Friday, 23 September 2016

Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers

Apologies as it has been a month since my last posting and even I want to hear about what's been happening recently. I'll just stick to the main birds for this blog and cut out the amusing stories and japes that we get up to. 

Sometimes in life son you struggle, and September 10th was one of those days. We just didn't know where to head. And then something turns up and the whole day falls into place. And when news came from Upton Warren that the BAIRD'S SANDPIPER was still present, we headed down to Worcestershire for only my second ever visit to this reserve (of course my previous visit was in 1988 for the Least Sandpiper)

The hide was a mixture of Staffs and Worcs birders; the Staffs birders were busy discussing the finer details of the identification of the wader while the Worcestershire boys sat there with their crayons occasionally grinning and pointing at eachother. The Baird's Sandpiper showed continually on the far side, distantly and in poor light, but I still managed to get these full frame shots (just move closer to the screen for even fuller frame shots)

Baird's Sandpiper in Worcs. My first in the WMBC

The following Saturday we headed off to Anglesey where a WRYNECK was showing on and off at Cemlyn Bay. We were almost at the end of the A500 when news came from South Yorkshire that the BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER was again present. Now this was a tick for CJW and so it was logical to head over there. Despite visiting the Isles of Scilly for every year from 1951 until 1990 where his Aunt Hilda Quick lived, CJW had never seen a BBS there. This was due to him being banned from going anywhere near the golf course on St Mary's after Hilda got struck on the head by a golf ball one visit when she was collecting birds there for her new hat
Here is the young Chris in 1954 with Hilda and the other members of the Scilly Womens Bird Federation and one bloke (Is it Wetherby or Audubon or Col. Charles Observers-Book maybe)

Anyway, we arrived at Hatfield and due to previous experience of the place, we easily found Packards South this time. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper was showing well at first, but we were looking straight into the sun. Then it flew, and with the light behind us we did have some excellent views.   

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Packards South, Hatfield Moor NNR

We headed over to Spurn where there had been a decent spell of seawatching. By the time we arrived at the Bluebell Cafe, the passage had eased slightly, but we still managed five Sooty Shearwater, a few distant Manxies and two Arctic Skuas.

Monday, 22 August 2016

A cracking Bird Fair weekend - 20/21 August 2016

I was asked recently if I was heading off to the Bird Fair this year. The person was quite surprised when I said I'd never ever been to one as I just didn't see the point in walking round stalls when I can buy whatever it is on line. I've never actually ever wanted to go to a Bird Fair really, but I do enjoy the weekends when its on, as there just seems to be less birders about. I remember going to Norfolk one year and the place was deserted.

So back to Saturday 20th August. CJW was on his late Friday shift and due to a bad forecast, and not much about, we were struggling for a destination. In the end, the lure of a BLACK TERN at Belvide meant we stayed local for the day. 

I did Westport (not really happening down there at the moment) and then picked CJW and headed down to a wet and drizzly Belvide. We only went as far as the first hide, and we found the Black Tern flying around the west end. Then it was on to Blithfield.

Following a report of four SPOTTED REDSHANK the previous afternoon, we decided to walk down into Blithe Bay along the Admaston shore. We reached the bottom hide having not seen an awful lot. Then the Clayheads No1 Stalker rang. He'd obviously been watching us from a concealed location. He gave us the news that the SPOTTED REDSHANKS flew off yesterday afternoon, but he was sure he'd seen two CURLEW SANDPIPERS at the top of Blithe before they had walked out of view. We eventually found two likely candidates, but they insisted on feeding among the many millions of Canada and Greylag Geese and we kept having brief views before we lost them. We were in touch with GJM and he was on his way down as well. 

CJW then started scanning the rest of the shoreline and found five Ruff and a Spotted Redshank all feeding on the left hand side. We rang the Stalker again and he decided to come over to us as well. We were also joined by Steve Richards and Trevor. The wader fest was on. 

The two Curlew Sandpipers were eventually relocated, but there was no further sign of the Spotshank. As we all stood and scanned, I noticed another wader with the Ruff. Someone shouted out there were five Ruff, but didn't mention this other wader. WOOD SANDPIPER and SPOTSHANK briefly went through my mind but I knew it didn't look right for either. I just couldn't put my finger on what this wader was.

GJM, Trev, the Stalker and CJW all wandered further down to get better views of the CURLEW SANDPIPERS. I stood with SR and casually asked him about this other wader. He looked puzzled and admitted he was confused by it. We decided to walk down to join up with the other, and I said to him it looked like a LESSER YELLOWLEGS to me. 

We soon got everyone onto the bird, a few discussions took place, a bit of googling, a nice flight view and there we were watching Staffordshire's 4th, and Blithfield's 2nd ever Lesser Yellowlegs. Steve and Heather were in the hide opposite and GJM was in touch with them, and we were soon joined by Blithfield stalwarts Max and Roger.   
A quick photo taken with my phone was all I managed at first.
CJW took this video at the same time

Eventually we headed off for lunch before returning to Tad Bay for the very showy Wood Sandpipers, before we walked back round to Blithe Bay to try and get some photos of the Lesser Yellowlegs as I hadn't bothered to take my camera down in the morning. The road in Stansley Wood was full of cars and there were birders arriving all the time. We also saw one or two Ospreys and a Hobby. Not a bad visit really. 

Lesser Yellowlegs in Blithe Bay 20th August 2016

Wood Sandpipers in Tad Bay

Sunday started off with a Duck count at Westport, and I was eventually joined after an hour by CJW. My good lady wife was off to the V festival for the day, and so I returned home to look after and amused my youngest Miss AGMS. We decided to head off for a walk round Hawkstone Follies as the weather forecast was alright. As always happens when you make plans, Belvide struck back in big style with a GANNET swimming around the west end. With a slight change of plan, and a bit of persuasion, my wonderful daughter agreed that we could set out earlier than planned and call into Belvide on the way. 

We walked all the way up to the West hide and there was the Gannet - fast asleep.

We sat there for what seemed like hours waiting for it to lift its head. Miss AGMS was ever so patient, but slightly intrigued by it all. SR spotted the first of two Ospreys to appear, the second one of which flew low over the reservoir. Along with a Turnstone it was an excellent visit. And then the Gannet eventually obliged by waking upand we were on our way.

Gannet at Belvide
CJW managed to arrive earlier and was rewarded with excellent views, and the legendary Bernie Smith on his video! What more could anyone want in life.

So not a bad weekend in Staffs after all. Two reservoir ticks - you can't complain at that.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Dalmatian Pelican Cornwall August 2016

Having spent the night in a travelodge near to Ipswich, we set off at 4:45am and headed down onto the M25, M3 and the A303. By this time, we knew the Devon LEAST SANDPIPER wasn’t present, so we carried on driving into Cornwall. We checked a few sites around the Hayle Estuary for the DALMATIAN PELICAN but there was no sign. Two out of three of our target birds for the day were missing. We were tired and our spirits were low.  

We headed to a small coastal village just east of Marazion. The sun was out and everyone, apart from us, were heading down to the beach. We walked along the coastal path to the next cove, which was quieter with no one down on the rocks. CJW soon spotted the 1s Hudsonian Whimbrel feeding on the rocks. We eventually moved around until we were directly above it, and had some good views. There was a Curlew and Whimbrel also present. 


1st summer Hudsonian Whimbrel Perranuthnoe Cornwall

There was still no news on the DALMATIAN PELICAN, so we drove down to Porthgwarra. The wind was forecast to be slightly stronger during the afternoon than for tomorrow morning, but it was still only 13mph. Not ideal. However, as soon as we started watching, there was a steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters flying past. We sat there for about two hours, seeing six Storm Petrels and a single Balearic Shearwater

We had managed to turn the day around and now we only had one target bird left – the DALMATIAN PELICAN. We had another scan around the Hayle Estuary before we headed for a chip shop for tea. We decided to order a really complicated order and it took ages to serve us and for them to prepare our food. As we stood there, and I became involved in an active discussion as to what was difficult about serving a portion of chips and gravy, PLo tried to ring me. Twice I cut him off and then he rang CJW. The pelican had been reported on the Helford river. Armed with our chips, we walked back to the car, set the sat nav up and off we drove. It was decided that CJW ate his chips first, then we would swap over drivers. Possibly the only 40 min journey where we’ve had to swap drivers half way. The lanes down to Helford were incredibly narrow, but we suddenly found ourselves in a very picturesque riverside village, and a river full of yachts and boats. It soon became clear that this was quite an upmarket location. CJW, with gravy splattered all over his t-shirt and dripping off his chin was soon attracting funny looks. I, on the other hand, seemed to fit in perfectly with the posh people from Hampshire. 

It was clear that there was just too much activity in the area for a Pelican to remain. We headed back down to a quieter stretch, but again no sign. It was now 21:00hrs. We were knackered. The hotel was at Redruth and so we made our way there. 

Breakfast was served between 08:00hrs and 09:00hrs, but at 06:20hrs we decided to skip breakfast and continue the Pelican quest. During the night, more information had come to light. We knew the Pelican had been seen from a kayak, but now we knew it was at Tremayne Quay. We hurtled down the endless narrow lanes, found a parking spot, and walked down a deserted track through a heavily wooded area. There was not a soul in sight. The sky was blue. The river was flat calm. The place was silent. It was as idyllic a setting as you can imagine. And thats why a family of four had moored their yacht there for the evening. And along we came to disturb them!

The view from Tremayne Quay
There was no sign of the pelican here, nor further along, or in the next creek. It was now 09:30hrs, and we'd been searching for three hours now. We decided to head for some breakfast. 

Then PLo rang us again. We were just climbing up out of the valley, and fortunately we had a signal. The Pelican was back at Restronguet Creek, a site it had spend some time at recently before getting itchy feet again. It was 40 mins away, again on horrendous narrow country roads. The journey took ages, the sat nav seemed to add minutes on every minute, but finally, we arrived and parked up. One birder was just walking away, but we stood by a posh lady waiting for her husband and grumpy little Jonny to finish their kayaking session. She told us where the Dalmatian Pelican, and finally we had found it.  We spent the next hour or so trying to get better views and eventually we walked along the beach along the estuary, only for it to fly and land on the island. By now it was drizzling, and at 12:30hrs, we realised we still hadn't had any breakfast. 

We ate and headed for home, battling our way through the A30 traffic on a summer Saturday. By the time we reached home, we'd done 1056 miles and driven through 17 counties!

Dalmatian Pelican

The island in Restronguet Creek



Sunday, 7 August 2016

Western Purple Swamphen Suffolk 1st August 2016

During the afternoon of Sunday 31st July, news broke from Minsmere that a PURPLE GALLINULE had been found. Initially there was very little interest in the bird, but slowly as the afternoon went on, it was suggested that this could well have decent credentials. Fortunately, it was the start of my long awaited two weeks holiday and said I decided I'd got nothing to loose and started to plan a trip.

I woke up in the middle of the night as per usual, and decided I might as well get up. I was on the road to Suffolk by 00:45hrs. I had one short sleep somewhere in Cambridgeshire and I parked up at Minsmere just after 6am. There were a few cars but it wasn't packed. 

The Western Purple Swamphen had already been seen once, but I had to wait another 45 mins before I saw it, briefly in the reeds before flying across to the right hand side of the pool. Eventually it came out on the far edge, showing on and off as it fed on the reed shoots. 

Towards the end of the week, as it was my birthday and CJW's long weekend off, we had decided to head down to Cornwall for a few days. Things became complicated though, as CJW tried and failed to get a day off in the week to head down to Suffolk. We decided the only way was to head to Cornwall via Suffolk. Then the Devon LEAST SANDPIPER was found too. 

Our mammoth round Britain tour started at 14:30hrs on Thursday 4th August and I drove back down to Suffolk. We arrived at just after 19:00hrs. We were quite relaxed because we were staying the night in a Travelodge, and so we did have the morning to fall back on in case we weren't succesful. I walked towards the South hide again, and the nearest two birders pointed to the reed bed as I approached. There was the Purple Swamphen feeding in the nearest set of reeds. Eventually CJW arrived, gasping and pouring with sweat following the short walk from the car park. It performed incredibly well for us and the trip was off to a good start.   

Spotted Crake in Cheshire 30th July 2016

Mid summer and all was quiet. On 16th July, we headed over into Derbyshire along with the rest of Staffordshire's birders to see the 2s Sabine's Gull that had arrived at Carr Vale NR. 

The Carr Vale Sabine's Gull
For our next trip on 30th July, we had two choices - either the WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER in Lincolnshire or a trip to Lancashire and Cheshire where there was the chance of seeing a few more birds. In the end we headed north up the M6 (a good job as well because the WRS was only reported once early morning and that was it). 

The SPOTTED CRAKE at Burton Mere Wetlands usually showed in the afternoon, so we headed up to Southport and Marshside RSPB first where the full adult summer plumaged Cattle Egret was showing from the Sandgrounders hide, feeding amongst some cattle. You boys who insist on only seeing a bird once missed out on a real treat with this stunning beauty. Its my 13th seen in Britain, but more importantly, its my first in Lancashire, and only my 4th in full s/pl.

Cattle Egret at Marshside
We walked down to Nel's hide where the Glossy Ibis was feeding right in front of the hide, giving excellent views. Unfortunately, we were looking directly into the sun, but you just can't be a close up silhouetted Glossy Ibis can you. 

Just look at those colours!
And we finished the day at Burton Mere Wetlands where we managed to park right next to none other than the Clayheads No1 Stalker aka The Stalker, obviously stalking us again. We stood / sat in the visitors centre for just over two hours before we had crippling views of the juvenile Spotted Crake as it ran along the reed edge at the back of the scrape. There were nine Spoonbills, a Marsh Harrier and two Spotted Redshank to keep us occupied during the long wait.

Spoonbills at BMW

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Great Knot Titchwell RSPB July 2016

Following my initial flight views of the Titchwell Great Knot, I decided to head back down on the 2nd July for some better views. CJW was working, and everyone else was in Aberdeen twitching the WHITE-WINGED SCOTER so I made the trip alone again. The Great Knot had been showing well during the week at Holme and it was now following a pattern of roosting for most of the day. 

I arrived at Titchwell at 10:25hrs and went straight to the bank and had obscured views of the Great Knot as it roosted at the back of the main Knot flock. And this is how it stayed for the next four hours. I became an expert at watching a slightly taller and darker bird moving about in the flock. I was determine to get a photo and eventually I did: by which time as I'd sat in the hide for all of the time, my bum was numb and my legs were stiff. 

Below is my video taken over four hours. I know where the Great Knot is.


and these are photo's when it briefly showed in full view - the only time it did in four hours of constant watching.

Visible at the rear of the flock....just

Finally it showed

and it stayed on show..

but it went to sleep again...building up its strength as it flew off three days later

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Ullapool and the Applecross Pass 25/26 July 2016

It was CJW's long weekend off and following a difficult week, we decided we'd go on a jolly. Following a post by LGRE, I suggested we went to Applecross, a place neither of us had visited before. The main target bird was PTARMIGAN, a bird I had not seen since 1988. It had been longer for CJW, and during the long journey north, he showed me a photograph when he last saw PTARMIGAN all those years ago.

We set off at just after 20:00hrs on Friday night and I drove up to the services at Stirling. CJW then took over and gallantly battled through torrential rain on the A9. At about 04:00hrs we stopped somewhere in the early morning light. We got out of the car, stretched our legs and smelt the early morning damp Scottish air. It was a truly wonderful experience. One which we'll never forget. Because we then realised the air was full of little biting midges. We jumped back into the car and discovered the car was now full of the little biting b**tards. We spent the next five hours battling against them - squashing as many as we could before the next stop where we filled the car up again. Oh what joy.

En route, we changed our plans and headed up towards Ullapool. Along the road we stopped at the first loch we came to and there was a Black-throated Diver with two juveniles. It was 04:30hrs in the morning. 

We arrived at Ullapool Harbour at 05:00hrs and CJW soon located our first target bird - a juvenile Glaucous Gull. It showed very well, feeding on the shore line. It was now 05:00hrs and time was getting on.

Ullapool Harbour. We didn't see another sole here
Black-throated Diver with chick

Juv Glaucous Gull in Ullapool Harbour. A June tick for me
We then started the drive down to the Applecross peninsular along the A832, passing through some absolutely awesome scenery.

The route we followed

We continued to stop along the way, and spent quite a bit of time in Gruinard Bay looking for White-tailed Eagle. Eventually CJW picked one up flying across the bay at Gairloch. Another target bird in the midge infested bag. 

We found another Black-throated Diver with young further down the road as well before we finally arrived at the start of the Applecross Pass. Unfortunately, our fears were confirmed; the pass was shrouded in low cloud

The road up the Applecross Pass. Truly scary hey!
We parked at what we thought was the top, put on our mountain gear and survival suits and headed off towards the weather station situated on the highest point of the pass. Well actually we saw a path heading off and climbing so we walked up it, and in the mist we saw an aerial.

We searched all over the area, slowly climbing higher and higher. We had virtually reached the top when I saw a bird run away from the path. Altitude sickness was taking its toll on me, and I simply pointed and shouted the word "grouse" for some reason.

Ptarmigan at Applecross
 As we walked back down, the clouds started to clear, again revealing some stunning scenery.


We headed down to the other side, and to the village of Applecross and started to drive to the north. We stopped at Kenmore at the top of the Applecross peninsular, watching several Black Guillemots, an Otter swimming past all with a back drop of blue sky and turquoise sea. Honestly, this is all totally true.

The bay at Kenmore
Following a well earned nap (by this stage we were struggling to stay awake!), we set off to Fort William and our hotel for the night. The only target bird that we missed was a GOLDEN EAGLE.

Eilean Donan Castle - a familar landmark when you head out to the Uists
It was our original intention to head back home in the morning from Fort William, but during the evening news broke from Aberdeen that the WHITE-WINGED SCOTER had returned again with the Scoter flock. It was a tick for CJW but I'd seen the 2011 bird. So I let him make the decision. Oh the agony as he ummed, and the arghs, went one way and then the next, until he decided we go for it. The alarm went off at 05:00hrs and we were soon on the road through the Scottish Highlands. It took us about three and a half hours to get to Aberdeen, and by the time we had arrived, the sun was out, the sky was blue and the crowd watching the Scoter flock was quite small now. Unfortunately, with the sun directly overhead now, the light wasn't very good. We were basically looking at silhouettes, and when you can't see the yellow beaks on the Common Scoter, you know you are in trouble. We waited an hour and there were still no clouds, and the flock had drifted out even further. We headed for home at 10:30hrs. I was driving, the tank was full and so I just carried on. Seven hours later we arrived in Stoke, the fuel light was on and we'd got about twenty miles of fuel left. But I'd driven from Aberdeen to Stoke non stop!
There's so much I've missed out. The Pine Marten that ran across the road, the Red Squirrel, the Osprey over the A9, the Great Skuas in Ullapool harbour, Seals galore, flocks of Eider and Red-breasted Mergansers, Whinchat, midges, a stringy Dipper....