Saturday, 22 October 2016

Isabelline Wheatear at Easington 20th Oct 2016

CJW was supposed to be on holiday this week, but he kindly volunteered to go into work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The decision nearly backfired on him when an ISABELLINE WHEATEAR turned up at Easington. It was still present on Wednesday evening and so on his first available day off, Thursday, we headed off back to Spurn for my fourth visit of the Autumn so far.

We parked up in the old bus depot again and walked along the road to the sea front. We headed south along the cliff face and soon saw a small group of birders stood by a ploughed field. We started scanning in the direction they were looking but neither of us could see it. We asked for directions only for them to point at the Isabelline Wheatear literally a few feet away on the edge of the field. To say it was showing well was an understatement.  

We visited the same old haunts again; did a bit of seawatching and walked round the triangle but there just wasn't much around today. We even managed to form a small twitch when we found a Redstart on the beach!

Isabelline Wheatear at Easington

For those one bird wonders amongst you, well this is my 3rd Isabelline Wheatear in Britain. I ticked the Cemlyn Bay bird in 2006 and then saw the Spurn bird in November 2011.
Isabelline Wheatear at Spurn in Nov 2011
Well thats probably it for October. Not too bad a month with Siberian Accentor, Red-eyed Vireo, Stejneger's Stonechat, Isabelline Wheatear, 2x OBP, Dusky Warbler, 2x Pallas's Warbler, Red-breasted Fly, Yellow-browed Warbler, Shore Lark...

Now when you spend hours travelling up and down the country, you often have some wonderful conversations. Its all part of the birding experience. Well today I was walking round a local Staffordshire site which I visit quite frequently when somehow we started talking about this next song. I'd never heard of this song and so I was sent the link to view it. I just knew I had to include it in the blog. I've included the version with the lyrics for you to read. Its just bizarre..

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Porthgwarra Mystery

Following the exertions of Friday's trip, we decided that we would probably pop back over to Spurn on the Saturday, arriving midday ish after everything had been found. We had our usual leisurely stroll around Westport and then set the sat nav for Spurn. As we sat on the car park, CJW suddenly announced that he felt there was enough for us to see in Staffs and so why didn't we stay local today instead. Not wanting to cause an embarassing scene on the car park I reluctantly agreed. And it turned out to be a decent day in the county after all.

During the afternoon as we were watching a leaf fall at Branston as it was more interesting than the birds on show, news came of yet another REV; this time in Cornwall at Porthgwarra. For those of you who haven't been alongside me for the last 15 years, you might not know but REV is my second most dipped bird. I've managed to dip at least three times, maybe four over the years. The worse dip was probably the time in 2008. We'd dipped the Nanjizal ALDER FLYCATCHER on the Friday (having managed to get a legitimate day off as well!). Then the next day, a REV turned up at Trevilley Farm near Lands End. It stayed all week and was still present on the Friday evening. So off we headed for the second time in eight days to Cornwall. And we stood there for four hours. And then we drove home.

This year I almost contemplated heading to Scilly for the St Agnes birds but as the week went on reports gradually faded. And while we were at Bempton watching the Dusky Warbler, one was trapped at Portland never to be seen again.

So back to the Porthgwarra bird. There were a few more reports during the afternoon and I started to think about heading down. But there was always a nagging doubt that the same would happen this time. In the end CJW persuaded me to head down. We left home at 03:30hrs.

The journey down was fantastic. We even had a closed M6 from J10 to J7 only to be opened just as we arrived. It was wet though, and all the way through Somerset and Devon the rain was torrential; reducing our speed down to 70mph at times. 

We'd received no news by the time we dropped down to Porthgwarra, but we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of birders present. We also received the news that the REV had been seen at 07:30hrs but not since. The sun was out, it was warming up nicely, and we stood and waited. We had a spell outside looking in, and a spell inside looking up. And after two hours, most of the birders had headed off, leaving only a handful behind. 

We had our dinner and decided to walk up the valley to where we saw the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. It was quite pleasant still, and we were spurred on by the fact that just round the next corner, we could find an American passerine. We dropped down into the valley and walked deep through the cover. Northern Parula, Waterthrush, Ovenbird....there was no sign of any, but we still dreamt.

Faced with yet another REV dip, we headed back towards the car park with the intention of driving out of the valley to where we could find a phone signal and sit and ponder our next sorry move. I tried not to get depressed but it was sickening having been in this exact situation so many times before.

We walked past the wood and I was quite surprised to see a large crowd of birders all standing inside looking up. I stood next to one and half-heartedly asked if it had been seen again. "Yes" she said "about ten minutes ago but we've sort of lost it now".

I stayed quite calm, and ask in which direction it was moving. It was heading inland, so I walked back up the road to the next section of wood that you could enter. There was just me and an old lady present. She was looking up in some trees and she beckoned me over. "I think its up here" she said. And sure enough there was a bird flitting about. On my first view I just saw gleaning white underparts, but with the wind and the swaying trees the views were only fleeting. I carefully tried to call CJW over without causing a mass stampede. I waved, and then whistled and finally he saw me. "He's got it over here" he announced to the crowd.

And then it came out into view. It was a Red-eyed Vireo sat in full view in front of me. It was an odd experience really. And at the moment I was only thinking of one thing. My co-pilot on all those previous dips to Scilly and Cornwall. You go into battle when you go twitching. Sometimes its easy. Other times its hard. Sometimes you feel its getting personal and someone is picking on you. And then sometimes you win. I'd not felt like this at a twitch for a long long time.

I stood next to my old lady friend and patted her on her back. I even made sure she didn't fall over and CJW found the bird again for her so she could get a photo. I then turned round to speak to her and she was gone. I looked all over the place but she had simply vanished. Who was this mysterious women who had helped us? Was she sent by someone maybe? 

Here endeth the quest for the REV.

CJW with our saviour
What was left of the birders after 3hrs searching
A photo by someone of the REV. Thanks for letting me use your pic on my blog

This blog entry is dedicated to GAS.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Autumn finally gets going - Siberian Accentor at Easington

During the afternoon of Thursday 13th October, news was released that there was a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR at Easington in East Yorkshire. It had been wildly predicted that more would arrive following the first Shetland bird, but no one expected it only a matter of days after the first for Britain. 

There were no issues at all in organising everyone for this twitch. Amazingly everyone was available. Except for CJW who was due to meet a friend in York for the day, and PLo was at work, and PJ was heading down to Norfolk for a few days. Oh and it was my last day at work before being off for a week. 

I arrived with CJW at 06:00hrs and we parked in the old bus depot just off the square in Easington. The place was already rammed even at this hour, and when we walked up Vicars Lane to get in position, we were met with a crowd of 200+ already crammed round a small gap in the hedge. It was six or seven deep at this stage and I couldn't even see the floor. If it was still present, and on view, then it would have to be eight foot off the ground for me to see it.

Tensions were already running high. Two lads next to me had a very intense argument, only for the bloke standing next to them to get involved as well. There were also rumblings that other birders were wading into the hedge and getting too close. The wardens arrived but nothing was done about it. 

Then, all of a sudden, the large crowd that we were stood in moved forward en masse into the hedge. It was the weirdest co-ordinated thing you'd ever seen. Then more arguments erupted; my favourite was the one when someone accused the person next to him of leaning on him. Apparently he didn't like it. Forget the scopes permanently being banged in your face, its the leaning he didn't like! It was becoming a fantastic spectacle.

This made the volunteers move in. They started telling everyone to move out of the wood and start to form a queue by the fence. I quickly thought that if I was first in the queue, then I would see the bird first, and so I stood where I was supposed to. A queue was slowly forming, and the wood/hedge was slowly emptying until.....the Siberian Accentor came into view. Everyone legged it back into the wood. Fortunately I managed to see it straight away perched on the skip, but CJW, who was stood in front of me, was just slightly too short to see over the crowd. I was trying my best to find him a gap, and (bizarrely when we discussed it afterwards) I even tried to pick him up so he could see it. 

As requested, after seeing the bird we walked to the back of the queue, and eventually the whole twitch became a well organised event. On every visit, the light became better and I even managed a bit of video. As to the other Clayheads, well PLo eventually turned up at 07:30hrs following his lie in, and PJ had stayed the night in Easington on the way to Norfolk and we eventually caught up with him. It was another fantastic and memorable occasion.  

We headed off to Kilnsea where we enjoyed quite a decent few minutes of birding. A Shore Lark was showing well by the Bluebell Cafe. Then we met up again with the @AngryYoungBirders from earlier in the crowd, and they had just found an OBP (thats Olive-backed Pipit for those who struggle with abbreviations). We stood and waited and eventually it flew out of the grass calling. A Jack Snipe was showing well from the canal scrape hide and then we had a Woodcock in flight.

We met up with Russell B and wandered up to the churchyard but in the end we decided to head back up to Vicars Lane. By now, the crowds had died down, and we could have as long as we wanted at the front of the crowd. The light was better and with the bird showing down to a few feet, we had quite good views.

Siberian Accentor at Easington

Exhaustion was now setting in, so we headed off to Hull for some dinner. As we drove back, news broke of a PIED WHEATEAR on Flamborough Head. With the chance of a "Basil Brush" for CJW, we headed off as soon as the sat nav was reset. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, it had flown off and there was no further sign. We headed over to Bempton where we spent an hour or two chasing a vocal Dusky Warbler. Another fantastic day out on the East coast.

CJW's compilation video follows


Monday, 10 October 2016

probable Stejneger's Stonechat at Donna Nook

Thursday 22nd September 2016
I had a day owing so I decided to join CJW in his trip to Devon to see the Lesser Grey Shrike on Mount Batten Point, near Plymouth. A part of the world we had never visited, and with blue sky and flat calm sea it made it an extremely picturesque location. We even managed to have a go at a photographer for getting too close to the LGS and flushing it. What more could you ask for.

We then visited Prawle Point where we eventually found a family party of Cirl Buntings following an hours search.

Female (ish) Cirl Bunting at Prawle Point
The following weekend was spent in Staffordshire where I finally managed to add an extremely elusive Pectoral Sandpiper to my Branston GP list having been on holiday for the last bird.

Saturday 8th October 2016
Following an extremely good week for the east coast, there was just enough birds still left for us to see. A full car containing PJ, PLo and myself headed off to Lincolnshire first and to Donna Nook. Our target was a probable Stejneger's Stonechat. It was a bit of a gamble for insurance purposes but the bird is a decent potential future split. And when it is split, then Johnny Comelately will be shooting off to see one. While we will just back and say "Not even a Lincolnshire tick". I did as much homework as I could for the site, and we even had directions from Dave Hursthouse who we met in the car park. We set off, following the directions as closely as we could and we still ended up stood on the beach waiting for the next seal to come along to help us. Then we spotted our saviour in the distance. He was walking quite purposefully straight towards us. We held our breath and asked him. "Sort of" he replied. "Its the semi-blind leading the blind" he said. 

But within a few moments we were watching quite a smart Stonechat sp, with a fabulous pinky rump and white throat. There was also a Whinchat present. 

A couple of video grabs you can study and say Hmm

Stejneger's Stonechat probably

Having had our fill, we set off on the 1+ mile plus walk back to the car park. And soon after our arrival, we were watching one, then two Pallas's Warblers showing extremely well. Autumn had arrived!

Pallas's Warbler at Donna Nook by PJ
Despite being only 11 miles across the water, we opted to use the roads instead and drive round to Spurn. There had been a bit of a clear out, but at our first stop in Easington we saw a Red-breasted Flycatcher and YBW, and straight afterwards fantastic views of an Olive-backed Pipit in the gas compound. A second YBW was in the Crown & Anchor and we then relaxed and enjoyed the sun. As with Norfolk last year, we were literally falling over Goldcrests. In fact, we managed to catch three ourselves with our bare hands, and they made a very tasty snack. 

videograb of OBP at Easington
Goldcrests at Kilnsea - so tasty! by PJ


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