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new Swarovski 50mm EL bins tested

June 2011

25 years as the UK’s number one

Willow Tit or Marsh Tit? How to crack birding’s biggest ID headache

Much ado about

puffin Seeing these sensational seabirds is easier than you might think

Dartford Warbler

Heathland show-off exposed as a bully boy!

See more Birds this summer...

10 birding walks for everyone to enjoy

6 things you didn’t know about this clever, crafty corvid

reed warblers amazing jays Pull-out poster to help you get to grips with a tricky identification task

The incredible lives of the world’s most colourful crows

Boiling lakes! Acid baths! Poison gas! In a bird reserve?

June 2011 £4.10

jackdaws


month

Your birding

! WAIN copy of 100 Birds to

When, where and how to see more birds

classic book The Charm of Birds

Written by Bird Watching’s David Chandler and Dominic Couzens, this paperback, worth £14.99, is a great addition to any birder’s library. We have five copies to give away. Visit:

www.birdwatching.co.uk

On the move june Though the previous two months are regarded (quite rightly) as major migration months, things do not come to a halt in June. Indeed, it can be a great month for finding a wandering rarity from North America or from the east, on your patch. Or perhaps look for these... Alan Williams

Sir Edward Grey The author is better remembered as the Liberal Foreign Secretary who took Britain into the Great War, famously remarking: “The lights are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. An avid birdwatcher, he published this book in 1927, and it remains a vivid recreation of the sights, and especially the birdsong, of the English countryside. Gollancz reissued it in 2001. Find a copy for a taste of a vanished era.

See in your Lifetime

Spoonbill Many people’s dream birds, Spoonbills sometimes now breed in this country in stupidly low numbers, but are more likely to be seen moving around. When settled, and far from disturbance, Spoonbills spend an inordinate amount of time

asleep, with their heads tucked in rather than showing off their eponymous beak. When they feed, though, they are a real treat, sweeping the water with their bill. Beware, these are painfully shy birds, which fly off at the slightest provocation.

top ten birding Comedians

Thanks to Brian Harrison, Peter Hyde, John Hague, Kevin Jacomb, Jan Dowley and everyone else who took part. Next month we’re looking for Elvis Presley songs, such as Blue Suede Smews. Send your puns to birdwatching @bauermedia.co.uk 6 Bird Watching 2011

Dunlin

This is one of our most familiar waders, yet its seemingly constant plumage changes cause countless problems for the unwary. Most at this time of year are black-bellied beauties sporting their breeding finery, and should be easy to separate from, for instance, Sanderling or Curlew Sandpipers. Even this ‘late’, they can be on the move through coastal areas, but are also the most frequently encountered waders at inland sites on migration.

Sanderling

Though a familiar seaside sight dashing around on many a beach along the edge of the water, the Sanderling is not a British breeding bird, but like most Calidris waders, is a breeding bird of the Arctic. We see birds in their whitish grey winter plumage, but also on passage in their breeding colours, and they can occur in these colours in June. At this time, they may be rather orange toned on their spangly upperparts and particularly the breast, looking a bit like a giant Little Stint.

Montagu’s Harrier

A rare breeding bird, which, once in a blue moon, attracts an official RSPB watchpoint. The rest of the time, birders rely on hearsay and gossip to learn where pairs nest, or hope to see wandering individuals. In all plumages, they are much lighter in build and more buoyant in flight than Hen Harriers, with the mid-grey males particularly looking rather falcon like. Females are like Hens but slimmer with more pointed wings.

Honey Buzzard

Another rare breeding raptor, there are a few scattered watchpoints where pairs can be viewed from a safe distance, coming and going from their breeding woods. Wandering birds can turn up around the country. They superficially resemble Buzzards, but have a longer-winged, longer-tailed jizz and a different way of flying, with their wings held low and ’forced down’ rather than in a shallow V. Closer views reveal the banded wings and unevenly barred tail.

Oliver Smart

1 Tawny Hancock 2 Harrier Hill 3 Eddie Buzzard 4 Tommy Whooper 5 Jo Brant 6 Eric Shrikes 7 Peter Rook & Dudley Moorhen 8 Razorbill Bailey 9 Booby Ball 10 Ken Dodo


Black Guillemot Though the Puffin hogs the nation’s affections and Razorbills and Guillemots are well known for populating the cliffs of our vast and magnificent seabird cities, perhaps our most handsome auk is less well known. Black Guillemots, or Tysties as they are known on Shetland, are striking little seabirds, with jet black plumage contrasting with snow white wing patches and blood-red feet. Their nesting habits among boulders and rocky crevices, often in single pairs or in little colonies of a few pairs, goes some way to explaining their relative obscurity. The is exacerbated by their distribution in the north and west, particularly around Ireland, northern and western Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. The UK’s breeding Black Guillemots represent some 15-25% of the European population, with just fewer than 40,000 pairs. Like all our auks, they feed on fish caught by diving from the water surface. Outside the breeding season, Black Guillemots become very pale, being largely whitish, with dark spots and dark primaries: attractive but far from the glories of the summer. So, catch them now while they are still looking at their dandy best.

Five sites to see Black Guillemot 1. Lerwick Harbour, Shetland Grid ref: HU 477 412 2. Rathlin Island, Co Antrim Grid ref: NR 282 092 3. St Bees Head, Cumbria Grid ref: NX 959 118 4. Fedw Fawr, Anglesey Grid ref: SH 604 818 5. Hobbister, Orkney Grid ref: HY 395 069

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2 3 4

David Tipling

Note the bold white wing patches and red feet

OVER THE PAGE Amazing insects to find this month


One of these birds is a Marsh Tit, the other a Willow Tit.

Dave Bevan (Nature Picture Library)

can you tell the

22 Bird Watching 2011


marsh tit or willow tit?

Bernd Zoller (FLPA - Images of Nature)

difference?

yes? No? maybe?

Turn the page and all will become clear. Sort of...

www.birdwatching.co.uk 23


go John Miles

TOP TIP presented by

Look out for Pine Marten droppings around Ardbhan Craigs and nearby woodland.

Site guide Grid ref: NM 853 297 Difficulty

1 Argyll

Oban

All-round wildlife watching at the gateway to the isles

O

ban is the main ferry terminal for the isles and has a small harbour attracting gulls. Water and islands abound in the area, so a nice circular walk can show you a variety of birdlife at any time of the year. Starting along the Gallanach road opposite the Glenmore road you have fine views over the Sound of Kerrera. Black Guillemots are a great start, with feeding Eider and plenty of Shags. The road has a mixture of mature conifers including Scots Pine, Noble Fir and

Redwood, with many Ash, Sycamore, Oak and even Elm. Woodland birds add to the walk and you can expect Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Treecreeper and many tits. Divers are classic Scottish birds so look out for Red-throated and Black-throated – even Great Northern use the area, but mostly in winter. Both Common and Grey Seals are likely, as well as Otters and Red Squirrels. Reaching the Kerrera jetty you can

turn left up the hill away from the road and onto the Druim Moor or carry on along the road. The height here gives you great views across the islands. Look for moorland birds such as Whinchat, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Stonechat, Buzzard, Hooded Crow and Raven. This path soon joins a hardcore track which you follow back into Oban, turning left on Pulpit Drive and right down a path to Glenmore Road and back to the beginning. John Miles

V5 OS 1:50,000 Region 6 Northern Scotland www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121

How to get there: The A85 runs all the way from Crianlarich [part A82]. The A816 runs from Lochgilphead and the A828 runs down from Fort William. Follow through the town and follow the ferry signs, keeping left towards the Gallanach road. Postcode: PA34 4LS. Where to park: The north pier parking is quite a way from the start of this walk so it is best to try along the Gallanach road. Distance and time: The circular walk from Gallanach Road is around 6km while the longer road walk is 8km. Give yourselves 2.5 to 3.5 hours to take in the scene and birds. Terrain: The start of the walk is along an asphalt road, with only the moor being on a rough path, while the longer walk is on the road. The shorter walk has 300 yards of gradient. Walking shoes or boots are advisable. Facilities: Many shops and hotels in Oban. Public transport: Limited buses from Oban, www.traveline.org.uk. The train is ideal for making this journey, often with winter discounts, call Traveline, 0870 608 2608. Sites nearby: Mull, Loch Awe and Kerrera Island.

LOcal guide Organisations: RSPB, Dunedin House, 25 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 3TP. The SOC, The Scottish Birdwatching Resource Centre, Waterston House, Aberlady, East Lothian EH32 0PY, Scotland. Club contact: Argyll Bird Club, Sue Furness, The Cnoc, Tarbet, Argyll PA64 6AP, 01301 702603, www.argyllbirdclub.org County recorder: Paul Daw, Tigh na Tulloch, Minard, Inverary, Argyll PA32 8YQ, 01546 886260. Maps: OS Explorer 376, OS Landranger 49.

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Park along the front here, away from the centre of town. The walk takes you along the Sound of Kerrera, with mature woodland on your left and the water on your right. Look for Black Guillemot, Eider and Shag. 52 Bird Watching 2011

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At the ferry jetty you can choose to carry on the long walk around the road or up onto the Druim Moor. There are two paths to follow up here. The cliff path takes you along the Ardbhan Craigs, or you can opt to

take the more leisurely walk through the moor. The harbour is always worth a look to see if you can find any white-winged gulls or the regular adult Ring-billed Gulls in winter.

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June 2011


Brian Unwin

TOP TIP presented by

For a longer walk, continue beyond Linhope Spout to loop around High Cantle hill

Site guide Grid ref: NU 019 163 Difficulty

2 Northumberland

Ingram Valley

Enjoy birds against a backdrop of ancient forts and stunning scenery

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hile the Cheviot Hills do boast more bird-rich valleys, this one has a special charm that keeps drawing me back for fresh experiences. This route splits into two walks – Brough Law (1, 2 and 3) and Linhope Spout (points 4 and 5). Despite the crowds that gather at the riverside picnic sites at weekends and during holiday periods, not to mention the morons who thoughtlessly despoil Linhope Spout beauty spot by leaving

behind their beer cans, this corner of the Northumberland National Park is remarkably idyllic, perhaps now more tranquil than for thousands of years. There must have been considerable activity as far back as the Bronze and Iron Ages, judging by the remnants of ancient fortifications and other settlements spread about the overlooking green hills. Such fascinating history provides much food for thought as you seek Whinchats and Stonechats on

V5 OS 1:50,000 Region 4 Northern England www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121

bracken-covered slopes and Common Sandpipers, Grey Wagtails and Dippers along the flow of the River Breamish. The valley doesn’t produce many notable bird reports, but perhaps that’s due to insufficient coverage. Sightings of a Red-rumped Swallow near one of the picnic sites below Brough Law in May 2009 and a Hoopoe elsewhere in April 2007 indicates a capacity to surprise. Brian Unwin

Berwick-upon-Tweed, 27m

How to get there: Turn off into valley from A697 is a mile north of Powburn village, which is approx 22 miles north of A697 junction with A1 at Morpeth (17 miles north of Newcastle). Ingram village is about four miles west along minor road after bridge over River Breamish (turn left after bridge to reach signposted visitor centre). Minor road continues west for three miles to its end at Hartside Farm. Postcode: NE66 4LT Where to park: Visitor centre at grid ref: NU 019 163; for Brough Law walk, park at grid ref: NU 008 163; for Linhope Spout walk, at end of road at Hartside Farm, at grid ref: NT 975 163. Distance & time: It’s half a mile uphill to top of Brough Law – allow at least an hour and half by the time you have enjoyed the all-round view. Walk from Hartside Farm to Linhope Spout about two miles each way (at least three hours). Terrain: Path to Brough Law Hill Fort quite steep. Trail to Linhope Spout may be muddy in places. Accessibility: Always open Facilities: National Park Visitor Centre, Ingram (toilets, exhibition, information, light refreshments). Open April-October, 10am-5pm. 01665 578890. Nearest shop at Powburn village petrol station on A697 (a mile south of turn-off to valley). Toilets also at car park below Brough Law. Public transport: None. Sites nearby: Go Birdings: Harthope Valley (May, 2010); Alwin Valley and Kidland Forest (June, 2009); Happy Valley (April, 2007).

LOcal guide

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Visitor Centre worth a visit as exhibition gives insight into valley’s ancient history. Typical woodland birds, including Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher, in surroundings. Effort required for walk up to Brough Law Hill Fort but the panoramic view of the Cheviots means expended energy doesn’t feel wasted. Watch for Redstart

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June 2011

during walk and, at the top, Wheatear among the stones of the ramparts, and soaring Buzzards around the hills. As the River Breamish curves around Brough Law’s northern base Common Sandpiper, Sand Martin, Grey Wagtail and Dipper are all likely. A little further west, Whinchat and Stonechat can sometimes be found on bracken-

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covered hillsides by road. Park on verge before gate across road near Hartside Farm and continue west on foot. Scan for farmland birds in surrounding fields. Check for Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Crossbill – and maybe Red Squirrel – in conifers during walk to Linhope Spout (60ft waterfall).

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Club contact: Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, Secretary: Alan Watson, 3 Green Close, Whitley Bay NE25 9SH, 0191 252 2744, apus@blueyonder.co.uk County recorder: Tim Dean, 2 Knocklaw Park, Rothbury NE65 7PW, 01669 621460, t.r.dean@btopenworld.com Maps: OS Explorer 332, OS Landranger 81.

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birdwatching.co.uk/Articles-index 53


gear

Your birding

Swarovski’s new The only review that counts

A

The new EL 10x50...

quarter of a century ago, before roof prisms started to dominate the market, it was common to see birdwatchers using 10x50 binoculars, or even larger. Many of us took our first steps in birding using a hefty pair of porro prisms, often a pair passed down from our fathers or grandfathers. In recent years, though, the 8x42 has become almost the ‘standard’ size, while advances in technology have meant that a good pair of 8x32s can punch well above their weight. Swarovski’s release of 10x50 and 12x50 versions of their new EL Swarovision binoculars, then, might look on the surface like an attempt to turn the clock back. In fact, it’s aimed at giving birdwatchers something extra in low light. Regular testers David Chandler and Matt Merritt were joined by Bird Watching reader Jonny Rankin to put them through their paces in an afternoon and evening session at Paxton Pits, Cambridgeshire, renowned for the many Nightingales singing from its murky undergrowth.

10x50

The image is very sharp at all distances, and pretty much right to the edges of the image, too, as with the 8.5x42 ELs released last year – the flatter-field technology is doing its job here. As you’d expect, with those big objective lenses, the image is very bright, too, and contrast is excellent. The image has a very natural tone, tending, if anything, towards the warm and yellowish. Try as we might, we struggled to find any colour fringing whatsoever – the only real hints of it were once or twice as we swung the binoculars round to follow fast-moving birds, but they were as much about eye position as anything else. As was the case with the 8.5x42s last year, field of view feels very wide, no doubt helped by the sharpness of the image right to the edge. That ‘walk-in’ feel puts paid to any fears of a ‘tunnel’ effect, familiar to those of us who remember 10x50s in the old days. In low light, or in the sort of close habitat we had at Paxton while looking for Nightingales, these binoculars really come into their own. As the light reduces, the high quality glass and that extra magnification mean that the image through the binoculars looks even brighter than it does by the naked eye. Finally, we measured close focus at between 2.45m and 2.7m (it will differ from one person to another). As you’d expect, that’s a bit behind some recent 8x42s, but it’s really very impressive for 78 Bird Watching 2011

binoculars this size, and more than adequate for most users.

12x50

Again, the image is very sharp at all distances, and again the field-flattener lenses ensure that you get full value for field of view. That extra bit of magnification really gives them some extra punch

at distance (we were glad of it when we tried to pick out detail on a very distant soaring Buzzard). They do appear a little dimmer than the 10x50s and the 8.5x42s, but that’s strictly relative. Taken on their own, you’re struck by just how bright the image they provide is. Colour fringing is notable only by its absence – as with the 10s, once you get your eye position right, you can look for it, but thankfully in vain. That


binoculars

Recent trends in optics have been towards smaller bins, so these new 10x50s and 12x50s came as a surprise – will they remind us that big can be beautiful? ...and the new EL 12x50. Spot the difference

natural, warm tone is there, too. Field of view is noticeably narrower than on the 10x50s, as you’d expect, but never feels restrictive or claustrophobic, again because of the sharpness to the edges. Both Jonny and Matt found them easier to use with the eyecups partly or all the way down – try all the available positions to find one that suits. In low light and close habitats, they do start to

lag behind the 10x50s a little, but again it’s relative – compared to most binoculars, they produce a bright view, and that extra magnification goes a long way. We measured close focus at between 2.6m and 2.9m – again it’s very impressive for binoculars this size, and means you could comfortably use them for all sorts of wildlife-watching.

Design, build and accessories (common to both models) It’s a shock to find that they weigh almost 1kg, because they don’t feel dramatically heavy, no doubt because they’re so well balanced. While the extra weight is apparent when directly compared to 8x42s, none of us thought it would put us off buying. They feel thoroughly high quality and very much like the EL 8.5x42s, but Swarovski have made one or two refinements – and Jonny and Matt both felt that the new, much larger thumb indents made the binoculars much more comfortable to use. Build quality, as always with Swarovski, is hard to fault. They’re waterproof, nitrogen-filled and rubber armoured – pretty much par for the course these days. The focus wheel is 1.5 fingers wide, and takes two complete clockwise turns from close focus to infinity (although we reckoned that most birding would require less than 0.75 turns). It travels rather lightly (although not so much as to be a problem), but smoothly, and it’s ridged, to make it easier to use while wearing gloves. The focusing on both was very precise – none of us had to go looking for that bit extra, as is sometimes the case. The dioptre adjustment is as on the 8.5x42s – you pull out the focus wheel, set it, then lock it in place. Reassuringly, the same settings were right for each pair. The eyecups are rubber covered, and twist up and down easily, but stayed in position well when in extended use. There are four positions, if you count fully ‘down’, meaning there’s a wide range of eye relief. The padded neoprene strap provided is excellent, although the quick length adjuster might be a bit redundant once you’ve set them up the first time. They are nice and easy to attach, though. They didn’t hang quite as flat against the body as with the 8.5x42s, but that’s no doubt because of the extra length and wider objective lens. The rainguard is quite tight-fitting, meaning it’s hard to dislodge accidentally although you might prefer something slightly looser. There are tethered objective lens covers, and a ‘Snapshot’ adaptor, to help with digibinning. We were all a little baffled by how bulky the case is – I don’t think many people would use it for the purpose for which it’s intended, especially if packing for an overseas trip, but we did think it might be more than useful as a general accessory bag – you could get compact camera, digiscoping kit, field guide, etc. in there. www.birdwatching.co.uk 79


round-up Rarity

Mega gull swaps Mediterranean for Minsmere as migration season delivers, writes Richard Millington

M

ay is one of the most magical months of the birding calendar, as the tone of migration switches from quantity (many of our spring migrants having already settled into their territories) to quality, there being a higher percentage of scarce vagrants arriving alongside the latest of our summer visitors. The rarity value of the highlight birds tends to increase as the month progresses but, even before the double-figure dates of May 2011 had been reached, several megas had sounded. Best of all was an Audouin’s Gull that arrived at Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk on 9th May — an immaculate adult that spent most of that afternoon loafing on the reserve’s famous scrape before heading off south. This elegant gull, once a rare bird even within its Mediterranean home range, has enjoyed a population explosion in recent years and large breeding colonies have now become established on Iberia’s southern coasts, which is good news both for the birds and for twitchers; as the core numbers have risen, so has the incidence of extralimital vagrancy. The Minsmere bird, although the first for Suffolk, represents the sixth sighting of this species in Britain in just the last nine years; following the first ever (a second-summer bird that graced Dungeness, Kent on 5th-7th May 2003), Audouin’s Gulls have been seen in Yorkshire (at Kilnsea on 1st June 2005), Kent (at Dungeness again, on 16th May 2007), Devon (at Seaton on 14th August 2007) and in Lincolnshire (near Mabelthorpe on 15th-23rd August 2008). Adults are particularly dapper, mid-sized seagulls, grey bodied and dark-eyed with a lurid blood-red bill that is tipped with orange, so a real treat to see. As luck would have it, the neighbouring county of Norfolk had hosted the previous day’s mega; a Collared Flycatcher at Holme during the afternoon of 8th May. This truly stunning male, replete with broad white collar, extensive white

forehead patch and white rump (but aged as a first-summer by its brown-tinged primaries), seemed oblivious of the appreciative crowd that gathered below its favourite leafy tree, and so was a wonderfully obliging second record for the site (following a male seen there on 4th-6th May 1969). There are two other Norfolk records, but both come with baggage; a male at Cley on 5th May 1995 was only seen by three people, and a first-summer male at Holkham on 12th-13th May 1985 has long endured the stigma of possibly being of hybrid stock ... thus this latest individual offered a clean dethroning of a 42 year-blocker! Another first-summer male Collared Flycatcher had visited Fair Isle, Shetland on 30th April-5th May, but a Great Snipe on the same island on 2nd May was a particularly unseasonable sighting. Other early May rarities of particular note on offer to Birdline listeners on 09068 700222 included the first Spotted Sandpiper for Worcestershire (a spotty adult that visited Westwood Pool on 3rd May) and Norfolk’s second Citrine Wagtail of the spring (a furtive female at Cley on 7th-8th May, hot on the heels of the sumptuous male that had spent the whole of Easter Sunday in a roadside meadow near Cromer), while the confirmation of a singing male Iberian Chiffchaff in Blackpool, Lancashire was a popular regional event. Meanwhile, a run of hot, dry weather resulted in a good haul of southern overshoots, and birders were treated to multiple arrivals of Red-rumped Swallows and Red-footed Falcons, several Subalpine Warblers and a couple of Kentish Plovers, plus Black Kites drifting up as far north as Shetland and even a flock of four Black-winged Stilts (at Gwithian, Cornwall on 8th). Needless to say, a peppering of rarer birds accompanied these scarce migrants, with White-winged Black Terns reaching Suffolk and

Northumberland, a Collared Pratincole lingering near Immingham, Lincolnshire (from late April), male Black-headed Wagtails on the Isles of Scilly and Anglesey, a Gull-billed Tern in West Sussex, a widely-wandering Glossy Ibis and Ireland’s fourth-ever Great Reed Warbler (on Great Saltee Island, County Cork on 7th-8th May). Still present into May was the returning Barolo Little Shearwater, the lonely male again singing under the starry night skies of Lundy, Devon (from 20th April onwards), but might he even attract a passing female this year? There was no denying that the quantity of scarce migrants during April had been impressive, as the month’s haul of 60 Hoopoes, 35 Woodchat Shrikes, 20 Purple and six Night Herons, five Savi’s Warblers, 65 Bee-eaters and 20 Wrynecks proved, but there were also some standout rarities. Following a Little Crake and an Oriental Turtle

Citrine Wagtail, East Runton, Norfolk, 24 April

Keith Scovell

88 Bird Watching 2011

John Malloy

Western Subalpine Warbler, Holy Island, Northumberland, 10 April

Collared Flycatcher, Holme, Norfolk

James Hanlon

looks like Spring


UK Bird

Graham Catley

is in full swing Collared Pratincole, Rosper Road, Lincolnshire, 1 May

Oliver Slessor

Short-toed Treecreeper, Landguard, Suffolk

Purple Heron, Huttoft Pit, Lincolnshire

Graham Catley

Gary Jenkins

Bluethroat, Welney, Norfolk, 17 April

Iberian Chiffchaff, Titchwell, Norfolk, April

Andy Thompson

Dove earlier in the month (in Sussex and Suffolk respectively), late April attractions included not only a displaying drake Black Scoter that pouted his stuff off Stag Rocks, Northumberland for a week, but also a first for Ireland; a juvenile that was photographed at both Youghal, County Cork on 22nd-23rd and 200 miles to the north at Ballymena, County Antrim on 26th. The climate experts tell us that the seasons are three weeks ahead of themselves in 2011, so will the spring super-rares, so traditionally a feature of June, reach us before May is out? Well, we will find out all too soon...

www.birdwatching.co.uk 89


Acid baths! Boiling

The Champagne Pool was formed 700 years ago but it’s not the main attraction for birders

32 Bird Watching 2011


birding in new zealand

Words & pictures by Steve Fitzpatrick

Lakes! Poison Gas! Welcome to the craziest bird reserve in the world – New Zealand’s Wai-o-tapu

I

t’s over 100°C under foot, hydrogen sulphide is venting from a 900-year-old explosion crater, and every morning an underground chasm erupts sending a jet of heated water more than 20m high. This isn’t your normal birdwatching day out in the field. To the left of me stretches a half acre of acrid, bubbling mud, to the right a cavernous hole spewing a mixture of water, mud, arsenic, and mercury, along with gases which leave bright yellow, red, and orange streaks painted on the white rock walls. In the distance is a lake so lurid green it puts a neon sign to shame, and leaves you wondering just how long you’d last should you fall in. But there is life here. In the midst of all these volcanic activities a flock of Pied Stilts wade calmly. To humans, New Zealand’s Wai-o-tapu thermal park, near Rotorua, is a glimpse of what could be termed ‘hell on Earth’. But to these birds this hostile environment is the place they call home...


Bird watching Magazine June 2011