Archive for January, 2019

30
Jan
19

If you don’t look you don’t see.

When you go to a new continent and see birds it can be overwhelming.

I remember the first time I went birding to the US in the late 1980’s and I drove South from Homestead in Florida. My first daylight hours in the New World and I was on my way to the Everglades. In a field on the approach road there was a massive flock of birds. I pulled over and found myself looking through several thousand Killdeer. A medium sized boldly patterned wading bird. Now finding a Killdeer in the UK would be a rare event; they do get here occasionally but only rarely. Seeing a field full, while seemingly routine for US birders, blew my mind away. So many Killdeers.

As often happens in the US when you stop other cars soon stop to ask you what you’ve seen and that day was no exception. “What have you found” the guy said. “A field absolutely full of Killdeer” I replied. “Oh boy you are new!” came his response. What was for me pure delight, was for him routine. It’s easy to get blase about common birds.

The first time I visited Australia last January I saw lots of new birds. It’s easy to overlook birds that are familiar. Several species have been introduced into the colonies. House and Tree Sparrows, Skylarks, Greenfinch and Goldfinch are not difficult to find in Victoria. When Europeans first settled I guess they brought them along to introduce some familiarity into what would be an alien world.

Coots were not introduced into Australia as far as I’m aware and all the books state it is the Eurasian or Common Coot (Fulica atra) that is found there. The same species we have here in the UK. I took it as read. A widely distributed successful species. However, when I started to look at the Coots swimming about at the Botanical gardens in Melbourne something didn’t seem quite right. They were subtlety different. Every bird I looked at had a pale powder blue bill. Just the bill, not the shield … and it is subtle. Was this something I’d overlooked on the Coots at home? Was it staining in the water? All Coots I saw in Australia had the same pale powder blue bills. The ID books all say Coots in Australia have a white bill. They’re wrong… it doesn’t. I made a mental note to self. Must have a look at the bills on Coots when I get home. I did and they’re pure white. I had a look through my photo stock for Coots. Who takes photos of Coots for Gods sake? Well, apparently I do, and if anything the photos show they sometimes have a pink cast but certainly no blue, powder, pale or otherwise. The problem I have when looking at photos on the net of Coots is that a blue bill can appear to be an artifact of the photo or photo processing. You really do have to see the birds in the flesh, or should that be feather?

So what’s going on? Well I’ve found a vague comment that apparently Australian Coot may be a sub species of Eurasian Coot. Does anyone else know differently? Answers on a postcard please.

I originally took this photo to show the’Brillo Pad’ likeness of the youngster but it does show the blue bill of the adult, all be it out of focus.

 

 

24
Jan
19

Within a Whisker

Trying to fly things by wire from abroad is not easy but I have good friends and colleagues here in the UK and bless them they do help me out when necessary. I’m blessed to have them around me. It was last December and I’d had a good portion of the day at the laptop in ludicrously hot Victoria trying to sort out a problem here in the UK.

The door opened and in breezed Tania after her day at work in Melbourne CBD. I wheeled back on the desk chair and she could see I’d had a rough day. “I know exactly how to fix that face” she said.

She took me to Werribee harbour to do some birding!

For the life of me I don’t know why Marsh Terns don’t regularly breed here in Norfolk. We have the most ideal habitat among the broads. Black Terns nest just over the water in Holland so why aren’t they habitual Norfolk breeders? I honestly don’t know. The same can be said of the rarer Whiskered Tern. Also a Marsh Tern, it breeds as close to the UK as France seemingly ignoring those wonderful open reedbeds offered by the Norfolk Broads.

I’ve never managed to get any decent photos of a summer plumage Whiskered Tern. However, we found a couple of them fishing along the harbour front. I got a few record shots before they flew off west. We followed them and drove into the mouth of the river a mile or so further along the coast. I couldn’t believe how many Whiskered Terns were fishing off the beach. I was in birding heaven. I spent far too long photographing the terns and dodging the surf as the birds plunged into the breakers picking up fish. Needless to say the hot day at the laptop was completely forgotten in the cooling ocean breeze as I did something I love; losing myself in nature.

Birds and our other wildlife, whether it’s at home or abroad, are a real healer; a true medicine to be treasured.

 

19
Jan
19

Sharp as ever

I mentioned in my last post of 2018 one of the best places I visited in Victoria was a water treatment plant. In fact it was at Werribee. There were literally thousands of Sharp tailed Sandpipers. I remember travelling from Norfolk to Wales to see my first. Seeing them in such numbers and so close was a true revelation.

14
Jan
19

Golden

Thinking back many years there was a book entitled ‘Masquerade’ written by Kit Williams. It was beautifully illustrated and entertained me for hours. It centred upon the quest to locate a hare made of gold buried somewhere in the British countryside. the illustrations contained clues as to its whereabouts.

In Australia at the back end of last year I didn’t find a golden hare … but I did find a golden rabbit. I’ve never seen this colour form before and it was such a delight to see. In all we saw two of these golden beauties at quite widely separated locations so I’m guessing it must be a relatively common colour form in Victoria.

07
Jan
19

Hair of the Dog

Stumbling out of our hotel into minus seven degrees of frost took our breath away. But it didn’t take our breath away as much as climbing up the mountain through the frozen heather and snow fields. We must have seen twenty or more Mountain Hares last Wednesday on that crisp blue skied morning, but they weren’t easy to approach. As we ascended slowly up the gullies where the hares were basking in the sun the boggy ice cracked beneath our feet with the retort of a shotgun. Eventually one of these enigmatic animals hung-fast long enough to get a shot or two.

 

03
Jan
19

Hogmanay

On our way to Scotland for the New Year we called in at the Northumberland coast. Scanning the sea was a local. It wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation with him. He made the comment about us celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland; stating “They know how to do it!”.

He was right. However, it wasn’t all about Whisky, Haggis and fireworks. Amid the dark canopy of the Scots Pines in Abernethy there were a few of this helmeted little chaps about. I never tire of watching Crested Tits.




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