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


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


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 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.