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Surprises Through My Zeisses / 11 An Eagle, An Osprey, A Greenshank and a Stormcock (1 Viewer)

Troubador

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You are welcome to join me on this eleventh of a series of articles taking a look back over my shoulder at some sightings that have not only delighted us but startled and surprised us.

Way back in the 1980s and 90s, we visited sites all over mainland Scotland before falling in love with the coast and islands in the west. Our favourite of these mainland areas was definitely the Cairngorms, a massif of mountains in the north-east and having a wonderful mix of Caledonian pine forest, wide river valleys called straths and semi-arctic habitats on the hill tops.

Here we encountered Crested Tits and Crossbills for the first time, and found wonderful flowers such as Twinflower, Small White Orchid, Starry Saxifrage, Cloudberry and Dwarf Cornel. Just typing out that list brings back the memories and the scents and sounds of Cresties ‘churring’ at us, and the scents of old Scots Pine forests and the exquisite delicacy of Twinflowers.

Some of our fondest memories are of our wanderings up Strath Feshie, a long river valley carved up the western side of the Cairngorms with forests and heaths and views to the tops of the mountains, and especially the hill called Carn Ban Mor. I am not sure if the small road up the glen was private or not but we parked in the public car park on the east side of the glen near Achlean and walked from there, exploring the small woods nearby and then crossing over the bridge to walk along the dead-end road up the glen. There was no motor traffic and very few walkers so it was a fabulous treat to seemingly have this huge strath to ourselves.

Before our visits to Glen Feshie, we had already seen several Greenshanks on autumn passage at coastal sites in the east of England, so we had already fallen in love with these graceful wading birds, but of course these were all seen against the backdrop of autumn, so they were foraging in muddy places amongst dead vegetation. Seeing one on the bank of the River Feshie on a bright and warm day with summer vegetation around was an entirely different experience and one we have treasured ever since.

Not every day was as idyllic as this though and the one I have in mind, although starting with some promising blue sky, turned vicious in the afternoon, and as we trudged back down the glen, we were battered by squalls of strong wind propelling rain at armour-piercing velocities. Halfway down the glen, whipped and scourged by the storm, we came to a halt as we both heard snatches of bird-song in between the gusts of wind. Walking on a little further we were lucky that the wind briefly slowed down and we could identify the singer. This is when we learned why the Mistle Thrush was known in the dim and distant past as the Stormcock, because there he was, perched on the very topmost branch of a tall Birch tree that swayed madly to and fro in the wind and lashing rain. A male Mistle Thrush, singing his heart out, turning his head from side to side to send his message far and wide. We were simply stunned by this display of determination and courage, and over the decades since then, have been privileged to witness this many times.

As terrific as the sightings of Greenshank and Mistle Thrush were, they are over-shadowed by the must unlikely of coincidences that provided us with two sightings within minutes of each other that we would have laughed away as impossible, if someone had suggested their likelihood.

It was late in the day as we approached the point on the glen road where we should turn off and head for the bridge over the River Feshie. Looking up towards the path winding up the heights of Carn Ban Mor, we could see that the patch of snow near the top of the path was still there, although perhaps reduced in size, but our attention was taken by the sudden appearance of a Golden Eagle, that was clearly carrying prey. Sure enough, through my Dialyts I could see it was a large hare, although whether it was a Brown or Mountain Hare it was impossible to determine.

Wow. We had never seen an Eagle carrying prey before but before we could sit down and enjoy this unexpected spectacle, it drifted away over towards Carn Ban Mor’s summit. No sooner had we stopped chattering about it, and turned to head for the bridge, than we thought we could see the Eagle coming back. But no, the wings on this bird were all wrong for eagle, and soon we could see it was an Osprey, and it was carrying a large fish! Incredible! What next? A Peregrine carrying a Ptarmigan? But no, that was our final treat of the day, and looking back, even after all these years, I can’t believe our luck and I give a silent vote of thanks to the wonderful Glen Feshie.

Lee
 

Pinewood

New York correspondent
United States
Hello Lee,

Even in urban New York City, we get glimpses of bald eagles, over Central Park and over the Hudson River, which has more fish than ever in the last sixty years. There is a project to plant billions of oysters in the Hudson, actually an estuary, not for food but to clean the water. Ospreys turn up in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, near Kennedy Airport but still within the city limits and occasionally over Central Park. Both birds have surprised me an my Zeiss glass.

Stay safe,
Arthur
 
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Troubador

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Hello Lee,

Even in urban New York City, we get glimpses of bald eagles, over Central Park and over the Hudson River, which has more fish than ever in the last sixty years. There is a project to blast billions of oysters in the Hudson, actually an estuary, not for food but to clean the water. Ospreys turn up in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, near Kennedy Airport but still within the city limits and occasionally over Central Park. Both birds have surprised me an my Zeiss glass.

Stay safe,
Arthur
Wow Arthur, we don't get Eagles very often in our neck of the woods but Ospreys do turn up occasionally on migration although we have never seen one. The most spectacular raptor we have seen from our house was a female Goshawk that flew just above the tops of the oak trees at the bottom of our garden one Christmas. At that time they nested not so far away but not for many years now.

Lee
 

Lisa W

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Nice installment, Lee. I’ve never really seen an eagle in flight, much less one with prey!
 

A2GG

Beth
United States
I felt like I was right there while reading your story and this speaks to your talent as a writer.
What an awesome sight to see the Mistle Thrush singing in the midst of a storm like that.
I've seen a Golden Eagle once and had a great view; such an amazing sight.
 

Troubador

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I felt like I was right there while reading your story and this speaks to your talent as a writer.
What an awesome sight to see the Mistle Thrush singing in the midst of a storm like that.
I've seen a Golden Eagle once and had a great view; such an amazing sight.
GiGi it was awesome to see that Thrush singing in the storm. Honestly it was just as magnificent as seeing the eagle.

Lee
 

Troubador

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Nice installment, Lee. I’ve never really seen an eagle in flight, much less one with prey!
I hope you get to see one in the not too distant future, but as magnificent as big birds like this are, the small birds in gardens, parks, woods and heaths are just as magnificent in their own way.

Lee
 

Maljunulo

Well-known member
I was amazed to see how gracefully Bald Eagles alight on the nest.

One would expect such a large bird of prey to land rather heavily, but they just float in, in a really astonishing display of their complete mastery of flight.
 

Troubador

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I was amazed to see how gracefully Bald Eagles alight on the nest.

One would expect such a large bird of prey to land rather heavily, but they just float in, in a really astonishing display of their complete mastery of flight.
I have never seen a Baldy but over here we have the big White-tailed Sea Eagle and have seen them glide down to perch on rocks and just before their talons hit the rocks, they sometimes hang there on the wind for a moment or two and then sink gently down so there talons arrive delicately on the rocks. With their huge wings and heavy-looking head and bill, they just look like heavyweight bruisers, but clearly when they want to they have all the grace of a ballet dancer at their disposal.

Lee
 

Patudo

Well-known member
I suppose it would be churlish to observe that such memories can be made with almost any decent binocular, so... I confess to not being terribly into passerines, especially little brown jobs, but thrushes are large enough for my radar to start trying to identify them as species, instead of miscellaneous little birds. This is the season for the winter thrushes that have migrated southwards from Northern Europe and Scandinavia - in London these are mainly redwings, but fieldfares are more common further out. Mistle and song thrushes, as well as (European) blackbirds, are with us all year long and the former in particular are very handsome birds with a lot of character. As T says they are known for singing in high wind and approaching bad weather and I have had the opportunity to witness this on a couple of occasions, notably in June (I think) last year when I watched for some minutes a bird singing defiantly in strengthening wind near Primrose Hill. I was glad to see one quite recently at Buck Hill, Hyde Park one evening. My brother snapped some shots with his Sony RX10iii (attached) which, sad to say, were a very poor shadow of the image my 10x42 showed to my eyes - plumage alight with the rosy glow of sunset, close enough that each of the arrow-shaped spots stood crisply out against the lighter background of its underside. At times like this you can't but be delighted to experience a view like that.

Osprey are pretty rare in the London area and I've never seen one there, but on a visit to Rutland Water (Birdfair 2019) one of the birds there began working the area more or less in front of the big optics tent. Unlike T's sighting what happened next was shared by what must have been well over a hundred people as every demo binocular from the Leica stand at one end to Nikon at the other was picked up and trained upon it, not to mention the many folks in the crowd who had their own binoculars. I remember it hovering for just a few wingbeats, then plunging steeply down into the water, hitting the surface in a burst of spray, and quickly rising with its catch (a medium-sized roach or rudd). Not long afterwards Simon King played some footage of an osprey catching a trout filmed somewhere in the Highlands - which, filmed on a professional grade setup and played back in super-slow motion, was obviously spectacular, but I could not help but think a lot of us had been lucky enough to see something very similar without having to tramp all the way up north and endure the midges, etc...

Now, so as not to go too far off the subject of this thread, one real surprise (in that it really was completely unexpected) through my Zeisses was seeing a small raptor aggressively buzzing an adult female peregrine at Arundel, Sussex a few years ago. I thought it was an unusually tetchy sparrowhawk, but only after speaking to better birders did I realize it was a merlin - the first and, to date, only one I've so far seen. It's a pity these fearless and exquisitely beautiful little falcons don't hunt in urban areas here as they do in the States. Binocular used on that occasion: Dialyt 10x40 B/GA T*P*.
 

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Maljunulo

Well-known member
I once had a Vertebrate Zoology instructor who classified birds into Ducks, Hawks, and Tweety-birds, and all birds as "Pretty reptiles with loud mouths."

It works for me.
 

Troubador

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I suppose it would be churlish to observe that such memories can be made with almost any decent binocular,

Now, so as not to go too far off the subject of this thread, one real surprise (in that it really was completely unexpected) through my Zeisses was seeing a small raptor aggressively buzzing an adult female peregrine at Arundel, Sussex a few years ago. I thought it was an unusually tetchy sparrowhawk, but only after speaking to better birders did I realize it was a merlin - the first and, to date, only one I've so far seen. It's a pity these fearless and exquisitely beautiful little falcons don't hunt in urban areas here as they do in the States. Binocular used on that occasion: Dialyt 10x40 B/GA T*P*.
Patudo it wouldn't be churlish at all, you would be absolutely right. It just so happens that my binos at the time of these observations have been Zeisses but you might have noticed that the binos hardly play any part in the 'Surprises' posts because the memories are of the birds and other creatures not the binos.

Merlins are the most beautiful and captivating birds and we are fortunate in having seen many on Islay and in other parts of Scotland. On the summit of Carn Ban Mor in the Cairngorms we watched one at very close range repeatedly stooping on a Meadow Pipit. As the Merlin dived and got close to the pipit the pipit flew upwards and slightly to one side. The Merlin was travelling too fast to follow it and overshot it, then turned upwards rocketing to gain height before diving again at the pipit. This happened several times and each time after evading the Merlin the pipit descended a bit further towards the ground and eventually it succeeded in diving into some leggy heather and the Merlin abandoned its attempt to catch it. On this occasion it was Pipit 1-0 Merlin.

Lee
 

GrampaTom

Well-known member
United States
Now, so as not to go too far off the subject of this thread, one real surprise (in that it really was completely unexpected) through my Zeisses was seeing a small raptor aggressively buzzing an adult female peregrine at Arundel, Sussex a few years ago. I thought it was an unusually tetchy sparrowhawk, but only after speaking to better birders did I realize it was a merlin - the first and, to date, only one I've so far seen. It's a pity these fearless and exquisitely beautiful little falcons don't hunt in urban areas here as they do in the States. Binocular used on that occasion: Dialyt 10x40 B/GA T*P*.
Curiously, Two days ago we had a Merlin come to visit the Bay Trail. Helped to see it by another birder, and in some bit of disbelief, I checked my list notes and discovered one had appeared almost exactly the same time last year. As well, we regularly spot White Tailed Kites here. Running these by my long time licensed falconing buddy, up in Oregon, who has had Red Tails, at least one Peregrine, and his favorite the Prairie Falcon over the years, he claims his birds hate both the Kite and Merlin. Both these little guys are aggressive and attack, pestering his larger birds and thwart their hunting. Was shocked one day also up in Oregon to see a crow hounding a Bald Eagle... Weird.
 

Troubador

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Many birds will try to deter raptors from hunting around where they live. The raptors might take their chicks so it makes sense to make the raptors uncomfortable so they go and hunt in another bird's back yard.

Lee
 

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