Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The elusive Water Rail in Orlestone forest

I first heard the pig like squeals of Water Rails at the end of January whilst surveying for Teal and Woodcock in the flooded woodland patch on the Long Rope trail. 
 Calling from a patch of woodland that I thought I knew so well, such was the loudness of the squeal that for a second I wondered if I was listening to a real Wild Boar.  These Water Rails represent a first record for me in Orlestone Forest and are still very much a surprise bird to find here. 
 Over the space of a week I finally viewed fleeting glimpses of two birds, but I was never able to get a photograph such is the speed of the birds disappearing behind fallen trees and banks of bullrushes and wet scrub. Wanting to share the birds with friends, I set-up a wildlife camera trap, trained on a plastic cage (ex B&Q solar light) filled with fat balls. I left the trap running for a week and I am amazed at the results the camera has delivered. The pictures are sufficiently clear enough to show that this bird is an adult displaying a bright red eye and clean grey face. Its difficult to sex as males should be marginally larger than females.  
 I'm in no doubt this bird is a migrant from Eastern Europe and may well have been present since October, likely to leave and head East any day now. As I write I've set-up the camera just to see if I can record it once more before the birds depart.
 The camera trap used is a Bushnell Nature View HD. For birds and small mammal images I can recommend it as it has two close-up lenses. See link -

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Florida raptors, Coopers Hawk, Red shouldered Hawk and Osprey

Treking around Orlestone Forest, detouring around fly-tipping, slipping and sliding in the mud and more mud. Looking up at the sky a Buzzard here, a fleeting Sparrowhawk there and nothing close enough to merit powering on my camera. How different it was just a week ago on a family Florida / Everglades holiday. There, good trails and boardwalks, birds of prey everywhere - many very approachable too. We saw 11 winter birds of prey in Florida, many from the car (including a Bald Eagle), a memorable all-white Short-tailed Hawk (sadly no pic) and Ospreys just about everywhere. So here's a selection of some easy stuff taken in just enough time not to annoy my family who stood waiting and swatting mosquitos.

Our first new bird was a superb Coopers Hawk that Sian found hidden deep in a darky shady Mangrove Hammock. She spent some time trying to point the bird out to me through a maze of foliage and twisted trees - it was very dificult to see. In the end its position was identified by a number of small birds in its vicinty delivering a chorus of alarm calls.  From the wooden boardwalk, so typical of Everglade nature trails, this Coopers Hawk seemed distant; enveloped in shadow. So I'm amazed how detailed the pictures are from this distance. This male Coopers Hawk had prey, which I think may have been a Grey squirrel. In size the hawk looked like a lean and purposeful Goshawk or even perhaps an over sized Sparrowhawk with a long powerful rounded tail.

Coopers Hawk, John Peenekamp National park, Florida Keys

The Red Shouldered Hawks were photographed at Flamingo, a superb state park in the Everglades (no Flamingos there though!) The birds were very vocal and very easy to find. As I photographed the hen bird the male decided to attempt some opportunistic mating. Minutes later I photographed Ospreys mating too. Perhaps they were prompted by the warm March temperatures and the heat and wet season to come. Just before we arrived in Miaimi the Everglades had received intense storm with high winds, and over our holiday I saw many Ospreys rebuilding nests, bashfully flying down into busy car parks collecting branches, and sometimes litter, to rebuild their nests.

From the moment we arrived at Miami Airport and headed to Miami Beach it was impossible not to see Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures soaring and wheeling over the city skyline or sometimes just sitting on roadside gantries and buildings. On one trail in the Everglades Park, Black Vultures infamously sit on top of visitors' cars to demolish windscreen wipers and rubber car trim. For protection we followed other visitor's solutions, wrapping tarpaulin sheets (provided by the park) over the front of the cars for protection. We saw so few birds that day (indeed a feature of the Everglades this present, dry season) that the vandalous Vultures will be one of the abiding memories.
Red Shouldered Hawks, Flamingo Everglades National Park

Osprey, Flamingo, Everglades National park

Black Vulture at Flamingo, Everglades National park

Turkey Vulture at Flamingo

Turkey Vulture at Flamingo