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.

Friday, 20 October 2017

October 2017 - Gwent, Spurn and Northumberland

October wasn't go well for me, but there was always the two weeks holiday I had booked off for the last two weeks. Amazingly, Hilda's nephew was off for exactly the same two weeks. Unbelievable.

My holiday actually started off earlier than expected. On Thursday 12th October, a ROCK THRUSH had been found in Gwent. We tentatively made plans to head off early if it was re found, but at first there was no sign. We also had our scout Grizzly on site to provide us with updates. And it wasn't looking good until just before 11am, when it was located again. When you are sat at work, having had no time off for virtually seven months, and your boss is out of town, it was a very difficult decision I had to take. 

Hilda's nephew picked me up at 1130am and he kindly drove to Gwent. As I was being chaufferered down, it occurred to me on my last visit to the same area, I was kindly driven as well, by PJ. A little bit ironic I thought, don't you think

We parked up on a desolate hillside and calmly walked along a path to a quarry face. We stood with a small crowd, waited about twenty minutes until one member of our group located the male Rock Thrush perched behind a boulder. Eventually it came out into the open and we watched it flit from rock to rock. And there was my first tick of the year. Only a ten month wait, and a bird I'd dipped once and was thwarted on two other occasions. Unfortunately, the wind was howling and the drizzle turned to rain, and we walked back to the car.


Bunch of amateur dudes to be honest. More interested in chatting and one mistook a Wheatear for the Rock Thrush
  

We returned home, and the next morning we headed off to Spurn armed with our bins and suitcases. First stop was in Easington where we soon found the immature Rose-coloured Starling that was cavorting around with the resident Starling flock. We always think its important to get the first bird of the day under the belt. Next stop was Kilnsea, where we eventually saw the Arctic Warbler in the churchyard. The area was actually quite quiet, and so we went for a wander down Beacon Lane and to the Wetlands. It proved quite productive with two Whopper Swans over, a Great White Egret, six Little Stints and a Slavonian Grebe. But by mid afternoon we decided to head home.


It had always been the plan to head up to Northumberland after Spurn, stay overnight and then look for the RICHARDSON'S CANADA GOOSE in the morning. However, there had been no news on it all day, and that's why we were heading for home. We were heading back to Hull when Hilda's nephew noticed that it had in fact been on. We pulled over, booked a hotel and headed north.

Well it wasn't as simple as that. We tried to book a travelodge, but the prices were different to what we were led to believe they were. Then "the nephew" found a cheaper one, £35 a night, en suite and our own rooms. It was booked and sorted. Then he started to read the reviews of it. 

Well we survived the night. The shower was the sort you'd keep your boots on in, my bathroom had a few mold free walls, the rooms were tiny, I had coffee making equipment, my door handle came off, and I was outside by 630am. "The Nephew" had a worse night than me. But he chose which key to have.

So we headed up the A1 and stopped for breakfast at Macs. We were soon on site in Budle Bay. It took us a while to sort the area out. There were thousands of Barnacle Geese flying out from the roost, but very few were going into the fields. It appeared that only when the tide came in did they finally go into the fields. We found a nice spot, and spent nearly two hours scanning through thousands upon thousands of Barnacle Geese and Pink-footed Geese. As you stood there, you spotted flocks high in orbit dropping into the bay, obviously fresh in on migration. Unfortunately, no one had spotted the small one yet. 

At 10am, we made the short distance to Gosport Golf Club where the obliging immature Long-tailed Skua was still in residence.


By the time we returned, the tide had come in and the vast majority of Barnacle Geese were now in a field, distantly viewable from the Harper's Heugh layby. After a few false claims, we eventually were watching the Richardson's Canada Geese. It is actually an England tick for me, and a British tick for "The Hilda". It looks like some of the new wannabe's let this one waft over their heads even without noticing it. Apprentices my feckin arse.

I borrowed this picture from twitter and I thank the original photographer from the bottom of my heart, and if you are ever in England's finest city, I'll show you on a map where Westport is. 

And so we headed home. In the first two days of our holiday, we'd had a decent start. 



September 2017 - some more

It has been pointed out by senior members of Hilda's nephew's management team that I managed to miss off two trips that were made during September. I don't quite know how this unfortunate error occurred, but hopefully this additional blog will prevent the matter from going to the courts.

On September 2nd we headed off on our first official trip of the Autumn, starting off at Bempton Cliffs where a GREENISH WARBLER had been lingering for a few day. As we stood and stared at the bushes without seeing a single bird, we suddenly realised there might have been a massive clear out of birds. We did see Gannet though.

Gannet
 After a quick sea watch from Flamborough we headed down to Nottinghamshire and Lound GP for six Red-crested Pochard, then finished the day at Rutland. After another run around, we found the s/pl Red-necked Grebe from the fishermans car park, and from the reserve, we had good views of the eclipse drake American Wigeon.

Great White Egret at Rutland

Eclipse drake American Wigeon



Video taken by Lord Lichfield

The other trip I forgot about was to County Durham for the Scops Owl at Ryhope. Hilda's nephew had a day off in the week and went then, and so when it came on again on the Saturday, it was too good an opportunity for me to miss and I made the solo trip north. Not a bird you see everyday in Britain, and looked better in daylight this time than by torch light.



Video by Lord Lichfield
The Co.Durham Scops Owl



Well I think that is September covered now. You never know, I may get the trips in the right order on the next blog.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

September 2017

Quick catch up blog with a quick overview of September. On Saturday September 9th, I was doing my chores around the house when news came of a juvenile Wilson's Phalarope in Lancashire. It was an easy trip and I enjoyed good views at Alston Resv, a new site for me too. Unfortunately it only stayed the one day.


The only other trips of note were down to the Weymouth area. Hilda's nephew shot down in the week to see the Stilt Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper at Lodmoor, followed by the Wryneck on Portland and the Woodchat Shrike in Gloucs. With nothing else around for the Saturday trip, Hilda's nephew came down again for an almost repeat trip with myself and The Stalker (no lying on the settee whinging his balls off for the lad - Hilda would be so proud). Unfortunately, the trip was to end in bitter disappointment and arguing, as there was no sign of the Stilt Sandpiper. However all the other birds showed absolutely fantastically and it was a belter of a trip.


This video is taken by Lord Lichfield. I have to point this out as I'm sick of getting threatening letters from his management company now when I don't credit his videos.


This video is by me. 

Other than a trip to Norfolk for the PGTips dip, when there were a total of five Clayheads on site, nothing much else happened. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Purple Heron in Lancashire

August just fizzled out really following the first two weekends. I managed to join the "I dipped the Caspian Tern twice" club but it wasn't until the Bank Holiday weekend that we all popped out again.

Saturday August 26th started like any normal Saturday used to at Westport. As soon as news broke, The Stalker joined us and we headed up to Leighton Moss. We walked straight to one of the hides and there was the juv Purple Heron feeding away in the reeds. The hide was packed, and there were even some birdwatchers among the crowd.


Struggling as to where to go next, I suggested a Black Grouse site I had visited in 2001. Obviously a sunny afternoon at the end of August is prime time to see Black Grouse so we didn't really know what to expect. The drive took over an hour, but the scenery was nice and it was part of the world we don't visit very often. And when we arrived there were two Black Grouse sat in a field. Result!


And finally to catch up we headed off to Bempton on September 2nd to photograph some Gannets. And amazingly we found some. Not in the bushes as expected, but on the cliff face.


On the way back home we called into Lound GP for six Red-crested Pochards and then to Rutland for the summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe and an eclipse drake American Wigeon.



Oh and then there was this.



Sunday, 3 September 2017

To Murcar and beyond....

A quick advert from our unofficial sponsors tonight.



And a little bit of music to listen to while reading the blog. 


Apologies for the last post. A real low point in Clayhead blog history. Even lower than the blog about Mr Wrong Trousers and Mr Duck-on-a-rope Man (showing well hey - tug it in a bit to get it closer).  

Anyway, back to Murcar. I can't even remember where I got to. Oh yes, that dreadful song...

Right. We headed up to Murcar with the intention of if we didn't see it on the Friday, we could stay the Saturday. Just to recap, it was Shirley Not, Hilda's nephew and The Stalker who headed north. We parked up by the now very familiar Murcar Golf Course and walked out to the beach.

Hard to know what to caption for this photo but here goes - Entrance sign to Murcar Golf Club
We met two birders coming the other way. As often happens, they instantly recognised us and started chatting, asking for photo's, autographs, merchandise, you know the usual stuff. Anyway, they had seen the WWS and told us where to view from, and what else was in the flock. Result. We almost started grinning, but it did put a spring in the step of The Stalker (wow he can jog on a sandy beach. Olympic standard beach walker) and Shirley Not. Unfortunately Hilda's nephew decided to admire the view and do a bit of beach combing. 

We walked down the beach to the first pill box. Yes there were a few Scoter but The "Mo Farah-esque" Stalker decided it was the next pillbox that we should walk to. It was a Blakeney Point type walk; constantly looking for some hard sand. We must have walked nearly 15 miles down that beach to the 2nd pill box. 

We set our scopes up. It was a decent sized Scoter flock. We scanned expectantly. We soon found a Surf Scoter which was good news - the two birders we met told us there was a Surfie in the same flock.

We scanned that flock for hours. We made a decision to head off up to the dunes to gain a bit of height and this made viewing slightly easier. It was amazing to see an active Scoter flock in action. What amazed us was that all the Eider were grouped together, all the Velvets were together and the rest was on the edge. We watched the whole flock go to sleep. We watched a small group of Velvets start to feed, then after over three hours of scanning, we spotted a Velvet with a slightly more pronounced eye patch. And we all watched it. And we all saw it. And we all knew it was the adult White-winged Scoter. And the we sort of breathed a sigh of relief. It was tough birding.

Celebrate? Not really. Late to the party? Not really. Some of us saw it in 2011 so if anyone was late to the party it was the 2016 tickers! For one of the group it was the 3rd time he'd seen the bird.

The "late to the party celebration" photo.  
It was a relief more than anything. The afternoon turned into an attempt to re find the bird for more birders who turned up but despite repeated scanning, we never saw it again. We did see a fine juv Pomarine Skua and a Bonxie fly past, but by mid afternoon, we were fu@@ked, sorry flagging.

After a quick break in Macs, CJW headed south and managed to carry on driving to the borders. He did a sterling job and showed he was amongst the second best drivers in the car. Unfortunately, the Clayheads main driver had to bail him out. As it was, we arrived home well after 1am, due to a complete closure of the M6 in Cheshire. It caused mayhem. 

But it was a job well done.  

Sorry for lack of photo's and video's this time from Lord Lichfield. You should have heard RBA shouting down the phone at him. All I could hear were the words incompetent, fraud and amateur being said. Anyway, here's the only other picture taken that day


But at least you didn't have to listen to the world's worst song again. When I'm driving, that was the sort of music we listen to. Fantastic hey!