Italian Sparrow split by the IOC

For Western Palearctic birders the news that Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae) has been split as a seperate species by the IOC will doubtless prove a nice late Christmas present. The reason given is that this species is 'increasingly recognized as an example of hybrid speciation' having previously been regarded as a hybrid between House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow. 
It remains to be seen who else will follow their lead and for WP listers this obviously includes Netfugl!
Personally I'm lucky enough to have seen Italian Sparrow at Milan airport in northern Italy and also on Corsica where the photograph below was taken.
See the trip reports
here and here 

Boxing Day Seals, Horsey, 26 December 2012

This year we had our traditional Boxing Day out at Horsey and how this place has changed, sadly for the worse. Horsey Gap carpark is now a pay and display and maybe I'm being a snob but the breeding colony of Atlantic Grey Seals have become so popular with day trippers that it now has a zoo vibe to the whole experience. Being a sunny Boxing Day obviously didn't help but carparking today (both at Horsey Gap and the Nelson's Head track) was a nightmare and there was a constant stream of hundreds of people making their way to the beach from every direction. I never thought I'd have to queue to get along the Nelson's Head track!
Needless to say we got some great close-up views of loads of seals and witnessed a very violent and bloody scrap bewteen 2 bulls.
To escape the crowds we had a late afternoon stroll on Caister beach where c40 Snow Buntings were just north of the end of Second Avenue and 300+ Great Cormorants flew in off the sea in groups, all heading inland. I've never seen so many doing this.


Twitching down to 'The Smoke', 23 December 2012

A week ago I was supposed to be going down to Queen Mother Reservoir, near Slough with Justin but I contracted food poisoning after a Saturday night party (I blame the paella!) so had to abort. A week later I made the trip solo and after making us wait the American Buff-bellied Pipit duly obliged near to the south east corner of the reservoir. And oblige it really did with views down to an amazing 4 feet despite the constant noise of camera shutters! It was a great opportunity to study the species in detail and obviously to seriously 'happy-slap' it with the camera! A handful of Ring-necked Parakeets (still a novelty for us Norfolk boys!), 4 Goldeneye and a few Redwings and Fieldfares completed the picture.

Afterwards I had a look on Staines Reservoir where I had another rarity - drake Ruddy Duck (!), a pair of Scaup, redhead Smew and c30 Goldeneye.

Upton Court Park near Slough revealed Green Woodpecker, loads of Redwings and 10 more Ring-necked Parakeets.   

The Lovebirds in the South of France

Back in 2010 I did a quick and dirty weekend trip to the Nice area in the South of France to get 2 category C species on my WP list - namely Fischer's Lovebird and Reeves Pheasant. The Lovebirds proved very easy to find in both the villages of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer but I believe these birds may not all be what they are supposed to be!

Studying the photographs I took at the time and looking through literature reveals that many of these birds look like hybrids. Clearly there are pure (at least pure-looking) Fischer's Lovebirds there but they appear to be outnumbered by hybrids which begs the question whether these feral populations are really viable.

Interestingly, the hybrid birds look like Fischer's x Hooded (see the copy of the plate out of the Helm Guide to Parrots of the World below) which are also known to hybridise in Africa. On my visit to France however I didn't manage to photograph any pure looking Hooded Lovebirds although there were some present.

Some of my photographs are shown below. Not great quality as it was in my old digi-scoping days!

Anyone who has been to see these birds or is contemplating a trip should bear this in mind and (while they remain on the WP list) make sure they see the right birds!

Fischer's Lovebird

hybrid Lovebird

Plate from Parrots of the World

Bombycilla fest, Beccles, Suffolk, 21 Dcember 2012

The world may not have ended but with the black clouds around Beccles you could be forgiven for thinking it was about to!
I was tempted out by some more Waxwings and found 22 at the entrance to St Paul's Close on the south edge of the town. Sadly, despite moving around a bit they wouldn't come down out of the trees so I had to photograph them looking up and in pretty dull conditions.
One bird turned out to be ringed (red ring left leg, green on right) shown in the 1st picture below. I'm currently trying to suss out it's origins... 

Aldeburgh, Suffolk, 14 December 2012

I've been itching to get down to Aldeburgh all week but have been tied up with work until today. Cue a change in the weather (for the worse!) but luckily the 'snowball' hung on for me and I managed to get a dry couple of hours this morning before the heavy rain set in.
The Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll was soon found on the beach just south of the town and proved to be SO tame! It fed on sea poppy seeds in one small patch of weeds allowing approach down to an amazing 6 feet. The only problem was trying to keep the camera still in the blustery conditions but laying down on the shingle did the trick.
I'm not sure I'll bother with any 'exilipes' birds in the future because this race really is big and stunning!
The only other species of note was a Rock Pipit on the beach briefly before the weather had me racing back to my flask in the car!



Some Waxwings at last! 9 December 2012

Having only managed to hear Waxwing in Taverham on Wednesday I finally managed to catch up with 27 of these beauties on the edge of Norwich today. They showed amazingly well in small saplings right in the middle of the carpark at Longwater Business Park and seemed completely unfazed by the passing hordes of sad Christmas shoppers! I never tire of these birds, however many times I've seen and photographed them they always have me coming back for more.
The only other thing of note was a large female Sparrowhawk low over the main A47 near the Bowthorpe roundabout.    

Southwold, Suffolk, 2 December 2012

A lovely crisp but freezing afternoon in Southwold.
It wasn't a birding trip but a Little Egret near Harleston on the way kicked things off A walk along the seawall and beside the boating lakes going north towards Easton Bavents then produced a large circling flock of the local feral Barnacle Geese and then a great dashing Merlin over the paddocks.
A stroll along the prom towards the town (and coffee!) was interrupted by some really close views of a single Purple Sandpiper on the rocks. Despite getting really close I only had my iPhone with me so the photos are pretty rubbish. At least I managed to avoid the crashing waves and returned dry from my clamber on the rocks!

Purple Sandpiper, Southwold

Trying to photograph said Purple Sandpiper!