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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Masked Wagtail in Pembrokeshire 3rd December 2016

December is one of those months when those who have been fading since January 2nd fade even further, waiting for their annual days birding on January 1st. 

All of the current Clayheads were sitting with their feet up, reading their van Duivendijk, planning trips for 2017, when news came from Pembrokeshire that a Masked Wagtail was present - and a British first to boot. Now those who are clued up will realise that a Masked Wagtail will probably just stay a subspecies and nothing else, but fortunately, LGRE includes it on his UK400 list and so we felt the need to pop down.

It really felt like one of those end of term twitches. If it wasn't for the fact that it was a UK400 tick and I'm nearing my next certificate (thats the one for 300 species in the UK), I don't honestly think I could have been ar.. bothered to go. When you have to be up at 4am for work in the week, then it hurts a little to get up at that time at the weekend too. 

Anyway, spurred on by my fellow crew, we set off for Pembrokeshire at 05:00hrs on a Saturday morning. The journey was alright; no hold ups at all, and we arrived in the village of Camrose at just after 09:00hrs. Our good friend Grizzly was already on site, and we followed all on site parking instructions (actually we parked in the first layby we came across because we couldn't find the field to park in). 

And following a short wait, we were soon watching a Masked Wagtail feeding on the road in front of us. The twitch really did have a bit of everything. It was a twitch in a residential area, so cars kept pausing to ask what we were doing; there was a slippery grass slope and there were some certain birders who are more welcome at twitches than others.
 
Look at the guy who's lying in the road

Just look at the guy furthest left - have you ever seen that expression at a twitch before. And the lady on the left looks like she's suffering 2016 burnout
 





1w Masked Wagtail, Camrose, Pembrokeshire
   
An extremely rare photo of me plus the man slipping down the slippery slope and nearly taking out another birder. You just knew it was going to happen (photo by CJW)



Friday, 18 November 2016

Hooded Merganser Kilbirnie Loch, Ayrshire

On Saturday 12th November, we made a quick dash up the M6 / M74 to Ayrshire to see the relocated drake Hooded Merganser, arriving just west of Glasgow by 08:30hrs. We both did think that this was a bit of a mad-one, but a tick is a tick, and we both needed it for our various lists. For me, it was a welcome Ayrshire tick. This fine drake was feeding with a small flock of Goosander, always keeping its distance from us.

  
Kilbirnie Loch


At 09:00hrs we headed back home (as I had to be out by 17:30hrs), calling in Carlisle on the way south to see a flock of 31 Waxwings. Amazingly, these are only my third ever Waxwings outside of Staffs, and my first since 2012 (#Octogontastic #painsinchest)




Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Cliff Swallow in Suffolk November 2016

It was late Friday afternoon and I was trying to organise a trip for the following day. CJW was working till midnight and so the usual plan was to head off after I'd done Westport. The idea was to try and find some LITTLE AUKS somewhere.

Then it all went crazy. First news came from Minsmere that a possible CLIFF SWALLOW was present near to the Sand Martin colony. It was later confirmed and was seen to go to roost in the reed bed. 

Then moments later, a photograph was posted on Facebook of an EYEBROWED THRUSH in Northumberland. 

So it became a simple toss up between a tick in the north, or a tick in the south. Luckily, CJW had seen the 1964 Eyebrowed Thrush on St Agnes when visiting Aunt Hilda (Quick). He was also heavily involved in the 1983 Cliff Swallow sighting on St Mary's. Apparently, his birding pal Cliff Waller was on the Garrison but CJW couldn't keep up with him as he was walking too fast. So he used his radio to try and get him to wait and shouted Cliff Waller on the Garrison. Unfortunately this was misheard and everyone charged up looking for a CLIFF SWALLOW. CJW panicked and just pointed to a Herring Gull in the distance and everyone was happy. 

Anyway I digress. It was a tough decision but in the end I felt there was a better chance of seeing the CLIFF SWALLOW than the thrush. It's not often you have to choose between two ticks. I picked CJW up at 04:00hrs. He was sat on his doorstep dressed in his favourite gnome onesie having not even been to bed.

We headed off into the darkness. The car was soon full of the sound of snoring. I looked at CJW, he looked at me and we realised that we were both awake. I suddenly checked my mirror and there, sat asleep on the back seat was the Clayheads No.1 stalker, aka The Stalker! We couldn't believe it. He'd somehow managed to get into the car unnoticed. We made a plan to stop at a service station and roll him out while he was still asleep.

The journey was fantastic, and it was soon getting light as we hurtled across Suffolk. I was a bit concerned that we were due to arrive at 07:45hrs, well after it had become light. Then my fears were confirmed. It had been seen at 07:20hrs over the visitors centre but then had flown south. 

I expertly drove us through the lanes which were fortunately quiet, allowing me the choice of either side of the road. We screeched (not true - just for dramatic effect) into the car park and birders were running. We quickly got our stuff together and were soon walking briskly down to the far end. All the birders were stood in the Stone-curlew field and the Cliff Swallow was perched in a bush. After a bit of manoeuvring, we eventually clapped eyes on this North American waif (reading too many blogs i guess).

Early morning and it was sat in a bush



Quite a decent turn out

CJW and The Stalker

 
Spent much of the time facing away from us

Cliff Swallow at Minsmere
In the cool morning air it sat still for some time, but as the morning warmed up, it became more active and eventually started flying around. It looked like a huge Sand Martin on steriods and with its obvious pale rump, for most it was easy to pick out from the eight Swallows it was flying around with.  

It flew off south again, and following a quick refreshment break, we headed onto the reserve to do a spot of birdwatching. We had already met up with Dr Steve Richards (and @CWG Ian were the only Staffs birders we met!) and so the four of us (yes The Stalker was still with us) enjoyed not a bad walk around. There were five Bewick's Swans knocking around, a Purple Sandpiper, a Snow Bunting flew up the beach plus a few waders - Grey Plover and Spotted Redshank. All quite pleasant. We wandered back to the Stone-curlew field and enjoyed more excellent views of the Cliff Swallow as it flew overhead.

Third tick of an excellent Autumn - you can't complain at that.

Video by CJW and background comments made by various people stood around.


We wish to congratulate Dr Steve Richards on his new title of Doctor would you believe and we hope that you will all address him now in the correct way. As a special favour, he requested his favourite song. Enjoy listening and have a great dance around the room to this! Let's rock. 

(Not sure if this is the official video or not. Don't remember seeing this on TOTP).


Eastern Black Redstart in Cleveland October 2016

Well just when we though Autumn was fizzling out and we'd had our last tick, it suddenly went busy again. On Sunday 30th October, I made a solo trip to Cleveland where I saw my second British Eastern Black Redstart at the odd coastal village of Skinningrove. We'd passed through this place previously in 2014 or 2015 en route from Spurn to somewhere and was struck by this place then. You'll have to pop in and see for yourself. The EBR was showing quite well on the rocks. I was going to see the Co. Durham ISABELLINE SHRIKE as well but it was over an hour away so I headed for home.
 
Eastern Black Redstart in Cleveland
On the way home, I popped into Blithfield following a phone call to Richard "Dickie" Powell to confirm the Grey Phalarope was still present. Amazingly, this was my first Grey Phal in Staffs for eight years. 

On Monday 31st October, CJW having worked all weekend headed off to Cleveland to repeated my trip. Unfortunately the PIED WHEATEAR had disappeared in the night, but he did see the EBR. As he was watching it, news came on of a BROWN SHRIKE at Spurn. CJW decided to make the short journey down the coast. After a journey of nearly six hours, stuck for the entire trip behind a cyclist who refused to let him overtake, CJW arrived at and managed to get another tick. He also saw little Tommy Ticker there - the ticker who goes for every giga that comes on but doesn't do any other birding at all. What a fantastic effort by Tommy! (we'll chat about the Woolston White-crowned Sparrow one day Tommy don't worry).



The first after work twitch since the clocks changed was to Tittesworth on 2nd November for the Purple Sandpiper there - a nice addition to my North Staffs list. Unfortunately i headed over to Blithfield when a Velvet Scoter was reported but it didn't stay long - exactly like the last one. I'm stuck on 199 species still for Blithfield!
video

  

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 Red-eyed Vireo at Porthgwarra

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