Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bluethroat at Tongue End 18th February 2017

Another fantastic days birding in a long line of other fantastic days birding started off at Willow Tree Fen in Lincolnshire. This place looks quite a good reserve but for some reason, it hasn't turned up anything really top draw yet. It does look an ideal place for a late summer RED-FOOTED FALCON maybe for instance.

Anyway, CJW, I and the Stalker walked down the little path and joined the crowd. We'd already passed quite a few birder/birdwatchers walking back, several of whom were back slapping and punching the air with glee. One tramp, sorry, local birdwatcher-type even told us that we should get ourselves down there as there was a BLUETHROAT showing really well. We replied is there really, and we said we might well go down and have a look. 

So we stood in the crowd. And waited. And waited. And actually we started to get really cold as sub-Saharan tropical heat had been forecast for today and we had dressed accordingly. CJW was actually wearing shorts and his Right Said Fred string vest as he thought it was going to be that warm.    

Eventually, just before hypothermia set in, the Bluethroat popped out and did its performance. The sound was deafening. Some even dived for cover in the reed  bed as they though they were under attack from a Japanese sniper. In fact, it was the sound of 120 camo-clad long lens toting muppets with their cameras making all those wonderful sounds. They can obviously silence them, but we are dealing with idiots here who think for instance they can take photos of a duck caught by fishing line and pass them off as a duck showing well. 

I digress (yes muppet I'm still on about you Mr @duckonarope). We watched the Bluethroat wander up and down a few feet away from us. Unfortunately, due to the freezing temperatures, my fingers began to go numb as I shot some video. Anyway, Lord Lichfield has finally started to get to grips with his camera, and his latest offering, if watched on high definition on your mobile, isn't too shabby at all. In fact, its amongst the top two videos you'll see on this page.

We made the relatively short journey up to Rutland Water, where we only managed to add two Black-necked Grebes to our day list, and we couldn't find the much hoped for RED-NECKED GREBE. 

Next stop was back to Drayton Bassett Pits where we finally connected with the Greenland White-fronted Goose, showing well in the field with the Canada Geese. I wanted to see this goose, as its still quite a rarity in the county. This is only my 3rd sighting, with the previous two sightings being my first and second sightings. I also have seen quite a few flavours of geese so far this year. I wonder if I can do the clean "geese" sweep this year or not?

We then decided to head off to Chasewater, where we hoped to see GLAUCOUS GULL or maybe a CASPIAN GULL. CJW was especially excited about this, as he's such a fan of gull roosts. But, there was the chance of one or two year ticks, so the visit had to be done. 

As we were walking back to the car, I received a phone call from a contact at Branston. He'd found something, and it was a Branston tick for me. I told CJW and The Stalker, but they decided to leave it to me to decide where to go next. They were both looking forward immensely to the gull roost, and neither of them had a Branston list. We'd all seen the mystery bird in question twice this year as well. It was a no brainer. Surely it was obvious I had to go with the majority decision in the car.

We were soon parking up at Branston.We only had to sprint to the southern pit. We were soon out of breath, gasping for air, our lungs seemed so tight. Sweat was pouring off us. Then we got out of the car and put our coats on; we walked across the fields. 

It  took us quite some time to find the female Long-tailed Duck, but The Stalker eventually located it. And true to form, it was diving constantly. But it was another addition to my Branston list. What a fantastic day it had been.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Crossing the boundary - birding in Newcastle-under-Lyme

Just realised I'd forgot to mention in my previous blog about two birds I'd seen locally recently. DK refound the immature Iceland Gull on the new housing estate at the bottom of Keele Bank on 1st February. It showed extremely well sat on a house roof and I was able to take these shots with my phone through Brian C's new scope.

Immature Iceland Gull near Poolfields
Then I ventured into dangerous territory by visiting Bent Lane recently. Don't really feel comfortable visiting this site as I may get Guillemot eggs thrown at me by the local sea bird expert. Anyway, no sign of the Iceland Gull but the three Tundra Beans were showing quite well. 

Tundra Bean Geese at Lord Bentner Lane

Tonight's song is dedicated to all the sea watchers at Berryhill Cliffs.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Pine Bunting in Yorkshire 4th February 2017

Having not been able to visit the Shropshire PINE BUNTING at the start of the year, and having only seen the one bird in Britain in 2004, we did consider heading up to see the Dunnington bird on a few occasions, but we never got round to going. 

So with not too much in Britain to go for, CJW devised a trip to go up for the PB, and then hopefully, if we had time, head to the coast to see a few year ticks. The plan sounded good, but it all depended on the PB playing ball.

We left Stoke at the reasonable hour of 6am, picked The Stalker up and headed straight up to Dunnington, near York. We arrived just after 8am, and there was already a small crowd gathered in the paddock, looking towards a hedgerow and a stubble field. On the odd occasions when the whole flock was flushed, we were amazed at how many buntings there were in the area. We saw Yellowhammer, Reed and Corn Bunting, but there was no sign of the 4th species. Then the whole flock was flushed, and the area became quiet.  

We stood around, watching a few birds flying back in but still no sign. There was never any suggestion that we should head off, but we knew that there was now a chance that this was the only bird and site we would see today. 

Then at 11:40hrs, following a previous false alarm, a shout went up and there was the male Pine Bunting. It perched up in the hedge and showed well but distant. We watched it several times before it disappeared and so we headed off.

Next stop was Rufforth where an immature Glaucous Gull was sat in the field opposite a very handily placed layby. The tip was only a few fields away and it was heaving with gulls. No wonder they get so many gulls here. We also had two Red Kite over the tip.   

Imm Glaucous Gull at Rufforth.
Then we came to a halt. We considered going for the SNOW GOOSE in Lancs, but that was over two hours away, then we thought about the PALLID HARRIER near Spurn, and that was an hour and half away. We just sat and pondered, until someone grabbed the horns by the bull and said "Spurn". 

The journey down to Spurn wasn't too bad, and we soon arrived on the edge of Spurn, at Welwick Saltmarsh. There was only one car parked at the bottom of the lane when we arrived, and we soon found him on the edge of the marsh. We were soon watching a Merlin and a quartering SEO. He told us he'd possibly seen the PALLID HARRIER but it was distant and disappeared. As soon as he said that, The Stalker picked up the wintering Pallid Harrier flying over the saltmarsh. We'd been there almost five minutes. 

We decided to wander to get better views of the SEO and PH when they returned. We found the Brent Goose flock and picked out four Pale-bellied Brents among them. After they were all flushed, I started scanning through and found the Black Brant. Probably the first time I'd seen all three types together in the same flock. 
Videograb of the Black Brant

We eventually walked round as far as we could and stopped by the pumping station. It was only then that we realised it was the site of 2013 Ivory Gull twitch.

We stood around for about an hour until the sun dropped. It was a really fantastic spell of birding in a superb location, with two Barn Owls, two Short-eared Owls, and then at one stage we had Marsh, Hen and Pallid Harrier all in the same view together. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Todd's Canada Goose in Lancashire

I've found the title of the blog dictates how many views it receives. When my titles don't include a bird name at all, it receives less views. The bigger and rarer the bird, more people read the blog. So tonight Matthew, I've gone with Todd's Canada Goose! Lets see if this gets more views than this blog with only 41 views which was my least viewed blog of last year. 

Anyway, the end of January proved to be quite an exciting time. with a few bits and bobs turning up. CJW was working the weekend of 21st January, so I decided on a short trip. After Westport, I popped up to Llanddulas where two SURF SCOTERS had been seen the previous day. As soon as I scoped up and saw how distant they were, and when you can't see the yellow on the drakes bills or even tell the drakes from the ducks, then you know you don't stand a chance. I scanned for about an hour and then gave up. (They were found later in Colwyn Bay). 

And with no mention at all of the WOOD SANDPIPER at Radford Meadows, all my plans were scuppered. As I headed back along the A55, a message came through from Lancashire about the RED-BREASTED GOOSE. That will do I thought so I reset the sat nav and headed up to North Lancs.

What followed was quite an amazing goosing session. And Grizzly turned up on his way back home from the Pacific Diver twitch. Following conversations, I found that in North Lancs (Cockerham / Pilling etc), there are this year c25,000 Pink-footed Geese. As we stood there, flocks of 500+ were dropping in. There are amazing numbers up there. In the fields in the area by Sand Villa, I saw Pink-footed Goose, 21 White-fronted Goose with which the Red-breasted Goose was associated with, a Taiga Bean Goose, two Tundra Bean Goose and a Barnacle Goose. But best of all was the Todd's Canada Goose. It was easily identified as it was the only Canada Goose in the flock. As to why it was a Todd's, I'll get back to you on that. (This bird may possibly not feature in my end of year review). Seven species of goose and no Greylags can't be bad!

Taiga Bean Goose Lancs
Red-breasted Goose with White-fronts
The following day, with confirmation that the Lincs White-billed Diver was still present, I couldn't resist the opportunity and headed over. It was only a couple of hours drive, and following a 15 min walk up the river, the White-billed Diver showed an absolute treat. I had heard many stories of the Lincs bird in the 90s, and so it was nice to finally see the modern version.

The river by Woodhall Spa

White-billed Diver, Woodhall Spa, Lincs

At virtually the same time the White-billed Diver had been found, a PACIFIC DIVER had been found in Northumberland. Along with the nearby BLACK SCOTER, it was proving to be a popular location to visit, and with a potential two tick day for CJW, we decided to head up as soon as was feasibly possible. It was a 4am start, and we hit the rush hour traffic in Newcastle. Not our Newcastle obviously. We ain't got one of these...

We lost about half an hour due to the traffic, and as we parked up in the Druridge Bay CP, we received news that the juvenile Pacific Diver was still present. We walked down to the lake side, joined the small group of birders present and enjoyed decent views. It was diving quite actively, and made photography interesting. 
Pacific Diver Druridge Bay CP by CJW

We soon headed off for our second target bird of the day, the Goswick BLACK SCOTER - a potential England tick for me having only seen the returning bird off Llanfairfechan previously. Our luck was in, and in was reported a mile south of the Golf Club, off the Beachcomber House. The journey north took nearly an hour, but when you are driving through Alnwick, Bamburgh and with Holy Island and Lindisfarne in the distance you don't really mind. We parked up by the golf clubhouse and headed off south. 

For the next two hours, we scanned every bit of sea off the Beachcomber House, and standing on the beach we were well aware the tide was coming in and there was the potential for being stranded on a sandbank and cut off. Now imagine that blog (but we were well aware and retreated to higher ground in goodtime). 

The sea was full of stuff. We had 30+ Long-tailed Duck, a large flock of Common Scoter, 30+ Red-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and a Black-throated Diver (which meant all five British divers seen in three days), a couple of  Eider, a Slav Grebe, Razorbill. It really was a good seawatch. As we went into the dunes, three Short-eared Owls were hunting.

But there was no BLACK SCOTER. The large flock of Scoter offshore stayed well out. You could just about tell the females from the males, but you couldn't see the yellow on the beaks. We then stumbled across two posh birders sat in the dunes. They asked what we had seen, and then they told us the BLACK SCOTER was in fact further up the coast off Cheswick. Apparently, you just walked out from the car park, and the flock was immediately in front of you just offshore. Our spirits rose and we made the long walk back to the car at the golf club house. 

It was now mid afternoon. We never thought that it would take this long to see the Scoter. We drove up to Cheswick, parked in the car park, walked through the dunes, found the flock just offshore, found a few nice drake Common Scoter, several RBM's, at least 30 Red-throated Divers around the flock of 50+ Common Scoter, and we scanned, and scanned, and just couldn't see the BLACK SCOTER. It was all a bit strange.

From our vantage point, we could see a small group of birders a little further down the coast. We drove back to the golf course club house, and walked out from here. Then we met some returning birders who finally told us it was still offshore from here. We walked out again onto the beach. We were flagging at this stage. We had been looking for this Scoter for almost six hours now. 

We joined a small group stood on the beach. I followed directions, found a small flock of 20 or so Common Scoter and there was one with a huge yellow beak. It stood out like a sore thumb. I tried to get CJW onto it but he couldn't find the flock. There was silence....the flock was drifting further out as the tide went out....I lost sight of the Black Scoter

We walked further down the beach. It was now a race against time and tide. In the end I let CJW look through my scope. The wait was agonising. Then....he saw it.

It had been a good day, but there was so much more to see along this coast but we were let down by poor information on site. If we'd known it was straight out from the clubhouse, we would have walked straight out in the first place. Oh well, two decent birds, 16hrs out of the house, mustn't grumble.
On the long journey back home from Northumberland, and after listening to the same old stories about how CJW visited his Aunty Hilda quickly every Autumn on Scilly, and how he used to play football with Roger Hunt on the Garrison, and cricket on the East Bank of Cley with Richie Richardson, blah blah, heard all the stories before, I told him I was going to put a tune of the next blog. A good song I said. So readers, turn your speakers up to full blast and appreciate this next tune. Till next time my friends...its been a long blog and I didn't manage to tell you about the next gen birder we saw who looks like Spencer from Phoenix Nights. Oh well...

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Early January 2017 - Anglesey, Venus Pools and Staffs

Well mid January and here is the first blog. As I said, we are taking it easier this year and have decided to do far less birding than last year. We have even decided to make up trips and ticks, so don't be surprised at the end of the year when you suddenly find out we've seen birds x, y and z this year but obviously you won't read about them on here or see any photos of the birds. Its a lot easier and cheaper that way and your list still grows. We're becoming "Ghost listers".

So this year on January 1st we decided to see how many species we could see in a day on Anglesey. Something a bit different to do, but we managed to see 84, a new personal Jan 1st record for me. It was just a shame that the strong N wind hampered out day a little. We saw the Cattle Egrets again near Malltreath, Great Northern Diver, Pale-bellied Brent and Slavonian Grebe at Beddmanarch / Penrhos / Inland Sea, three auk sp sheltering in Holyhead Harbour, a nice Yellow-browed Warbler at Soldiers Point, four Long-tailed Ducks in Trearddur Bay and a Jack Snipe flushed from Malltreath Marsh.

CJW and The Stalker managed to open their accounts for the year with a trip on the 2nd to Venus Pools to see the excellent female Pine Bunting. By all accounts it was a bit of a looker and showed really well. He is CJW's video.

And here is one I saw earlier, way back in 2004 in Norfolk. 

Pine Bunting, Choseley Barns, Norfolk. March 2004
Locally, obviously the Long-tailed Duck was still present at Westport until the 7th, plus there were a few Waxwings about and three Tundra Bean Geese at Bent Lane.

Tundra Bean at Bent Lane taken by CJW
We then had two consecutive Saturdays spent in Staffordshire, mainly due to the weather. Saturday 7th was forecast to be foggy, but it lifted in time for us to see Staffordshire's first ever winter record of Temminck's Stint, found at Branston GP. Here's a remarkable video clip by CJW considering the distance it was showing at.

We caught up with the Velvet Scoter again at Chasewater and Scaup at Gailey but dipped the Bittern at Belvide, probably due to the incredible noise created by one party assembled in the hide.  

Last Saturday, the 14th, we had several plans thwarted by the recent snow. In the end, we popped up to Sandbach Flashes and managed to catch up with one of the Iceland Gulls there, before we headed down the M6 back to Belvide.

And that's the first half of January completed.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Black-throated Thrush St Asaph December 30th 2016

A quick trip to North Wales on the penultimate day of 2016. The BLACK-THROATED THRUSH at St Asaph hadn't really been showing until 1100ish so we headed up to Anglesey for first light. We were soon watching five Cattle Egrets and four Little Egrets feeding in a field inland from Malltreath.

We knew time was tight, so a quick check of Beddmanarch Bay saw just the one Slavonian Grebe and a Great Northern Diver. On the Inland Sea we found another GND, a few PB Brent Geese but no SCAUP. 

We then headed back down the A55 to St Asaph and eventually after one missed sighting, we found ourselves stood behind the chapel staring at a berry tree. We only had to wait 45 minutes or so before the female Black-throated Thrush flew back in, showing well but briefly.

And folks, at 14:30hrs on New Years Eve, I'm fairly confident in saying that's it. Its been an unforgettable  year in lots of ways. 

We've made the decision to take it easy next year, do less birding and more walking across fields looking at scenery.

Only joking. 2017 starts on Anglesey at first light......Bring it on baby.

Good night xxx

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Blue Rock Thrush in Gloucestershire 28th December 2016

You just knew it. I closed the year, did a nice blog to end the year, nice photo and video and then "the year that just keeps on giving" had one final twist.

Just after Christmas, photographs appeared of an apparent Blue Rock Thrush that was visiting a garden in Stow-on-the-Wold. It was all a bit odd at first, but eventually the address was given out, and fortunately, we had already planned a day's birding.

We popped down to Stow in CJW's cars and arrived in the dark. We moved into position and joined the 30 or so birders who were already on site. The shout went up; we were too near the hedge to see so a quick dash across the grass and we found ourselves in a prime position and enjoyed decent views for the next hour or so; the light gradually improving as the morning went on. An odd bird and yet another housing estate twitch. I just don't know what to make of this one.

We were hoping that the Belvide Grey Phalarope was going to stay for it's second day, but unfortunately there was no sign. So instead we headed up to Rutland Water and to the dam, where Leicestershire's first record of a Surf Scoter was showing quite nicely among a small flock of Tufted Duck.

Juv Surf Scoter at Rutland Water