Saturday, 17 June 2017

Rudi, a message to you

Till next time...

Monday, 12 June 2017

He who dares....

The first week in June is when the not only do the megas strike, but it's the time when the giga's strike - yes they come big this time of year. The birds I've ticked in the first ten days of June trip off the tongue like a mouth watering list of good birds.This year however was slow going. Westport had slipped into summer mode week's ago. There wasn't much to see. 

Last Sunday, 4th June, we popped up to the small village of Davekelsall in Cheshire to see the Iberian Chiffchaff. We weren't disappointed and it sang for us. Nice song.

Iberian Chiffchaff at Davekelsall, Cheshire. By CJW
And so to Saturday 10th. We discussed a few birds to go for and year tick but there was nothing much else nearby for us to create a decent day. So we decided to play safe, stay local and see what happened. The day started off at Westport. And then we went back to the car. To put summer patch working in context, we were quite pleased to see the Greylag Geese had risen from six to eight birds. That was the highlight.

We then headed to the "Chase" to do our survey on our selected area. Sir Roger, for some reason chose Patch 1 for us (for obvious reasons really that I don't really need to go into. Actually Sir Roger has an amazing sense of humour because originally I was paired up with one of the Snake twins!). Patch One has proved tricky this year with only a few highlights. Today, however we struck gold with a pair of Mandarin flying over the bracken. Fantastic sight/site.

As we were walking back to the car following our survey of the area, we received news of an interesting wader species at an RSPB reserve in the SE of the county. Just what we had hoped for. Quick drive down and a nice early finish we thought.

We managed to get down to Middleton Lakes without using the sat nav; quite an incredible feat don't you think. We walked past the Jubilee Wetlands to the next small area of water and sharp eyed CJW found the spinning female Red-necked Phalarope. We stood and watched it until Lord Lichfield decided to go into the "hide" so the he could stand with his photographer mates and discuss light, ISO and shutter noises.

Red-necked Phalarope at Middleton Lakes by NJS

As I stood all alone with no one to chat to cos I've only got one friend now, I received a message. The ELEGANT TERN had been seen again. It was one we'd considered but it was a long way for a bird that had not settled down and had only shown briefly so far.

It was 1200. I ummed, CJW arghed. We pulled faces and then I played the Clayhead motto card. It's not one we use often. But we have on occasions. "He who dares" I said.

We headed off midday on Saturday to the south coast. News was scratchy and infrequent and we went long periods without any updates. We had the bird flying out to sea, lost behind the island and no further signs but we plodded on. CJW exhibited the full range of moods during a tense frantic drive. I just cruised at 85-90mph. Yes it was one of those drives.

As we were only about 20 mins away there was still no further sign in Pagham Harbour. We made a decision to head to Hayling Island instead. We crossed the causeway only for me to spot a message. It was back in Pagham Harbour. We screamed onto the nearest petrol station. Pasties and sausage rolls went flying. We were left with several ice creams on our windscreen. But we didn't care. It was back.

It was only about 20 mins drive away but we knew the car park was full and it was s 10 mile walk from the RSPB car park. We just couldn't risk it. I hurtled through the lanes. It was now CJW's turn to get scared and tell me to slow down. We just kept going. Down the lane, straight past several potential spaces. But we kept going to the full car park.

As we drove in, a car was coming out. Unfortunately someone else dived in. But there was just one more space. A white faced CJW fell out of the car. I gathered my stuff together and hurtled down the path to see a vast crowd stood on the edge. I managed to find the adult Elegant Tern sat on the breakwater and slow CJW ambled along. Bingo. A hand shake. A slap on the back. Grins. Another lifer for CJW and a fine year tick for me. Sorry, didn't I say I've already seen an Elegant Tern in Britain. Oops sorry.

Despite showing rather well on  the breakwater, within seconds it flew back to the island and dropped down into deep vegetation. And that was the pattern for the next two hours or so. A few flight views, a few beak shots and one final fly past for us.

The gambled paid off this time. It's hard to keep going on negative news but we just kept on going.

Never tire of seeing these pictures from Blackdog, Porthmadog in July 2002. In fact, I laminated the sand bank of the above photo and its been my book mark ever since. In the top three of birds I saw in the 00's.

Now then.  As we started to wander away, our leader LGRE shouted me. "What's all this about you supressing loads of stuff and falling out with everyone". They were his words. We explained the one time recently that SBN (of which now I am no longer involved in at all. I've just had enough) did suppress something as part of a group decision with the finders but that was all. So if you have the balls to talk about me to LGRE why not come and talk to me or ring me and I will put my side if the story. You know my number.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

3rd June 2017 - WMBC outing to Somerset

We decided we wanted to close the gap in the big year listing competition with Tony "Big List" Jackson and "Big" Dave Robinson, as the gap was nearly up to 70. We planned a trip down to Somerset, where we hoped we would add a few to our list and catch the retired boys on the hop.

CJW agreed to drive and I was stood outside my house waiting for him to arrive. Another car came down the street. It was driving quite slowly and was looking at all houses, as though he was looking for someone. Then I saw his face and instantly recognised him. It was The Stalker! He stopped and sat there. I carefully gathered my gear together and managed to sit in the back without him noticing. Then CJW drove down. I attracted his attention and we were both sat in The Stalkers car without him even knowing. Finally, we were stalking The Stalker!

We were hoping he was going out birding and not to work, and we were quite pleased when his first stop was at a secret site. We followed him down a path of some sort, through some sort of habitat and there was the target bird. A good start to the day. The sky was blue, and it was warming up nicely.  

We managed to get back in the car, and waited for the next location. It was Alvecote Pools and we stood behind The Stalker as the Corncrake started rasping away. It was all going too well.

The Stalker then headed down the M5. Just as he entered the fast lane and hit 70mph we decided to jump up, shout, and announce our presence.

We managed to get the car off the embankment and back onto the motorway and carried on down to Somerset and a return visit to Ham Wall. Our forward party of Phil, Phil and Ged were already on site, staking the birds out so we didn't have to do any work ourselves. We parked up, marched down to the far end and following a lengthy session of barking, the male Little Bittern came to the top of the reeds and showed well.

Lord Lichfield at his best

First year tick in the bag, and as usual, the birding at Ham Wall was fabulous. We saw a fly over Cattle Egret, a Bittern in flight and a Bearded Tit. It really is up there on par with Westport. We headed back towards the car and disaster struck. We already knew from our drone cam that "Big List" Jackson and err Big Dave had been to Gloucestershire to see the Hoopoe. We didn't know where they were heading next. Imagine our horror when we saw the pair, along with third member Gladwyn walking along the path. We stopped and spoke briefly. They had already seen the Red-footed Falcon from the car, but we just blurted out we didn't need that as we were already on 310 for the year. The look on their faces was a treat. Off they ran, squabbling amongst themselves.

Following a call from Martyn Yapp, we met up on the car park with Mrs Yapp, Jules and "Tame" Tom Perrins and started looking for the distant RFF. We did have two Hobby and a glimpse of the RFF, but it wasn't until Jules rang us to say it was showing from the bridge that we had corking full frame views. Second year tick in the bag.

The immature female Red footed Falcon sat on the branch on the right

We had a quick check on the Meare Heath pool, dipping the Glossy Ibis but seeing two crisp drake Garganey. Finally tally was eight GWE, a Little Bittern, a Bittern, a Cattle Egret, two Garganey and a Red-footed Falcon. Not bad at all.

We headed back up the M5 towards Gloucestershire. We got stuck in a bit of traffic as it was the end of half term, but we were soon on site at Cranham Common. It looked like a classic butterfly site like ones we'd visited before, but there were none to be seen. We did see a few orchids, but as we were looking, someone whistled from up the slope, and the Hoopoe had been refound. Five target birds - five birds seen. But more importantly, we'd reduced the gap on "Big List" Jackson by one.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Sandpipers, Spooners, Suppression and Suffolk

Oh fallen behind a bit with the blog. The reason being I'm fallen out of love with birding and have just been staying at home reading romantic novels on Saturday's now.

Actually that's a lie. My computer is poorly, and it usually takes a night to open one web page. Heaven knows how long it will take to write this. So here we are on Tuesday March 14th 1978. Lets see when I manage to post!

There's a dirty year listing competition going on between the St Helen's kid, myself, the dastardly Stalker and we are all trying to catch the Mr Big of year listing again, Tony "Big List" Jackson, with his side kick "Big" Dave. These two are cheating again this year after retiring from work. Unbelievable. Still, its almost half way through the year and we are only 50 behind them.  

Anyway, CJW decided to pop up on Friday 19th May for the Burton Mere Wetlands BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER. He saw it, so where else to go on Saturday than back to BMW so we could see it. My second in Cheshire, and didn't it show well. We even saw one of the Woolston WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW stringers and I was able to mumble something under my breath. The cheating stringers. The now known breeding Cattle Egrets were also visible.

Then it was on to Anglesey for a Welsh tick for two of the party (The St Helen's kid didn't need it because he hasn't got a Welsh list). We headed to the Inland Sea for a SPOONBILL. We searched everywhere for it, but the tide was out, and it was nowhere to be seen. We headed up to Cemlyn for our second attempt at ROSEATE TERN, and again failed, seeing three Meds, Black Guillemots etc. We were rapidly running out of time, and one of the party had to be back early. With a QUAIL calling at Alaw Est, we were drawn back to the Inland Sea again. And there was the Spoonbill spooning away. Fantastic! 

Sunday 21st May we went somewhere and saw something. Someone took the huff. Others didn't. You can't win them all. We'll post the video in December when its all forgotten about.

Westport news for the period - its summer and so I've eight weeks of walking round noting which dog walkers I see and who is missing. Some of those we see do really brighten up your day.

Anyway, Saturday 27th May and a Bank Holiday Saturday. We headed to Suffolk/Norfolk. First stop was Lakenheath. We made the 10km walk out to the small group and there was the Marsh Warbler singing away in the reed bed. It wasn't too windy, and the camera's liked it.

Marsh Warbler at Lakenheath

We carried on along the path for another 10km, all the while looking at the ever darkening skies. We found another group camped out on the path as it was just too far for them to walk in one day. We stood, and the Stalker heard it first. The Savi's Warbler was reeling occasionally, but not too far out into the reed bed. With both warblers in the bag, it was a race back to the visitor centre before the thunder storm came. Strangely, we were the only ones walking back. We passed many walking out along the path, and we wished them good luck, but we knew their fete. We just made it back to the car before the heavens opened. We did see other stuff at Lakenheath as well. There were the obvious loads of Cuckoos and Marsh Harriers, Cetti's and Water Rail, excellent views of Bearded Tits but the next best bird down the list was Bittern. We had four booooming birds and saw two in flight. We seem to be blessed by Bittern sightings this year. We also had two Dragonfly ticks (our third hobby) with a Hairy Dragonfly and a Scarce Chaser. The Hairy Drag didn't seem too hairy, but we're told the Scarce isn't very common.

The rain soon stopped and we saw a Hobby and two Stone-curlew at a secret sight somewhere in Britain. If you want directions, then just send all three of us £50 in cash please.

Final stop was at Strumpshaw Fen. The sun was beating down, but we were told it was too early for us to see our target bird here. We obtained directions from the centre and off we we walked. It was quite a way, and apart from a Hobby and Marsh Harrier it was relatively birdless. Eventually after four hours walking through the reed bed, we reached our target. And they were showing incredibly well. We'd been meaning to see one of these for quite some time, and we were led to believe they weren't easy to see, but when you watched them flying inches in front of you, it was quite something.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The tale of two Citrines - 6th and 13th May 2017

CJW was working on the weekend of the 6th May, and I had one or two things to see to, so I didn't venture out until late morning. I was hoping for a BLACK TERN as a patch tick at one of the gravel pits I visit, but I received news that there was no sign of it. So I sat and thought and decided to head off to North Wales where a CITRINE WAGTAIL had been found earlier on.

I was there two hours later and walked to the hide where two birders were already sat there. Unfortunately they had only just arrived, and there had been no reports of the Wagtail for a couple of hours. Indeed one of them proceeded to tell me it had in fact been reported as flying off over on to the saltmarsh.

Following a short scan from the hide, I decided to head off and look for the bird on the saltmarsh. I was a little surprised by the number of  cars parked in the lane compared with the number of birders I'd seen, so I hoped I would bump into a crowd somewhere.

I walked round the saltmarsh just down the coast, seeing a few Wheatears and a couple of White Wagtails but not much else. I returned to the hide where the two birders were stood outside. As I walked up to them another birder came from round the corner. "It's still there" he said, "showing from the mound".

We walked down to where at least ten birders were stood. Mystery solved! It took a little while before the female Citrine Wagtail gave itself up as it fed in the vegetation.

So roll on Saturday 13th May. Unfortunately, CJW travelled up to North Wales on Monday but the Conwy CITRINE WAGTAIL had done a bunk. We looked at various trip possibilities, but come Saturday morning and not a lot was happening. CJW came up with a master plan - lets head to Belvide or Doxey. We slowly headed off down the D road. Then a message came on the pager (been in the news recently - we can name two who still have one). The CITRINE WAGTAIL had been seen in Northumberland again. We were literally yards off the A50 turning. I told CJW he had 30 seconds to make up his mind.

The 1st summer female Citrine Wagtail performed incredibly well, showing down to a few metres at times. We also heard it call as well. Several of us commented how very similar it was to a Yellow Wagtail, perhaps containing a few more zzz's but nothing more.

Photo to show how close the Citrine Wagtail was (just right of wooden post)



On Monday 15th May, Steve Nuttall found a SPOTTED SANDPIPER at Belvide. I wasn't starting work until 2pm so I shot down. The bird was showing from the furthest hide, and I just managed too see it above the heads of the chatting OAP's who always fill the hides there. Its a good job Steve is there for them isn't it!
I've been fortunate enough to see four Spotted Sandpipers in Staffordshire.

Friday, 5 May 2017

A mesmerising Pallid Harrier in Lancashire 29th April 2017

We were promised a change in the weather for the weekend and big things were predicted. We were hoping for some clear cut decisions / bird on the Friday but nothing really happened. I made a few suggestions to CJW. And he made a decision.

CJW arranged to pick me up at 430am and told me we were going birding and we would see a few year ticks. The destination was only known to himself and The Stalker. I consulted my lawyers. We agreed to go with the decision.

As arranged, CJW picked me up at 430am. I immediately looked at his satnav. Arrival at 730am. That meant a journey of three hours so I was able to discount a few places already. As we drove down the D road, he said he had an issue with today's trip. An issue with the trip he had planned! I smirked. We picked up The Stalker and the discussion began. The issue lay with a photo of the adult male PALLID HARRIER at Dunsop Bridge and they had been both blown away by the bird. I had already suggested this as a possible trip, as I knew what the bird looked like. The satnav was changed to Lancashire.

The journey was relatively straightforward and we arrived in Dunsop Bridge at 06:30hrs. We had a pleasant stroll up the valley, and we then sprinted up the last slope to the small viewing area where three blokes were already standing.

For the next two hours, we were mesmerised by the adult male Pallid Harrier as it flew by over the hillside or as it climbed high overhead, calling away, with its silhouette looking more like a large falcon or tern. It was a truly unforgettable sight, and it was hard to drag yourself away from. No one spoke as it flew by. I've never witnessed a bird before that totally captured everyones attention like this before.

Three photo's by Lord Lichfield

And two from me

With news reaching us of a SAVI'S WARBLER singing on Spurn, we decided to head over that way, with the possibility of the female MONTAGU'S HARRIER at Blacktoft as well. It was quite a long journey, and we knew when we arrived that the SAVI'S had not been heard singing for nearly three hours, and the MONTY'S had been seen once at 1030. We hung around the Canal zone area, but it was quite windy by now. We did a bit of sea watching, and we walked the triangle before heading off to the Kilnsea Wetlands and Beacon Pools. It was quiet; we only saw a few bits and bobs and we felt the day may have peaked. In the back of our minds though, we thought there was a slim chance the SAVI'S would sing again in the evening and so there was a reluctance to head off.

In the end we headed back to the car to set off for home. Just a bit further up the road, two cars were parked up and they were looking across a field. Then another car turrned up. Another car paused, spoke to them and headed our way. Using all my two years twitching experience, I sensed they were watching something. I kindly volunteered to walk up the road to see, while the other two waited. Half way up the road, another birder had joined The Stalker and CJW and they were all marching furiously up towards me, grinning and putting their thumbs, punching the air. One of them was even shaking a bottle of champagne and de-corking it. I knew then they were watching a bird.

I arrived, and one of the regulars kindly put me onto a female DOTTEREL that was feeding at the back of the field. It was a nice way to end the day, and at least we'd seen something on Spurn.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Meet the Clayheads

One of the most frequent questions asked on the 1000's of emails is "Who are the Clayheads?". It's about time I introduced my band of brothers. As a one off, here goes. I must say, you have to be rather special to be consider a Clayhead - the elite birders in North Staffordshire.

First of all meet the Artist, Phil Jones

Phil "Jonesy" Jones - I remember Jonesy on an RSPB trip in the mid 80's and the lucky git managed to continue throughout the 90's so despite me seeing my first rare before him, he didn't get distracted by girls and family (he's not a sausage jockey though, please don't think so) and he's birded ever since. Approaching  mid 490's (BOU), he likes to remind us its a Snickers and not a sprint so he's more into world birding now (he'd rather see a Blue-crested Finch Thrush than a Ring-necked Duck for his Yorkshire list now) but he can still be tempted out for a big twitch. You've seen it, he's drawn it. His work has appeared in county reports and LGRE's books, a very underestimated artist, his best drawings are simply superb. It depends now if he can be arsed or not. You ask him for a drawing though, and he can produce one. 
Phil "Jonesy" Jones
Phil "Red Bull" Locker - Shit at numbers, he can't add up to save his life. Always adds to his life list and has never taken a tick off yet, "Mr I'm having an Oatcake first" has been birding since the early 90's. My first memory of him was at Westport when he turned up with his scope (please, only "The Builder" is allowed that priviledge), and he was mithering our leader and Clayhead founder WJL about a THAYER'S GULL at a tip in Cheshire. I remember asking WJL who the hell was that. And the Locker legend was born. Only birds after 16 cans of Red Bull, 4 bags of haribo and 16 bacon and cheese oatcakes, PLo is approaching the magical 500 (BOU) but needs a trip to Bedfordshire desparately please. 

Chris "The St Helen's Kid" Waring - Been birding since the 1930's when for some reason he was taken the the Scillies for his holidays in October. What's that all about the f**king cheat? Personal friend of every famous 1960's birder, his Aunty was Hilda Quick-Hide, who the Hilda Quick Hide is named after. He's been tiger hunting with David "James" Hunt, he's played cricket and sat on the East Bank Cley with Richie Richardson and he's discussed gull identification with Peter "Gull" Grant. Met him first at Westport in the late 80's when he was repping and he used to pull up on the car park in his black jaguar, Armarny (Armani?) suit and barbour wellies and talk to me and WJL. He later went into pop star management and actually attended Kylie's birthday party (most of the stuff on this blog is utter crap, but some of it is true!). If you want to hear about when Chris's girlfriend fell out with Robbie Williams, then just ask him. We've heard them all before. Had a few years out then we found him wandering around Westport in 2010 and we decided he needed his British list increasing. Been try to do that since then. Co-pilot and occasional driver, also is quite sensible and keeps the group under control.

Ian "The Stalker" Burgess - got the reputation of being a stalker as wherever the Clayheads went, he was there. In the end we just invited him along. Now a regular member of the group and not scary at all. Coming up to 450 (BOU) so he's getting a big one slowly. For the purposes of the blog, he is still a scary man and sneaks his way into the car.]

The Stalker
Pops - One of the original members. Took me to my first YOC group. Constantly alongside me through all my early birding and then when we started again in 2000. Always came along with us on every trip until he stopped coming with us in June 2016. Since then he's looked after us from above. Seat permanently saved and thats why we only have three members in the car. Hated sat navs with a passion. Gutted when sacked as map reader. Couldn't believe the anger directed towards the satnav at times. Still, he was pops and we all miss him dearly.  

Karl "The Builder" Stockton - late developer and has accompanied us on occasional trips. The classic 90's birder. Set off fast,woooompf thru the 90's to get up to the magical 500. Now, only wakes up when there's a tick and in spring when he's year listing, and if there's a tick then he's off. Also if you need any big jobs doing, he's a fantanstic DIY person. I can personally recommend him.

Me - the Captain. Been birding since 1982 and an original teeny ticker - saw my first rare in 1986 at the age of 16.Sat out the 90's cos of girls and family and came back in 2000. A complete tosser who you don't want to cross, but once accepted I will look after you for life. The driver, none better, a complete professional, you are safe in my hands. Also trip organiser and I try to dominate you until Chris steps in.

Substitutes"Grizzly" Adams. Has been on a few trips and now is doing a bit more birding than previously. Has to remember you don't have to see a bird just once, you can see it twice in fact.

Grant "Granty" Grant Price - new boy. Spent a whole journey trying to think of a nick name for him. Shows potential and appetite for the future. Just needs to add another 100 to his list and he might get a seat.