Monday, 27 March 2017

Late March wanderings around Staffordshire

Not too much around at the moment so we've been doing a bit of county birding. We chose Staffordshire for some reason. An Avocet at Doxey sent us hurtling down for the second day running on the 25th, when we also had good views of as many as three Water Pipits, including a summer plumaged one.

We couldn't find the Brent Goose at Chasewater, but a pair of Garganey were showing well at Middleton Lakes.We also saw a bizarre sight of a drake Tufted Duck walking round in a field with a pair of Mallard.

Photos by Lord Lichfield

Finally, the Great Grey Shrike was seen at Swallow Moss on the 27th March, and we were in the right place at the right time when it popped up. Good views were had.

GGS at Swallow Moss by NJS

Thursday, 23 March 2017

20th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 3

Final day of our short break, and the forecast was wet. CJW decided not to set his alarm as he didn't fancy getting up at 05:00hrs to walk around a wood in the rain for some odd reason. I woke up early as per usual and stuck my head out of the window to find it wasn't actually raining. Unfortunately, I woke CJW up and told him the good news. We were soon running down the stairs of the hotel and out into the Scottish morning darkness. What I couldn't see from the hotel window though, was an extremely black sky approaching, and by the time we reach our destination, it was pouring down. We sat in the car and waited, checking the rain app which showed it just as a narrow ribbon. And sure enough, it stopped. We walked round the wood for the next hour or so, and then we returned to the car. We'd failed on our third target bird, which was of course the CAPERCAILLIE (but thanks to those who provided the site details, and don't worry, we have more sites now for our next trip).

Following our second and last full English, we returned to the room. We had several options. Firstly, there were two SNOW GEESE in Inverness, discovered only yesterday. The issue I had with this was the 55 minute drive to the site in the opposite direction that we were heading. There was also an ALPINE SWIFT in Clyde that was seen yesterday afternoon. This site was only just off the motorway and so if there was positive news we could easily pop in. 

By the time we were ready to head off, there was no news on either targets. CJW came up with a cunning plan. We could head to a whisky shop in Tomintoul, only a few miles up the road. So we did.

We arrived in Tomintoul at 0930 following a drive over some very bleak, barren, birdless moors. The Whisky Castle was shut, it was sleet/raining and the wind was gale force. As we sat in the car park waiting for the shop to open at 10 (or 0930 according to the website), we were entertained by watching full bins being blown over in the high street and their contents distributed around the town, and then watched two locals pick up a few items and pop them back in the bin. It kept us amused. 

At 10:00, after ringing the shop, we finally went in. It was a fantastic little shop, full of whisky, most that we hadn't heard of, but we had a very nice chat to the proprietor. And then we set off for home. 

The route home was simply amazing. The sat nav took us straight through the mountains. We stopped at Lecht Ski resort which had a very small bit of snow, then through Glenshee, past Balmoral and eventually on to the A9 at Perth. We had certainly driven through some of the finest scenery possible during our weekend.

View from Lecht

Red Grouse en route (CJW)
As we travelled south, we received news that the ALPINE SWIFT was again present in Clyde. It was about two hours away. We carried on, but only received one more piece of positive news. We didn't know whether it was present all the time, or whether it was coming and going.

We arrived at Baron's Haugh RSPB just after 14:00hrs. We walked down towards the Marsh hide but saw someone standing at the bottom of the paddocks. As we were approaching, the Alpine Swift was flying overhead. We stood watching it for nearly an hour, sometimes it came quite low. All the disappointment of the birds we'd missed evaporated. It had been a fantastic trip!

Watching the Alpine Swift

My photo's taken with my phone

CJW's photo's with his fancy posh camera




19th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 2

The aim for today was to nail the final two target birds on our list of three. CJW set the alarm for 05:20, and at 05:00 the alarm went off. We were up and out in the dark, arriving at our first destination in the dark. For the next two hours before breakfast, we walked and searched but our target wasn't to be found. 

We returned to the hotel and enjoyed our full English breakfast. And then we set off two site number two. Again, we searched and walked. By 11:30, we had seen two Crested Tits, a few Crossbills over and that was all. The difference from yesterday success to today's was amazing. We'd hit the proverbial wall. 

It was make or break time. We decided to head over to the Findhorn Valley and try and rescue the day. Unfortunately, despite a good forecast, the wind had whipped up and we were now driving through very heavy showers. Our spirits were lifted by seeing just two birds. As we left Nethybridge (dipping the Waxwings for the 2nd time that day), we saw a few flocks of geese flying over. We pulled over and eventually counted c500 Pink-footed Geese, all flying over to the south for some reason. The second bird was a Red Kite just up the road - the first time I'd seen one in the area.

PFG flying over Nethybridge
So having actually seen a few birds, we made the drive down to the Findhorn Valley. The scenery was incredible, and the area was very quiet. We knew we could just stop in the middle of the road and take photo's as there was just no one else around.

Views in the Findhorn Valley
It was dry most of the way down, but when we reached the car park at the end, the rain came again, and the wind was so strong, you could hardly open your car door. Things weren't looking good. eventually the sun came out and we headed off, scouring the ridges as we walked. I spent most of the time looking at the ridges behind me as it was easier with my back to the wind. Apart from a Buzzard and a few Ravens, there wasn't much to see.

We walked down to the bridge and stopped by where a path forks off to the right. We could see another shower approaching so we tried to find shelter. CJW then spotted a large bird above the far ridge in the distance. Three times it appeared and we knew straight away we were dealing with quite a large bird due to the distance we were looking from. Although a little distant, trip target bird number two, Golden Eagle, was in the bag. 

With a few hours daylight left, we headed down to two different lochs to look for SLAVONIAN GREBE, but drew a blank at both sites. Then we went looking for BLACK GROUSE, and again failed at two sites. In the end, as we drove across some moorland in the fading light, we admitted defeat. It had been a very tough day in the Highlands.

Red Deer Findhorn (CJW)

Following our tea from the chip shop in Grantown, we returned to the room and finally enjoyed the one species of grouse that hadn't eluded us that day, a nice drop of Red Grouse. All was well again.  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

18th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend

We decided on another trip to Scotland this year. We both had a few days off, so two nights were booked at the Nethybridge Hotel, having stayed there for our trip in 2010. The aim of the short break was just to indulge in a bit of birding, and see a few species that we hadn't seen for a few years, or as in CJW's, for many, many long hard years. We only had three target birds to see.

We set off on Saturday morning at 4am and had our first fuel stop just after the Erskine Bridge. We soon started adding a few year ticks with Hoodish Crow and Red Grouse, and a nice drive through a misty Glencoe. First stop along here was at Loch Achtriochtan, where sixteen swans caught our attention, and our suspicions were correct. They had yellow beaks.

Some of the 16 Whooper Swans on Loch Achtriochtan (CJW)
Next random stop was just before Onich to view the top of Loch Linnhe, where we saw three Great Northern Divers, several Shag and 50+ Eider. To save time, we crossed via the Corran Ferry. Unfortunately, CJW didn't have his sea legs with him on the crossing and succumbed to self chumming. Three Black Guillemots were in the straight and we had fabulous views of an Otter on the opposite shore. 

We finally reached our destination at just after 11am, taking us a mere 7+hrs to arrive.

Having done our homework, we headed to the mouth of the river first, parking in the car park. We were immediately surprised by the total lack of Mallards in the area (and where were all the supposed hybrids?). We saw Greenshank, few Goosander, RBM but that was about it. For the next few hours, in between the heavy showers, we searched all round the bay, even heading over to the opposite bank. We returned back to the mouth of the river, and found three Mallards had appeared. Our spirits lifted, but that was all that flew in. And it started raining again. 

I managed to buy a sandwich from a small local store ran by local people. The sandwich was alright, and was only a few months out of date (It is quite a remote quiet village and I was surprised to find sandwiches available. For legal reasons it was in date but they did look at the shiny silver and gold discs I gave them in exchange for the sandwich in an odd way. Maybe they normally accept pebbles or favours at the shop

As we sat in the car in the rain, knowing how important it is to get the first bird in the bag, we rang the Stalker. Amazingly, he was sat in the car next to us! (Only joking). He suggested we went up the stream. Now we had already driven up the left hand bank, but on the Stalkers advice, we walked up the right hand bank this time. We were tired, it was raining, and there wasn't much to see. We walked past the council depot, then the fire station and then carried on towards the school. In a field there was a flooded bit with two ducks dabbling away. I casually lifted my bins.....two hours to find our first target bird. CJW hadn't seen a Black Duck since he was on Scilly in the 1950s while staying with his Auntie Hilda Quick-Hide. Both of my previous Black Duck were in the south west, so it was a nice addition to my Scottish list.

Flushed with success, we headed off to our hotel in Nethybridge, a drive of just under two hours. We made two stops. The first was alongside Loch Linnhe, where a small flock of birds on the water caught my attention. We stopped and there were seven Slavonian Grebes bobbing around. We decided against the Corran Ferry again due to CJW's sea legs (or was it the £8-40 charge?), and headed up to Fort William. By Duisky, there was a large gathering of gulls on the shore, probably due to the nearby landfill site. A quick check, and there was an immature Iceland Gull sat preening.

Iceland Gull at Duisky (CJW)
 It was still light by the time we arrived on Speyside. There had been two Tundra Bean seen recently at Loch Insh, and as we were passing, we decided to call in. We didn't really know where to look, and we only found several groups of Greylag Geese. We did see a Sand Martin though over the Loch. 

And that ended Day One of our Scottish trip.

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.