Any guess where we were? Of course this is the world-heritage site of Stonehenge and while not the most interesting of places from a wildlife perspective, it was the first stop on a trip that would take us over a large portion of southern England over the next two weeks. I was here on business, our European headquarters is located in Basingstoke which is about an hour drive south of London. Lynn joined me for the first 10 days of the trip and we had two full weekends plus a little time here and there to do some exploring while she was in town and I planned the trip so I could end up with a day or two of wildlife photography at the end. I was there from August 21st through September 7th with Lynn coming back home on August 31st... We hit a lot of castles and famous historic sites during the first half of the trip and I'll leave that to her should she want to do a full trip report on all of that. I'll focus on the animals which were mostly birds for this trip report. We stayed in Odiham the entire trip, which was right next to Basingstoke and my offices here so from a strategic location it was well set up, it did make it harder for Lynn however who had to limit her exploration to areas near where we were staying on days that I was working as she did not feel comfortable driving on the "wrong" side of the road... I will also tell you straight off that the weather was absolutely dreadful for most of the trip, even though it was in the middle of summer, for the most part it was cold and rainy or at least densely cloudy and trying to rain. There were however a few glorious days mixed in and we made the most of them. So, without further ado, here's the summary of the trip to England.
Rook, standing watch over Stonehenge...
European Startlings were surprisingly not anywhere near as common as they are in the "states"
This Herring Gull was photographed near Dartmouth, England
As you can see from some of the pics, lighting was a bit of a challenge for a good portion of the trip. This is a Eurasian Jay...
Carrion Crows like this one were very common throughout most areas.
A pair of Great-crested Grebes, one of the first "lifers" for me on this trip.
Unusual looking bumblebee feeding on Heather nectar
Coal Tit foraging for insects under the bark of an old oak tree.
Long-tailed Tit - they remind me of Bush Tit in terms of their behavior, they move around in small flocks, leaving no leaf unturned, in constant motion and constantly calling out to one another...
Water Rail, flushed from the Reeds, unfortunately not any really clean shots of this bird, apparently similar in habit to rails from the U.S., shy and not easily observed.
Black-headed Gulls were the most common, seen just about everywhere and certainly have a penchant for people as they were more populous in towns and cities then in the country side.
Eurasian Coots were also plentiful, found just about in every decent sized body of water.
Canada Goose from the Westminster area. Not sure if these are feral or wild, most of the domestic geese we saw were banded, this group did not seem to have any marks, were free-flying and unbanded so my guess is that they are either from a feral population or visitors.
There are a lot more "black birds" to deal with in England than the U.S., this is a Jackdaw, another member of the Corvid family (Crows, Jays, Ravens) and also quite plentiful in England
As stated earlier, the first part of the trip was spent visiting quite a few historical sites, doing some regular old tourism and hitting a few wildlife areas in between. The weather was for the most part rainy putting a damper on a lot of hiking around but we still managed to see quite a few things when we looked. Mute Swans like the one above were common in and around any large body of water.
This Common Pheasant was spotted darting in and out of a hedge row near a large castle, the name of which escapes my memory at the moment. Pheasant were commonly seen near towns in fields, I assume they are feral escapees from some time in the past.
This little bird, called a Dunnock is a hedge specialist, this was the only clean shot I got at one even though they were relatively common.
Winter Wren were also common along hedge rows. We stayed in a town called Odiham and right behind the hotel were several miles of open area with hedges and a few trees. Unfortunately, the weather was so poor most of the time that you couldn't get a lot of good walking around in, at least not to photograph subjects but the couple of times I did walk around the area I was able to see quite a bit. The Dunnock and Wren were both photographed during a brief interlude of sunshine.
This was another denizen from the hedges, it's called (above) a Twite, another common resident.
Female Common Redstart. One of a few birds around the towns that would sit still long enough for a decent shot. Most of the birds I found to be quite skittish, much more so than in the states. It was quite difficult to approach anything. I think this may have to do with the much longer history of the area and the fact that hunting was and still is in some parts very prevalent. Also remember that birding, until the past fifty years or so consisted of a shotgun and a bag, you shot the bird and ID'd it later... This probably has led to the resident populations being more than a little wary of human encroachment. I did find the birding a bit easier in the true reserves, such as the ones that are maintained by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) which is similar to our Audubon society or the ABA I guess.
These are Wood Pigeons, they are HUGE, they are larger than the common Rock Pigeon you see in our parks and are quite numerous and actually quite stunning in the right light. They are all over the place in the hedges in particular and we saw hundreds, if not thousands of them during our visit.
This is a Common Moorhen that was taking a walk along a waterway through a small village in southern England.
European Goldfinches were quite common but not easy to photograph. They were another skittish species, note the blue sky, one of the few days that there wasn't rain at least part of the day... They are very beautiful when you see them close up, the males have bright red on their faces and they are quite flashy. They seem to be very similar in habitat and behaviour to our Goldfinch species. I found a small patch of thistle one afternoon and there were hundreds of them taking care of the seeds...
The European counter-part to the Great Blue Heron of North America is the Gray Heron, very similar in appearance and again, very common anywhere where there was a large body of water.
Here's a male European Goldfinch, unfortunately, poor lighting conditions and quick movements from the bird made the shot less than clear...
Tits are probably the most common bird other than the pigeons and there are quite a few species. The Blue Tit, as pictured above was probably the third most commonly encountered. Long-tailed Tits and Great Tits both seemed to be a little more common although you could see all of them plus one or two more species in practically any forested area.
This was one of my "target" species for the trip, the Green Woodpecker (above). Again, poor light keeps you from seeing this bird in the best of light, the back is quite green in the right lighting, a dark green with a nice red crown on the head, about the size of a small crow I saw several during the couple of weeks I was in England but this was the only one I got close enough to for a photograph.
White or Pied Wagtail were common around grassy areas and dunes. This one had me confused for a moment or two but the black and white tail configuration confirm it as being a White Wagtail. By the way, it's interesting to note that there are many species of birds in England that are quite sought after and considered quite rare in the U.S. It's funny to get all excited about a species and then realize that here, they are quite common, it's only when they are found on our shores that they are considered rare. Several species such as this one and the Northern Wheatear (seen further down in this post) are occasionally found in the U.S. and when they are it's big news and quite exciting for birding enthusiasts trying to add to their lists.
The first "new" raptor of the trip for me was this Common Buzzard, photographed in a howling wind soaring over an open field. I have found that windy conditions are usually really bad for birding in general as it scares all of the smaller birds into hiding or outright blows then into taking cover however sometimes the soaring species such as hawks, gulls and even swallows are better to photograph on windy days as they tend to soar and sometimes even hold still long enough for you to focus!
Second new raptor was this Eurasian Kestrel that surprised me by landing on a telephone line as I was photographing another bird.
Here is a Great Tit, as mentioned earlier, one of the more common species encountered in just about every environment. I have photographed this species in downtown London and downtown Rotterdam on previous occasions.
This nice looking bird is probably the equivalent to our House Finch in terms of habitat and abundance. It's called a Chaffinch and if there is a seed feeder around, you'll see tons of them. They are known to get into very large flocks as well and raid grain fields and other sources of food. The males are quite beautiful if you can find a fresh one.
This bird was a bit of an exciting find, I photographed it at Minsmere Reserve, which is a WONDERFUL place to come for birding, I will go into that more in a moment but this is a Lesser Whitethroat, an Old-World warbler. I was actually photographing a Common or Greater White-throat when this one came out of nowhere. There was a small group of local birding enthusiasts that were wondering what I was photographing when this little guy came out and they all got very excited, in their British way that is and were quite abuzz about it. I had no clue at the time what I was photographing but I guess for the location and time of year at least it was a good bird to see!
A bit more on Minsmere. First, I bought a book before going over to England titled "Finding Birds in Britian" by Graham Speight. I recommend it HIGHLY! It's out of print so I had to get it used on Amazon.com but it's wonderful in that it not only lists the top 50 or so birding sites in the UK but has hand-drawn maps of the areas, some tips and hints on where and when to look and directions to the places. It's great in that the maps of the UK really suck when you get down to detail, it's easy to find a general area but this book was great as it would say things like, "turn at the first street past the post office". So anyway, one of the most highly recommended areas was this place called Minsmere Reserve. It was about a 3 hour drive from where I was staying so I was really on the fence about going all that way, in particular with the weather situation being so nasty and unpredictable (it would go from sunny to rainy in 10 minutes on a regular basis). But after Lynn left for home I decided to take a day and drive up there to check it out. It's one of dozens of sites that have been purchased by the RSPB and designated for wildlife viewing and preservation only. This particular site is on the east coast of England about 100 miles NE of London and in the middle of nowhere. It's a large estuary surrounded by woodland and then further out Heathland (have you ever wondered why Heathland is pronounced HEETH yet the species of plant that it's named after (Heather) is pronounced differently? No, probably not...:o). Anyway, the area was wonderful, they limit the number of people that can visit each day and the days I was there it wasn't a problem even though there were quite a few birders. If you are interested in more info they have a web site http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/m/minsmere/index.asp with a lot more info but in any event it was great for birding and I'll leave it at that. Many of my "life" birds from this trip came from Minsmere and I would certainly go back there again if given the chance.
This is the Common or Greater Whitethroat - photographed at Minsmere
This Great Black-backed Gull was cruising above the tide flats at Minsmere.
Right next to the beach and the North Sea there was a little swath of plants and there in the wind was a lone Stonechat (another one of those birds that you'd get really excited to see if it was in the US). Different books I have on UK birds either call this a Common Stonechat or an African Stonechat. The British call it a Common Stonechat.
Next to Mallards, Gadwall were the most commonly encountered Duck species...
Another "lifer" for me was this Northern Lapwing. Quite a spectacular bird in the right light and an interesting flyer as well. It has very broad wings and sort of looks like an owl when in flight.
Common Sandpipers were, well, common along the mudflats.
This is a Common Ringed Plover, again, common along the flats.
The one and only lizard of the trip, I was quite surprised to see it as it was quite chilly and he was right on the beach in the same general area where I photographed the Stonechat. This is called a Viviparous Lizard or "Common Lizard" in the UK. Exciting for me in that it represented an entirely new family of lizards for me.
These large (3-4") slugs were all over the place by the beach as well. Note the large hole in the side, I believe this is it's lung apparatus.
Look familiar? It's a Barn Swallow, they were still nesting in the sloughs along the water front at Minsmere.
This (above and below) is a Norther Wheatear. I was quite surprised to find it, foraging right along the shoreline. A beautiful bird, quite a flycatcher too. This would qualify for another one of those birds that would be really something to see in the US. Actually even here it was a bit unusual although not unexpected.
Northern Wheatear (above) from Minsmere Reserve
A small family of Barnacle Geese flew in while we were in a blind photographing some Lapwings (when I say we, there were dozens of photographers there).
This was exciting for me, another life bird, the Norther Hobby, I never saw one land and usually you would only see them from a great distance but this one came in for a few seconds before taking off at what seemed like supersonic speed, never to be seen again...
Another quick fly-by was from this Sandwich Tern. The only one I saw on the trip.
Common Shelduck, one of three I observed at Minsmere.
Black-tailed Godwits were quite common and very handsome birds at that. They basically fell into two plumage types however making it a bit challenging to the novice birdwatcher from America... The ones like this were easy to ID but the ones that were still gray kept me looking at the books over and over again...
Green-winged Teal from Minsmere.
Ruff - another "good" bird, I saw two of these at Minsmere, another "lifer"
The other Ruff (above)
This is a Little Egret, the same species I have photographed in Australia...
Red Knot, again from Minsmere (above)
Another member of the Avocet family to add to my life list was these quite elegant and relatively common Pied Avocets...
There was a feeder by the entrance to the reserve and it was dominated by these birds (Greenfinch) and the ever-present Chaffinch...
Back in Odiham, along the Basingstoke canal, there was a path that went on for miles, there were quite a few birds around most of the times I hiked around on it but usually (again) the weather was not cooperative to photography. Above is a Great-spotted Woodpecker.
This is a Willow Warbler (another Old-World) warbler, photographed near Odiham.
Another real challenge was trying to get a picture of a Eurasian Blackbird... just try sometime! They are so skittish that usually all you see is a bit of a flash of black wings and if you are lucky a glimpse of the yellow bill... They don't like anyone getting close to them, at least not me anyway!
The smallest bird in Europe (above) is the Goldcrest, aptly named and I would say similar in behavior and habitat to our Kinglets or perhaps Chickadees...
Two Eurasian Siskin sat just long enough for me to get off one shot before taking back off and away from me as fast as they could!
This (above) is called a Chiffchaff, one of several very similar looking warbler-type birds. Best distinguished by song or by having a local birding group right next to you identifying it to each other (as was the case here...)
Hares are very common, seem to keep the grass mowed down quite nicely...
Above and below are from by second trip back to Minsmere. I went back up there the Saturday before I was leaving back to the states (on Sunday). The weather forecast was dreadful but I took a chance as it was the only really great place I had birded on the entire trip and the weather where I was staying was VERY bad, it was actually flood conditions with 4 inches of rain having fallen over night and more predicted. Minsmere was far enough away to have it's own weather pattern which called for intermittent sunshine and showers in the AM and then heavy rain in the PM. This was exactly what I got. It was beautiful from sunrise until about 10:30, then the first rain shower hit and by 11:30 it was pouring and didn't stop and may not have for all I know since then. Anyway, one of the reasons I wanted to go back up there was that right next to Minsmere is a place called Dunwich Heath and this is supposedly one of the few sure-fire places in England to see the endangered Dartford Warbler. An annoying little warbler that's pretty much black in color with red eyes that likes to skulk around at the base of Heather and occasionally and I do mean occasionally make a very brief appearance before disappearing again into the Heath... It took me two hours to get these few photographs. I actually think I identified four different pairs of them over a mile or so area that I was working. It was very windy on the heath as well which may have lead to them being even more skittish but at least I can say that I saw them! They are completely specialized for life on the heathland and so as this habitat becomes less and less plentiful, so do they, they are critically endangered now but there is quite a bit of work being done to save their remaining habitat.
Datford Warbler (male) above
Female Dartford Warbler - the one and only open shot I got at one!
Another bird from the Heathland was this Whinchat, they were much easier to photograph albeit they wouldn't allow close approach either but at least they would perch on the TOP of the plants as opposed to the bottom...
The birding the second day at Minsmere was not anywhere as good as the first time. For one thing, the first time I went was on a weekday and this was a weekend with many more people but the worst thing was that the wind was just howling, even though the sun was out, it was a stiff 20-30 knot breeze pretty consistently after 9:00 AM. Above are two Greylag Geese that wondered in to the area looking for something to eat I would assume.
Grounded momentarily this Eurasian Sparrowhawk became my forth new raptor of the trip!
Black-billed Magpies were so common that I almost forgot to take a picture of one... Above is a Black-billed Magpie...
A Spotted Redshank was one of the highlights from my second trip to Minsmere, a lifer for me.
Great Cormorants were abundant in many areas.
There are two birds here, the one I was focusing on is the smaller one, the Little Grebe.
Common Redshank were much more, well, common than the Spotted variety...
Another Pied Avocet, seem closer up.
Red Deer are another specialty at Minsmere.
And last but not least, the one bird in England that I can truly consider to be "friendly" was the European Robin. These birds are not only delightful in their behavior and attitude but also their singing and appearance. They were numerous and not one morning or evening was silent thanks to their songs!
Hope you found this informative or at least a bit interesting. As always, email me if there are any questions. Thanks for visiting and looking!
Complete species list of birds included below from the trip...
F Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
F Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Gray Heron Ardea cinerea
Great Egret Ardea alba
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
F Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
F Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
Gadwall Anas strepera
F Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Greater Scaup Aythya marila
F Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
F Eurasian Buzzard Buteo buteo
F Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
F Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
F Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
F Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
F Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
F Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
F Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
F Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Dunlin Calidris alpina
F Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
European Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
F Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Common Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
F Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
F Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
F Wood Lark Lullula arborea
Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
F Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
F Dunnock Prunella modularis
Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
F Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
F Eurasian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
F Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
F Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
F Greater Whitethroat Sylvia communis
F Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
F Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
F Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
F Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
F Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
F African Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
F Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
F Coal Tit Periparus ater
Great Tit Parus major
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
F Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
F Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia
Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Rook Corvus frugilegus
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Common Raven Corvus corax
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
F Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
F Twite Carduelis flavirostris
39 NEW SPECIES (F Highligted indicates First Sighting)