Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sail to Santander

It's something I have wanted to do for a while and eventually I focused myself on booking a berth on the Brittany Ferries Pont Aven cruise ferry for an overnight sail to Santander.  I had heard that Biscay is rich in marine-life with a third of the world's species having been recorded in these waters.  The combination of the shallower waters around the British and French coasts, with far greater depths of around 4500m beyond the continental shelf provide the variety of cetaceans that over the years have made this a popular route for nature lovers.

 On board, the presence of the Orca team are primed and positioned to pick up all occurrences of mammals and birds encountered en route.  Their work provides vital information toward the protection of our sea-life.

The Pont Aven, is a floating behemoth and by far the largest vessel I had ever travelled on.  Despite the complexity of the boarding process, the mix of passengers, vehicles including freight, we left ten minutes early and trundled down the Solent between the mainland and the Isle of Wight.  It was a still evening, cool, with high cloud, and quite peculiarly, I was quite looking forward to this.

The night drew in quickly, and a half hour spent on the top deck (level 10) yielded a couple of Mediterranean Gull close in to the vessel.

The boat is extremely comfortable with plenty of distractions on board to entertain the occupants.  It wasn't full by any means, and neither was it opulent or high-class.  At times it felt to the contrary.  This surprised me a little.

We ate and retired early, the tip was to arise at first light and hit the deck.

It was serene.  Progress was languid, and as the sun emerged lazily in the east, it cast a mirrored sheen across the water.  It was a wonderful sight.  On the water, small pods of Common Dolphin were observed around the boat, where the first blows of Fin Whale were also seen, a few emerging distantly before heading down into the depths.

By far the most numerous birds were Great Shearwater with over 50 individuals seen as they glided alongside the boat.  There were also a few Storm Petrel and Gannet.

The day was spent out on deck, the weather was perfect, and the sea an agreeable calm throughout.  We picked out a total of 15 Fin Whale, around seven Pilot Whale, and numerous Dolphin.

Inevitable, the total count was greater than this, with watchful eyes concentrated on both sides of the ferry of the wonderful and accommodating volunteers on-board recording every sighting.

En route, a Yellow and White Wagtail were seen flying alongside the boat, a significant distance from land, but committed on their journey south.

The ferry eventually made it's way into dock at Santander after a full twenty-four hours on the sea.  Time sailed by - so to speak - the end of the beginning of a really fantastic journey.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A weekend at Titchwell

It was ultimately a lacklustre weekend at Titchwell RSPB, an assessment made purely on the lack of returning migrants, and the absence of any autumn rares.  The trip was more in anticipation of what is to come over arguably the most exciting period for a UK based birder. The chance of an encounter of a rare vagrant, a UK mega, forcing local birders away their patches for a week or two for the outer isles where birding bounties lay in wait.

It is always a joy being in this part of the world but alas, my arrival was inevitably a little premature.  The freshmarsh is always a hive of activity regardless of the seasons.  The sea however drew most of the interest with a bracing northerly blow that was forcing seabirds reasonably close to shore.  I however opted spend most of the time in the relative shelter of the reserve.

It ended up being quite a lethargic couple of days, content with just mooching around, sitting in hides, and convivially bidding everyone a good day as I walked the paths of the reserve.

So to the sightings, six Spoonbill flew low west on the first morning under grey leaden skies before dropping down distantly onto the marsh.  The floods were awash with Bar-tailed Godwit with at least a thousand there.  Other wader highlights were a maximum of three Little Stint, single Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, at least 50 Ruff, with Avocet, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Knot, and Grey Plover (including two in fine summer plumage) all present.  A male Bearded Tit appeared briefly from the reedbed but disappeared out of the fresh breeze.

A few parties of Brent Goose flew in formation low over the sea, and around 10 Pintail loitered on the freshmarsh, presumably fresh arrivals onto the reserve.

For a change of habitat, I tried my luck for autumn migrants within Wells Wood but could only uncover a Spotted Flycather, Garden Warbler, and few Willow Warbler, Blackcap, and Treecreeper amongst the roving flocks of titmice.

Hardly an inspiring visit to the coast, but it was nice to be out and about.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dungeness - Buff-breasted Sandpiper

I'll have to remind myself about the fortuitousness nature of this one and how it went some way to banishing the disappointments of recent failed missions.  A little late starting out after Friday drinks yesterday evening, the head was feeling a little tender, but the plan was to get out and see something new.

A Buff-breasted Sandpiper had arrived at Dungeness yesterday afternoon and was still present this morning.  The weather wasn't great in London but was agreeably pleasant on the promontory of Dungeness, warm sunshine coupled with a keen but warm southerly breeze.

I decided to head for the Makepeace Hide where the neartic wader had been reliably observed during the length of its short stay.  It was picked up distantly on one of the islands half way out on Burrowes Pit where it was evident that the bird was extremely mobile.  I decided to stay put while the other birders made for the Firth hide.

It was only after a couple of minutes or so when I picked up the sandpiper right in front of the hide.  Bizarrely, there was no one else with me to share the moment.  Predictably, it took flight and headed further along the pit where it fed voraciously along the edge of the shingle, had a quick wash, and then headed off high to the west.  It was not seen again!

Also on the shingle islands were a scattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, and at least one Little Stint.  Four Black Tern were present in front of the hide.

The walk round the reserve was a soporific one, no passerines of note, but three Great White Egret were present on Denge Marsh along with a Ruff, four Marsh Harrier, and 12 Common Snipe.

At Boulderwell Farm, the Cattle Egret finally showed itself as it perched up on a gate before flying across to the ARC Pit.  Three Little Egret completed the hat-trick.

Five Bar-tailed Godwit were roosting on islands from the Hanson ARC hide.

The NNR down the road was particularly quiet apart from two Northern Wheatear and two Arctic Skua past the seawatching hides.