Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Sooty Tern twitch

So we'd made plans all week to make the long trek back up to Aberdeen to see the SOOTY TERN only for there to be no sign of it all day on Friday 27th July. We wiped the tears off our cheeks and immediately made alternative plans. 

Lord Lichfield has a great fascination with SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS and tries to see them whenever they turn up. He has already made one trip to Co.Durham this year already to see one - yes he's that keen and so it was an easy decision to head off to Spurn to see the SEMI-P that was on our favourite wader haunt the Kilnsea Wetlands. 

Lord Lichfield was busy partying the night before as usual at his stately home, and so we didn't head off for the coast until 4am. Grizz was already in the car and en route we picked up The Stalker to make up the classic foursome again.   

The journey was going well, Lord Lich was sipping his champagne still, The Stalker and Grizz snoozed in the back, we screamed up the M1, M18, onto the M62, the same as many many times before.

Then Lord Lich said......err "The Stalker".....the Sooty Tern is there again...we've got a decision to make.....

We slammed the brakes on, did a u-turn on the M62 and hurtled north. 

Well that's almost true. It was a tough decision but it was an unanimous one. We drove and drove until after about six hours of driving I became tired and Lord Lichfield took over the driving (well he made his butler drive) and then it started absolutely pissing it down. But every hour or so news kept coming on and it was still present. 

We parked up by the Ythan Estuary at 1330hrs, only nine and a half hours after leaving home. It had been a mammoth journey. And it was lashing down. As Lord Lich had come straight from a party, he had no coat and was only in his shirt. I emptied all my pockets, put my bins in their case and placed them in a plastic bag. You remember previous soakings you see.  

We walked briskly out to the hut and joined a small band of birders already present. We'd missed it by 30 minutes. It had flown out over the dunes.

We stood and scanned, it stopped raining and I went back to the car with The Stalker for Lord Lichfield's camera and my scope. But while we were away......

Ha I had you going there. When we returned four more birders had joined the crowd. Amazingly when we started chatting to them we discovered they went birding too....and used a car for transport. What a coincidence hey.

Then the shout went up.....The Sooty Tern was flying in from the left on the far bank. It was enormous, it was black, it was awesome. With a few flaps it was already opposite us and flying right.

It was a huge collective sigh of relief, it was a huge back slapping session, it was hand shakes all round. The gamble had paid off.

As the sun came out the Sooty Tern kept coming and going, eventually settling down with the other terns. 

And then the moment came. We were stood basking in the afternoon sun, surrounded by our fellow travelling colleagues. And the Sooty Tern flew left, and banked, and then flew straight towards and did a regal fly past on our side of the river. It was a simply magical moment. 

We drove back, stoppped at Dundee Macs and arrived home at 0010am, having covered 800+ miles. Another epic trip. 

And guess who we met....Yes Jacko, Robbo, former FBI agent Andy "M" and Grant "Granty Grant" "where's my lift" "Granty Grant Grant" Grant

Lord Lich was on top form and nailed it

The Crew
The master at work

Another fantastic video from Lord Lich

We discovered chatting to a local birder who shouted it out and kindly took the photo of all eight of us, and who we found out was Sir Roger of Tixall's lad, that the beach we were on was known as Echo Beach. So far away in time hey....

oh and a photo of the Skerries that I took in 2005...now where's my sketchbook...

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Snowy Owl on Anglesey July 2018

North Staffordshire's elite birding team were resting on Saturday 7th July, as during the afternoon it was England v Sweden in the World Cup quarter finals. As always during these long hot summer months, we never took our eye off the pagers, and news came through from Anglesey that the summering SNOWY OWL had been refound. 

Along with the Shropshire LITTLE BITTERN, we discussed a potentially decent days birding on the Sunday, but I did point out that the SNOWY OWL didn't normally stay in the same place overnight. I made the suggestion that we could pop up after the kick off. I agreed to drive, and after picking up The Stalker and Lord Lichfield, we headed off to Anglesey. We arrived at South Stack at 1930hrs and it was still baking hot. A short walk to the moors and there was a small band of birding brothers watching a hot Snowy Owl roosting. 

We stood for an hour or more watching her, until she flew down onto the valley floor. A quick sea watch off the cliffs saw a few Manxies fly past plus a single Puffin and we stood and watched the sun go down to end a fantastic evening trip. 

The only other trip of note recently was to Kilnsea Wetlands to see the fine Squacco Heron. Our colleague Grizz kindly stayed overnight and waited for me to arrive and even saved me a parking space. Now thats commitment for you. 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Norfolk Moltoni's Warbler - 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..


"Not enough time"



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.


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


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