Saturday, 31 March 2018

Malaysia 2018 with Nigel Marven...From £3,199.00 per person.

Follow in Nigel’s footsteps this Autumn on a trip to Peninsula Malaysia from 23 October - 5 November 2018.

A unique opportunity to join the British TV presenter and zoologist on the trip of a lifetime. We will visit Taman Negara, one of the oldest rainforests in the world for colourful birds, amazing mammals and fabulous butterflies including huge birdwings! Fraser's Hill - a cooler colonial hill station with 300 species of birds recorded, rare kraits and captivating Siamese Peninsula Pitvipers. Then on to the tropical island of Langkawi in the north of the country where we will search for Mangrove Pitvipers, Brahminy Kites,White-bellied Sea Eagles and Brown-winged Kingfishers, among others.

Join us as we search the jungle for amazing wildlife!
Noisy Fire-tufted Barbet are a riot of colour at Fraser's Hill

You never know what you will see, maybe giant weevils like this!

...or beautiful snakes like this Siamese Peninsula Pitviper.
To join the trip please email Prestige on the link below and register to get more details. In the meantime, here's a little taster of what to expect...

Malaysia_Promo from Image Impact on Vimeo.

Bookings and further information can be made direct through Prestige Holidays.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Ross's Gull...

I don't really twitch many birds these days but on Wednesday morning this week an adult Ross's Gull was found at Ferrybridge, Dorset. It promptly disappeared not to be seen again until late that day at Lodmoor on the other side of Weymouth.

I kept a close eye on news of it's movements after it was seen again on Thursday (yesterday) morning and again it was appearing in short bursts around the Weymouth area often vanishing for large chunks of time. After seeing some amazing photos of it on Twitter I wish I'd stopped working and gone to see it. Its not a new bird, I've seen a few in the UK and more in Canada but they are truly beautiful, elegant birds and being only 40 miles away I decided to take today off and try for it.

Good news broke early - it had been seen again at Ferrybridge. After dropping Jake at school in Axminster I set off along the coast road, which takes about 50 minutes to Weymouth. It was a beautiful morning and I was in no rush, half expecting it to have moved to Lodmoor as it had the day before. I got to Ferrybridge around 09:20 but it was eerily quiet, checked had flown off at 08:45 while I was en route!! That would explain the obvious lack of birders. I decided to stay put and have a coffee when I noticed a couple with scopes checking the few gulls that were out on the mud. I went over to be sociable and see if they'd seen it earlier this morning and as I approached one of them turned and said 'it's here!' Sure enough, it had just returned and was lingering with a handful of Black-headed Gulls on the edge of the rising tide.

It was bitterly cold and it must have felt right at home, a real Arctic beauty...

Ross's Gull, adult winter, Ferrybridge: R.Harris

Ross's Gull, adult winter, Ferrybridge: R.Harris
After watching it for about 15 minutes, it took to the air and headed out across the Fleet on its own. I grabbed some video too while it was on the deck but it was incredibly windy and despite being on a heavy video tripod, the camera was still moving around. I had to lower the soundtrack volume as the wind was deafening.

Sadly it failed to return in the following hour before I left and it was only relocated around 15:40 this afternoon in Bowleaze Cove west Weymouth before departing east half-an-hour later. Hopefully it will stick around and be picked up again over the weekend.

Monday, 12 February 2018


Brambling are just one of those birds that you long to see each winter, special birds because they are usually fairly scarce, they always look great with their contrasting black, white and orange plumage and they are a sure sign that it's cold!

I've had Brambling at Whitestaunton before, but only the odd one or two and certainly not every year. This year there have been good numbers locally including about a dozen regular birds with the local Chaffinch flock about 500 meters south of the house. Every morning on the school run to Axminster I keep a keen eye out for the white rumps as they disappear up into the beech trees along the roadside. So perhaps it's no surprise that they would eventually put in an appearance here, after all there's no shortage of seed for them in the garden.

I've been lucky to have four over the last few days, two male and two female. They are much shyer than the Chaffinches they associate with, never coming to the main bird table but preferring the seed table I set up for the Hawfinch at the end of last year, which is situated further from the house by the garden shed. Dave Helliar came to enjoy them at the weekend and was treated to close views of the residing Hawfinch too. In fact there are seven species of finch present at the moment with Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin and Hawfinch being seen on a daily basis. After much waiting, hidden from view, I managed a bit of long distance (hence the quality) video.

If they keep coming in, I'll definitely be trying to get some better clips of them.

Three of the Brambling with a pair of Bullfinch
Brambling, male: R. Harris

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Bird That Keeps on Giving...

After seemingly disappearing for long intervals, the Hawfinch has reappeared in the garden yet again, it obviously likes it here. Now that the last of the field maple seeds have fallen (or rotted on the tree), he's now coming regularly to the whole sunflower seeds. At the weekend a second bird joined it for 10 minutes but hasn't been seen since.

Regular bird with pale flecking on some of the scaps.

Second bird, looking for a way into the cage
Sadly it was raining and the light was rubbish but it was wonderful to watch these two as I munched on my cornflakes.  Wish I'd taken a shot of the House Sparrows all sitting on top of the cage waiting for the visitors to leave so that they could get a look-in.

This morning it was back on its favourite tray and showed incredibly well.

Hawfinch, Whitestaunton: R. Harris
See how the colours change when not in direct sunlight
Taken through glass while in shadow

Hawfinch: R. Harris

Another bird of interest was this male Brambling which came in to feed alongside the Hawfinch on 6 Feb.

Brambling, Whitestaunton: R. Harris

Every day the Hawfinch is  here is a bonus, may never see one like this again. Pleased it's managed to see out the worst of the winter months in my garden.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Italian Sparrow...

It has to be said, I was in no great hurry to see this bird. It's been hanging around the same gardens in East Budleigh since mid November and when you know it's being described as a 'possible Italian Sparrow or hybrid' it's hard to find the incentive to go and have a look. Even though it's only 28 miles away I put off trying to see it, until today. Fellow birder Dave Helliar felt likewise but today we thought we'd make the effort to catch up with it and take a look for ourselves.

I have to say, this is not the 'easy' bird that we thought it would be. It's been visiting garden feeders in Cadbury Gardens (which the friendly lady owner has kept topped up for the bird) for the last couple of months. Almost exactly two hours after we arrived, it appeared. It looked at the feeders...and then left!  Everyone present had great views for about 15 seconds and I managed 6 seconds of video footage. Video grab below.

Possible Italian Sparrow, male: East Budleigh, Devon: R.Harris

It looks good to me, like any other Italian Sparrow I've ever seen, but whether it will ever be accepted as such is another matter. It may have been easier to see early on in its stay but it seems to show every 2-3 hours now and certainly not for long. But then, it is heading into Spring and it probably has other things on its mind...

I would also like to thank to people who live in Cadbury Gardens - they are a very tolerant lot. Having an almost constant trickle of birders and photographers pointing optics in the general direction of your living room window, can't be easy and yet they have obliged our interest and allowed us to spend time watching and waiting for the bird to appear. What a great bunch of people!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Local Birds December 17-January 18

Thanks to Dave Helliar for providing a round up of local birds from over the last 5-6 weeks. A heavy bout of (Aussie?) flu has seen Dave out of action for some time so good to see him back on his feet and out birding again.

Firecrest in Dave's back garden just before Christmas.
What and early Christmas present!

Fieldfare at Forde Abbey. You'd travel a long way
to twitch one if they were rare.
Kingfisher on Dave's local patch

Black Redstart, male - Seaton Hole, Devon

Black Redstart, male - Seaton Hole, Devon
Such smart birds.
Hawfinches continue to delight the masses. This one
was 1 of 12 at Cattistock Church in Dorset.

Corn Bunting, Maiden Castle, Dorset
Probably the most reliable site to see these once common birds.
Ruff at Lodmoor, Dorset on 18 January

Marsh Harrier, Greylake RSPB reserve, Somerset

Green-winged Teal,drake - Greylake, RSPB, Somerset
Cheers to Dave for his photos. You can also follow him on Twitter @DHelliar.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

A Slow Start...but getting there

2018 has certainly gotten off to a slow start for me. A combination of work load, flu within the family and poor weather have all conspired to stop me getting out much.

The Hawfinch that graced the garden for just over three months, finally seems to have moved off, being last seen six days ago and other than a visiting Brambling or two, it's been very quiet in the garden.

Today I managed to get in a round walk between Seaton and Seaton Hole in the drizzle with Jake. A couple of Black Redstart were seen along the beach between Seaton Hole and Seaton, including a smart male - presumably the same bird I found back on 4th November last year, though only the female posed for photos today.

A damp and drizzling Seaton this afternoon
Black Redstart, Seaton Hole

Black Redstart, Seaton Hole
Brightening things up a little was a Grey Wagtail picking insects off the pebbles at Seaton Hole end of the beach.

Grey Wagtail, Seaton Hole

Grey Wagtail, Seaton Hole
On the way back I did a quick check of the gulls building up in numbers just north of Coronation Corner but there was nothing of note, not even a med. Fingers crossed the recent Caspian and/or Glaucous Gulls will make a return visit soon.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

New Year's Eve...

It’s New Year’s Eve and a family walk by the sea at Seaton was on the cards. No rare birds to twitch this year - no Blue Rock Thrush, no BrĂ¼nnich’s Guillemot, no White-billed Diver. The Hawfinch is still kicking about in the garden at Whitestaunton and a male Siskin plus 50ish Brambling just 300 metres from the house, which went some way towards consolation though.

Rough seas at Seaton today, great day for a walk.
Stonechat above the sea front, Seaton.
Hawfinch, still showing occasionally at Whitestaunton.

Highlight of the day though was chatting to a retired gentleman in Pebbles cafe in Seaton. An interesting guy who spends six months of the year living in the UK (near Axminster) and the other six months living in the south of France. Prior to moving to the UK 20 years ago he’d spent his life in South Africa where he was born, raised and managed a private game reserve on the outskirts of Kruger National Park.

After discovering my interest in wildlife he started to recount tales of the times he came across Puff Adders, Boomslangs, Cobras and a large resident Black Mamba that he saw on numerous occasions. Once, while trekking along an overgrown path through the bush with his head tracker, he came face-to-face (literally) with the mamba. It had sensed their imminent arrival and reared up (they can elevate a third of their body length off the ground). It looked him in the eyes! Luckily they knew just what to do and froze on the spot. No longer feeling threatened the mamba lowered itself and hurried away into the scrub. This individual was as thick as his forearm and 15-16ft in length - it must have been a scary moment for all concerned. I could have spent a lot more time talking to him - fascinating stuff! But as the rain set in, it was time to head home.

Here's to an exciting and wildlife filled 2018 for everyone - catch up again next year!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Hawfinch on the feeders...!

I don't think I've ever posted so many times about a single bird. But then I've never been in the position before of having a Hawfinch regularly visiting the garden daily for the last month. It's a beast of a bird, dwarfing almost every bird that dares to sit near it. To watch it feed and take apart the field maple seeds so deftly at such close range is a treat I'll probably never get to experience again. So here it is again from this morning, shortly after which it turned its attention to our bird table feeders where it's been coming and going ever since.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The long-staying Hawfinch...

I've been seeing this bird every morning recently and today when I got back from dropping my son at school I took a quick look and sure enough, there he was. Happily munching his way through the supply of Field Maple seeds just beyond the garden. For a brief moment the sun came out and I managed to get my first reasonable photos of him in good light. Without the Nikon P900 none of this would be possible...

Hawfinch, male: R. Harris

Hawfinch, male: R. Harris

Hawfinch, male - chewing on a Field Maple seed: R. Harris

And a little video too, though the sun had vanished by this time:

Sunday, 3 December 2017

At last...the Hawfinch shows well!

There have been between 1-3 Hawfinches hanging around Whitestaunton now for about a month. One in particular has been showing from the garden each morning but only for a minute or two at most before disappearing to feed somewhere.

Yesterday that changed. Yesterday it showed well for half-an-hour and although the light was poor (it still only appears early in the morning at first light), it allowed great views. Thankfully my brother, who missed it last weekend, was on hand to see it this time around and it put on a fantastic performance:

We also had at least one other flyover bird whilst we were watching this one, so still a few in the area. Just as well as I never tire of seeing them and looking for the regular single bird has become a morning vigil for me now and will continue to be so until it chooses to depart.

UPDATE: 5th December, 2017 - nine in the garden briefly this morning! An amazing sight to see and totally unexpected. Not sure how long they had been there as it was too dark to see any prior to doing the school run. Unfortunately they flew to the west all too soon but hopefully some sunflower seeds can tempt them back.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Red-necked Grebe...

Great find by Dave Helliar this evening, Chard Reservoir's 2nd record of Red-necked Grebe!

Red-necked Grebe, Chard Res: Dave Helliar

Red-necked Grebe, Chard Res: Dave Helliar

Red-necked Grebe, Chard Res: R Harris 

The first and only previous record was one found by myself way back in 1978 so this is the first for nearly 40 years!

Prior to this discovery, I'd been visiting Portland Bill with my father-in-law. He'd never been beyond the prison (no reflection on his character, that's just a far as he'd ventured on to Portland), so he was keen to have a stroll at the southerly tip of the Isle.

The (lower) Lighthouse Portland Bill

West cliffs with Purbeck coastline in the distance.
It was very windy and there weren't many birds but a Short-eared Owl, flushed by a dog walker, was the best on offer. Back at Ferrybridge we found a handful of Brent geese, 15 Mediterranean Gulls and this Ketrel, which hovered in the wind just a short distance from us.


Mediterranean Gull, Ferrybridge

Mediterranean Gull, Ferrybridge

Brent Geese, Ferrybridge

The Red-necked Grebe was a brilliant end to the day.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Plume-toed Swiftlet...

It looks as if the Glossy Swiftlet's I saw in Malaysia last year have now been split (along with 9 other new species), following MDNA analysis of this broad ranging species. The species found in Peninsula Malaysia (as well as Borneo, Sumatra, Natuna and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) has been renamed Plume-toed Swiftlet Collocalia affinis according to findings published here by the ICO.

Plume-toed Swiflets, Bukit Fraser
Unfortunately the differences between the new 'splits' are not obvious in the field. Such is the complexity of birding in modern times.

Straw-headed Bulbul.... still cause for concern

It seems the plight of this beautiful species is still a huge cause for concern. This article was published today:

My original post on the subject can be seen here:

Monday, 20 November 2017


2017 will be remembered by birders for many things, not least the current Hawfinch invasion that's taking place throughout the country due to a shortage of food in other parts of Europe. Hawfinches are an impressive species, our largest finch. These normally scarce, shy species are appearing anywhere and everywhere at the moment, including around the village where I live. I'm still seeing one bird fairly regularly in the mornings as it pitches-up on top of a tree at the rear of the house before calling and departing to wherever it's feeding during the day. Despite extensive searching, I haven't found out where that is yet.

Hawfinch, Whitestaunton: R Harris
Hawfinch, Whitestaunton: R Harris

You can never have enough of a good thing, so I went to see the half-a-dozen or so Hawfinches at Shute Church near Axminster just across the Devon border on Saturday morning too. Unfortunately they didn't show well enough for decent photos while I was there but on a walk by the sea with Jacob at Seaton Hole we saw this lovely Little Egret on the edge of the beach. I can remember when these were rare visitors to the UK and I twitched my first at Sutton Bingham Reservoir in the early 80's!

Little Egret, Seaton Hole: R. Harris

Little Egret, Seaton Hole: R. Harris

And it looks like we are experiencing the same phenomenon with other species too. A drive around the Blackdown Hills over the weekend produced around 100 Brambling! In recent years we have struggled to find more than half-a-dozen among the local Chaffinch flocks but this year is a complete reversal of fortunes.

Brambling: R. Harris

Brambling: R. Harris
Brambling: R. Harris
It looks like the weather is going to change a little this week and become wetter and windier but the recent prolonged dry spell has been very welcome and has certainly brought some beautiful November days for a change.

Incredible sunset from Seaton on 17th November

Sunrise from Whitestaunton at 07:30 on 18th Nov
was incredibly pink/purple to begin with...

...before turning a fiery orange 5 minutes later
All photos in this post taken with the Nikon P900.