Saturday, 9 June 2018

When we met Nobby

The spring came and went. We saw some bits but when you try and rattle them off you realise that the quiet spell from Autumn 2017 had continued. Since the last post, we'd seen a few bits at Wesser, another blinged White Stork at Whitemoor plus the midweek Crane there, Little Tern at Rocester,  Red-necked Grebe at BGP and the Belvide Red-rumped Swallow but that was all. It hadn't been too bad a spring in Staffordshire, but nationally there was little to excite us. 

And so late spring came, and we had our shoes on constant standby just in case. When a MOLTONI turned up at Duncansby Head, the top NE corner of Britain, we finally started to make plans for a long distant twitch. We even got to the stage of allocating seat numbers in the minibus but it decided to flit before the weekend came.

And so to Saturday 2nd June 2018. A day of anniversaries.

It was fifteen years ago to the day since this photo was taken......


And four years ago since this photo was taken...


And two years ago since....ah well, we move on

The day started off at Westport as per usual, but this time we had our coats and a sandwich in the hope that something would turn up somewhere for us to see. After Wesser we toured some of North Staffordshire's birding hotspots but we found them to be shite and birdless. No wonder the regulars who visit these places are so angry and bitter. The drizzle came down, we didn't know where to go, arguments started, tears flowed...and you thought being a member of the Clayheads was glamorous.

We returned home to do our regular Saturday jobs.

Then at midday day, I rang Lord Lich who was sipping champagne in his jacuzzi. The conversation went..

"Well?"

"Not enough time"

"Tomorrow?"

"Monitor"

Amazingly, another MOLTONI'S had been found on Blakeney Point. It was still present during the evening and we decided to head off at 0400hrs the following evening. The twitch was on.

Lord Lich volunteered to drive, and we picked up The Stalker en route. The soft top Range Rover simply ate the miles up, and the on board hostess made sure we were well looked after. We parked up at Cley Coastguards at 0730hrs, already aware that the MOLTONI'S was still present. We headed off while the rest of the Staffs birders were still asleep.

Lord Lich and The Stalker yomping out to the Point

It was a little bit misty
Following a long winter visiting the gym daily and practising on the special shingle covered tread mill, we found the walk to the point very easy this year, and within 20 minutes we were stood with the 20+ birders on site who also hasn't had a lie in and made the correct call.

It was a long hours wait before we had any action. A Blakeney stalwart soon spotted us and came and stood by us, and asked us how Westport was doing this spring. It was good to compare the two sites and it was amazing to hear how similar the sites had fared. He said there had been very few waders on Blakeney this spring, exactly the same as Westport would you believe.

Then a little further down the line, a shout went up. We moved down and we were soon watching the drake Moltoni's Subalpine Warbler perched up in a bramble. We found out the bloke shouting out the directions was called Nobby and he even made sure we had all seen it. What a true gent and we decided that Nobby is going to be made a honorary member of the Clayheads.

We watched it feed and flit around on and off for about an hour, and Lord Lich managed to get some video. Then at 10:15hrs, it became restless and flew over to the Alder Fly plantation before flying off into the distance down the point and lost to view. It was a most unexpected end to the visit


It wasn't the largest crowd at first





We headed off back to the car, and as we were walking downhill, we were back within 15 minutes of setting off. The Staffordshire Birding Club minibus had finally arrived, and we said hello to the Steve twins...Steve Belvide and Steve Gailey, I shook hands with Mr Chairman...Sir Roger Tixall-Broadbent, a nice brief chat with Clayhead Richard Sutton whom I hadn't seen in ages and finally Young Billy Bateman  was folding away his duvet and getting the grass out of his hair as we passed. So good to see warm friendly faces and we wished them well.

The Stalker was very pleased with his visit and struggled to contain his excitement. 


All videos in the blog are taken by the Lord Lichfield Video Company and are produced here without his permission.

And so after a very short break for a short healthy snack and re hydration, we headed down to Salthouse where we met up with our old friends Richard M and Steve G and stood with them listening to a Common Rosefinch singing. Eventually it was located in the hedge at the rear and we had brief but fantastic views in its brown-morph plumage.

One more stop and that was to Kelling where we had views of the white-spotted red-spotted Bluethroat while feeding in a ditch. By now the temperature was in  the early 30's and we spent time distributing water to the elderly.

Kelling Water Meadows - well the beach by it

And then we went home. My first tick since October 2017 and three Norfolk ticks in the bag too. A fantastic day was had by all.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Exclusive - The Truth behind the lost Appendix

So what has happened since the last Snowy Owl post. Well this blog I'm going to use headings for a change. Hope everyone likes it. Just email me with any comments, well unless you are blocked and can't. 

Big Exclusive News

Well as mentioned in the last blog, celebrity birdvlogger Lord Lich has certainly been enjoying the high life and the taste of fame. Well one night it all went slightly wrong. He's spending most of his time now at the hall of Jeremy and Sophie Farquharson, along with celebrity pals Timothy Snott and Phillip Boast. One night, when many bottles of Pinot Grinot were being drunk, and while playing Junior Cluedo, Lord Lich ran out of pennies from his penny jar and foolishly bet his appendix to get him through to the end of the game. The rest is history and we say, and on future trips unfortunately we will be one appendix short now. He knows we are not happy to say the least but we will just have to accept the situation and let him share ours when he needs to.

Flexi-listing

The Clayheads have decided to adopt the well used listing technique now of Flexi-listing as it seems everyone else uses this system and we don't want to be left behind. Basically it makes listing far easier and less stressful. So how does Flexi-listing work. Well you choose a list, add your total but you don't worry about things like borders, escaped birds, BBRC decisions or IOC split criteria. That way you cut out the stress of what to count and what not to count, and if your arch enemy suddenly gets close to you in your total, then you just add a few more. Its so easy and I'm sure more and more will adopt this technique. 

Scottish Trip

Well I decided on a short break before Easter with the plan to take a car full of my mates up for a jolly to the Highlands and further. So on 28th March I set off on my own and headed up to Musselburgh for my first stop. It was an excellent visit with four species of Scoter on view. The American White-winged Scoter was in a small flock of five or six Velvets and for a change was showing nicely and easily picked out. A drake Surf Scoter was also flying around.  

Musselburgh looking over towards Edinburgh
I was staying in the Nethybridge hotel as we always do, and following my drive up from Lothian I was able to visit a few sites in the area, seeing Crested Tit at several sites, plus enjoying walking in Abernethy Forest as usual. 

Driving up the A9


Loch Garten

Abernethy

Loch Garten

Loch Mallachie
Following a pleasant night and an equally pleasant breakfast, I headed off from Speyside and headed north. I stopped briefly in Inverness before carrying on up the A9. The sky was blue, there was no wind and it was simply a superb drive up. The scenary was breathtaking at times, and you never knew what was round the next bend. 

Beauly Firth

Near to Cromarty Firth

Cromarty Firth



I drove and drove until I could drive no more. Unfortunately for me, it was the end of the road. 




View from John O'Groats towards Orkneys with loads of Purps on the rocks
I headed up to Duncansby Head lighthouse and was able to walk from Britain's east coast to the north coast in two minutes. For a moment I was the most north easterly person in Britain.

Top corner of Britain - Duncansby Head


The actual corner where the Atlantic meets the North Sea. Note the waves

These were just round the corner
 I then drove further along the coast to Dunnet Head. The birding was quite good en route, seeing a nice flock of Greenland White-fronts in many many fields of Greylag Geese plus Rock Doves and Hoodies. Then I became the most nothernly person in Britain. 



The Old Man of Hoy showing in the distance

Looking towards the Orkneys on Britains most northern headland

Dunnet Bay
An excellent stay in the Harbour House B&B in Wick and following another fine breakfast, I headed for home, arriving back in Stoke at 18:20. 

It was a bit rough in Wick


j



Friday, 16 March 2018

Snowy Owl in North Norfolk March 2018

News of a possible Snowy Owl in Norfolk sort of filtered out during the week, and we sort of got our outfit washed and ready, polished our lens and chose our shoes, but it wasn't until Friday 9th March and pictures of a 1w female Snowy Owl on Scolt Head Island that the Clayheads stirred into action. A quick ring around and the car took an amazing three minutes to fill, and we were all treated to a ride in Lord Lichfield's new car. To say Lord Lichfield's videos have been a success is only half the story. He's now supplying videos to the rich and famous, but obviously I can't divulge who. Anyway, here's Lord Lichfield's new car - top of the range, all singing and dancing..


Anyway, Lord Lichfield, still wearing his tux from one of his celebrity bashes the evening before picked us up at 430am. The crew today consisted of The Angry Man, Lord Lichfield, The Stalker (due to potential legal action) and Grizz. Lord Lichfield did all the driving despite not having slept for three days.

We decided to head for the nearest car park to Scolt Head and wait on news. One member of the team suggested we sat in a hide in Titchwell, but The Angry Man's said "No you xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx". So we sat in a side road near to Scolt Head and The Angry Man was given his tablets.

Then it happened. The Stalker suddenly blurted out that the SNOWY OWL was on Thornham Point. Lord Lichfield started his motor, and screamed off, wheel spinning as he went, burning rubber and filling the North Norfolk early morning air with diesel fumes. The rest of the birders milling around just stood and stared. For once, we were first with news. 

Unsure of where to go, we decided to head for Thornham Harbour. We were soon following a green car, and obviously it was in possession of the same news as we were. We tried to follow the car, but Lord Lich eased back when we reached 140mph. We later found out we were trying to follow Clayheads favourite North Norfolk female birder pin up babe Penny "'Hot Rod" Clark. 

The green car suddenly screeched to a halt, did a full handbrake-180-Top Gear style spin and headed back to Titchwell. Lord Lich calmly reversed into a side road and headed to Titchwell.

We were soon marching through Titchwell towards the beach, pausing briefly to watch a Woodcock a few feet off the path. The fast walking members of the crew soon reached a boy with a scope. And there was the target bird sat on top of a bush five miles away in the distance. It wasn't even 0800hrs and the Snowy Owl was in the bag. 

We stood on the beach and snapped away at the distant blob. There was small flock of Long-tailed Ducks just offshore along with a few Scaup to keep us amused, but after a while we headed into one of the hides, counting a nice 38 Mediterranean Gulls in the colony.

The Snowy Owl had finally dried out and started to move, so with news reaching us that it was sat on the beach, we went back for seconds. It sat on a post for two hours and then it sat in a bush for two hours and that was it really.

Initial view (copyright Lord Lichfield)
Snowy Owl sat on a post
Snowy Owl sat in a bush


As we walked back, a Snow Bunting was showing well on the beach

Snow Bunting by Lich


We headed round to Thornham Harbour and eventually found the nine Twite. Next stop was Holkham, where nine Shore Larks were showing well about 20 minutes walk out from the boardwalk.

Shore Lark by Lord Lichfield 
We stopped on the main road and a quick glance saw a Barn Owl, GWE, a few Y-fronts and an amazing 59 Egyptian Geese. All in all it was a jolly good day out.

Under a huge Norfolk sky, three Clayheads stroll along
Finally, today's song is dedicated to a recent Westport twitch. I could have chosen another Icelandic export with Bjerk and "Its oh so quiet" but in the end I went for this. Enjoy xxx

Sunday, 11 March 2018

2018 - an update

I have been ordered to print the following statement from Mr Hugh J'Arce, the solicitor representing "The Stalker".

Dear Mr C Head,
Since your blog stopped in December 2017, my client, known as "The Stalker" has seen a drop in earnings. "The Stalker" regularly used to be booked to open village halls, asked to attend Christmas Fayres and also make celebrity guest appearances in hides. Now, he is finding it difficult to get a seat in the hide at Aqualate and even strangers walk past him now and don't speak to him. I therefore am requesting you send him the sum of £4-57 as compensation and print this statement on your blog. 

Many thanks Hugh

So there you are folks. In order to save me from going bankrupt and having to give up the doorway in Burslem where I now live, I will have to, against my will, start this stupid, nasty, trouble causing, atmosphere creating blog again. 

So 2018 started on January 1st this year and I went to Westport. I parked my car in the car park and I saw a Coot, some Mallard, a fabulous Black-headed Gull, six Willow Tits in a bush.....argh.....dam

I didn't leave the county at all in January and concentrated on going back to basics and patch birding. I did get to see the brief Great Northern Diver at Chasewater and the Whitemoor Haye Whopper Swans, and managed to add Great White Egret to two site lists.


Hawfinches also showed well at Kingsley. Video below taken by Lord Lichfield


February again was a struggle with local patches being very quiet. It wasn't until 25th February that I finally left the county and went on a trip down to Weymouth with Grizz to see the Ross's Gull. The trip started off perfectly at Lodmoor as we arrived just as the adult Ross's Gull flew in. We had decent views but it soon flew off and it was all over so briefly. We considered heading off to see the STILT SANDPIPER, but we decided we wanted better views and so we camped out in the Radipole car park and waited. It was at the height of the beast from the east wind, and we just sat in the car and watched the crowd. It was unbelievably bitterly cold. But eventually it flew back in and performed well. Can't beat a good Ross's Gull...this being my fifth in Britain, one of which was within 40 miles of Staffordshire.




Sunday, 10 December 2017

2017

And so that was 2017.




Thanks for taking the time to read this blog over the last seven years or so and sharing the good times we all had together.

Take care, enjoy your birding and goodbye.


....and to end with a bit of humour

Friday, 17 November 2017

Birding with the Clayheads - The Future

Well its November and this Autumn has turned odd, or maybe we have been spoilt by the last two Autumns...I don't know. Anyway, a few weeks / months ago, myself and Hilda's nephew came to a decision (on some long journey somewhere or something). 

Unfortunately, the Clayheads are taking a rest. No...its not the end of the Clayheads. Once you are part of the elite North Staffs Birding group, the title cannot be taken away from you. 

There needs to be a rule clarification as to what constitutes a Clayhead. To be a Clayhead, you have to share a car trip with the rest of the group. The current list of Clayheads are - Shirley, Hilda's nephew, pops, PJ, PL, RSu, Bob the Builder, Grizz, The Stalker and JSu. These are the only current members. 

So what plans are there for the next year. Well, after two years of extensive tripping, we realised we can't go on as we are. Life has changed. My life has changed. Next year, we are birding locally and returning to birding in Staffordshire. We have a target and an aim that we want to achieve. Obviously, if anything turns up then we will go and see it, but, for the majority of Saturdays, we will be hitting Staffordshire. 

There will be far fewer blogs so you'll just have to wait and see what we are up to. So hopefully we will see all of you at Wezzer and at another location after we come up trumps and find something.

I'd just like to thank PJ, PL and The Stalker for your support over the last few months. But most of all, thanks to Hilda's nephew for your support and for forcing me to carry on birding. Don't worry, you are still coming out for the next four months. I'll fookin sit outside your house and peep my horn till you come out. 

You see, birding is far more than just ticking a new species and waiting for the next tick. 

Till next time.....love to you all (except the county recorder, wrong trousers, duck-on-a-rope-man...)

Sunday, 5 November 2017

St Aldhelm comes up trumps

So after our trip to Northumberland, we came back and planned a few quiet days at the start of the holiday. However, with news from Blithfield of a Staffs tick for Hilda's nephew on Monday 16th, we were soon off on our travels again.

The Grey Phalarope was performing well off the dam, and proved an easy subject for a videoman of Lord Lichfield's standards.


And so the following day, Tuesday 17th October we again planned to do nothing and we hoped something would turn up later in the week. The day started off well with a fly over Hawfinch at Westport. We went back home, only for news to appear late afternoon of a LEACH'S PETREL at Chasewater. News was vague but we screamed down, knowing that it was a race against the fading light. Confusion reigned as to where the bird was until I managed to contact Graham, Lord of Blithfield who was on site watching it. We made it with about fifteen minutes of light left (we did use the M6 toll or else we just wouldn't have made it). It was amazing to see the Leach's Petrel flying all over the place, usually with a flock of 30+ BHG's constantly chasing it. Again another county tick for the St Helen's kid (he's got a bigger Billinge and district list than you but does he brag about it - well of course he does).


Lord Lichfield did well to get this video with very little light left .

And then news reached us of another bird for us to go and see. It was none stop birding and this was the reason why we had chosen to have this fortnight off. In Dorset, there was a Two-barred Greenish Warbler and a trip was planned the following day. Unfortunately with work commitments, no one else was able to join us. 

We arrived on site, parked in the field and walked down to join the crowd overlooking St Aldhelm's Quarry. We had been led to believe the bird was showing every 20 mins or so. But this was just not the case. It was a cold, damp day and it was keeping well tucked in. Eventually when we worked out the best place, we had brief fleeting glimpses of it. It was also incredibly active, and made a YBW look inactive. Over a period of about half hour, we finally had decent views as it lingered in one particular area. A nice second tick of the year and a nice bird to see.

Unfortunately, Lord Lichfield stood no chance with this one, but I did manage some photo's.


This was the best place to see it. More sheltered here

Spot the 2bar Greenish (its just a shot of the bush actually but of course you can look for it. Ain't on the photo though)
Having seen a Firecrest as well, we headed off to do some more birding. We had a brief look for a DARTFORD WARBLER and then spent sometime in the hide looking for the STILT SANDPIPER. Some big birders were in the hide with us, and they were making claims that they could see the roosting, sleeping wader in long grass behind the other waders. We weren't convinced and after an hour or so and when everything was flushed and there was still no sign of it we headed off. 

On the way back to the car we spotted some good DARTFORD ish habitat, and a little walk around the area and bingo

The "Lich" nailed this one
  
Then it was off to Lodmoor. A nice walk around the whole reserve saw us eventually find the Lesser Yellowlegs, along with a few Little Stints and a GWE.

My video this time!



And we though that was it. Until we saw that the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was still on Portland Bill. We knew the name of the quarry, and we found it on a map and we found the site. But it was an access road to a huge working quarry. I wandered up the track and met an wonderful elderly gentleman. I asked him if he'd seen anything to which he replied "Well yes", but he'd lost sight of it and was walking around to find it. This bloke was possibly in his 80's, and took me to the small copse where his wife (who used two sticks) was watching the Red-breasted Flycatcher flitting around. As I walked in, he pointed out every stone that I could trip over and made sure I kept on my feet as we walked in. What a gent.

This marvellous helpful gentleman is awarded the coveted Honorary member of the Clayheads.
Lord Lich moaned about the colour of leaves and the fact that it was late afternoon on a dull day, but I think that's the best time to watch a classic autumnal Red-breasted Fly.



Portland Bill R B Fly by "Lich"
Last bird of the day were three Black Redstarts feeding along a fence at the Great Spotted Cuckoo site. It had been an awesome days birding.

And so on with the rest of the holiday. We did this Dorset trip on the first Wednesday, leaving us with another week and a half to go. But unfortunately this is where the story ends. We actually, apart from visiting Westport, we haven't been out birding since. We did have some cracking days viz migging at Westport seeing another Hawfinch and an amazing flock of 62 Barnacle Geese over.

An amazing flock of 62 Barnacle Geese over Westport. Slimbridge bound? 
Its now November, and autumn has simply dried up. And so until the east wind blows, its goodbye for now in this strange Autumn 2017.