Plover. That would be two and a half thousand birds each... in a telescope rockin' wind. So we did....and one of us spotted a likely looking candidate. What made it a strong possible was that we could all locate the bird quite easily, because it was not was pale grey and it had a good strong, pale supercilium. However, this was not good enough to clinch the ID. We couldn't see the primary projection, nor the tertials and the bird stubbornly refused to stand up so we could not gauge leg length or overall structure...all of which features we would need to ascertain the bird's true ID. Then it flew off, along with nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine other plovers. By the time we reached the sand dunes the wind was gusting at three-thousand miles an hour and it was whipping up sand that Lawrence of A would not have tolerated but we struggled through because there were possibly three Shore Larks fifty-three miles further along the shingle. Sand-blasted and extremely well exfoliated we rocked-up at the end of the shingle to be rewarded by the sight of three disgruntled and fed-up looking Shore Larks hunkered down in the grass.
On the way back to Burnham Overy we located a small flock of Barnacle Geese. To tick or not to tick? We did!

Amazing Bark of a Sweet Chestnut Tree in Holkham Park.
...and a row of Badger Bums at the same place.
By Sunday the wind had got-up to mach 2. We were to be found gazing at nothing much at all from Hunstanton Cliffs. A single fly-by Red-throated Diver and a few Fulmar were the only birds to be added to our list so it was off to Tithwell to join thousands of others who drift about there on a Sunday morning.
The usual Water Rail site produced the usual Water Rail.

The usual Water Rail in the usual lace at Titchwell.
The big surprise here was that the wardens had drained the main lagoon to carry out maintenance work. So no ducks...or much else really. We set off to the sea hoping that they hadn't drained that too. The tide was out when we got there so they may as well have drained it as far as birding was concerned! Four Snow Buntings were the highlights here.
We ended the day in the Joe Jordan Hide down at Holkham Pines. Here we had nothing short of a Raptor fest with another completely bonkers Peregrine belting about, along with over a dozen Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Common Buzzards and five Barn Owls. Another Great White Egret put in an appearance as well as over 100 European White-fronted Geese.
The day finished with us debating the identity of a white blob sat up in a tree by the A149 some mile or so away. One of us was convinced it was bird A, another was certain it was bird B, two of us kept swapping between both until eventually we nailed it. Here is a picture exactly as we saw it...what do you reckon it is?

ID this bird! It's the white dot roughly in the centre.
A couple of shots from Thornham Marshes to end with. A Brent Goose, so synonymous with the North Norfolk Coast. And a Curlew on the exposed mud...before they all disappear!

Brent Goose    Thornham

Curlew    Thornham.
We finished the weekend the following morning at Flitcham with a total of 124 species after failing yet again to see any Golden Pheasants. Thanks to Trevor, Paul and Nigel for a crackin' weekend and thanks to Andy C for the loan of the cottage and a special thanks to the workers in Sharpe's brewery for the Doombar and all those that gave their time to pick grapes.