Saturday, 24 December 2011

24th December 2011 - Christmas Eve

A quick walk round a very quiet Westport saw little change, then it was onto that birding hotspot - Fenton Park for the Lesser Whitethroat. I stood in the pouring rain for this yesterday and not surprisingly I didn't see it. Today we hadn't been there long when it came into view, drinking nectar from the yellow flower bush. A bit darker than I expected, but whether it will ever be racially id'd, I doubt it. Still, a nice December tick. We weren't planning a full day out today, so we decided to head to Upper Longsdon. We parked up, and I had walked to the edge of the lay by and there was the Great Grey Shrike sitting in front of me. Good views were had. All a bit too easy!

Great Grey Shrike at Upper Longsdon

And that was all for the day. I returned home and did a few jobs. Just as we were sitting down, PJ rang to say he'd found the ICELAND GULL again on the Void. I hurtled down and we were soon watching the juvenile Iceland Gull roosting/preening with a good number of other larger gulls. We had a 4w Yellow-legged Gull, two GBB's, c50 Herring Gulls and 190 LBBG's.

The Iceland Gull on the Void

Not too bad a day really. Finally, all the Clayhead boys would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas (except to all of you wannabe Sandwell Valley types. Shame on you. Its not big and its not clever.Santa's watching)

Monday, 19 December 2011

Saturday 17th December 2011 - A Crane at Blithfield on a three coat day!

Another Saturday, and another days birding to be done. Westport was wet and cold with quite a snow fall as I was walking round. I did see seven Teal and four Goldeneye, so it was worth getting my first coat of the day soaked.

Armed with my second coat of the day, we headed down to Blithfield for the duck count. It was good to be back doing the count around the Deep End, but, unfortunately, it was still sleeting. In fact, it never stopped as I walked the complete circuit. Twice I had to seek shelter in the fishermens huts just to get out of the near blizzard conditions. Plus there weren't actually that many ducks to count. Perhaps they had all flown north to warmer climes. How did we all survive last winters epic six week spell!

As I was walking across the dam, with the sleet stinging my face, my thoughts turned to this blog, and what on earth was I going to write. Then, like a vision, there appeared a CRANE in front of me. Perfect I thought, that will do nicely, and I managed to get a few photo's of it on the shore.

Sorry for not putting the sighting out earlier. A fine example you'd all agree. I suppose Tips put that on his year list as well.

The funny thing was, up until this point, CRANE was my best sighting of the day. I walked into Mickledale Bay, counted the Mallard and Wigeon before they flew out, and then noticed a few birds feeding on and around a freshly dug drainage channel. There were a few Goldfinches, a Robin and a Black Redstart. I had to look twice as I couldn't quite believe I'd found something half decent on a day like this. As the sleet hammered down, the Black Redstart fed unconcerned. I called GAS and extracted him from the warmth of his car. I then made the secret signal to the other members of the Blithfield Birders Group and the bird was successfully twitched.

I trudged on, counted Portfields and then headed for the warmth of the car - second coat totally soaked. Next stop was at Branston, but despite the forecast for a drier afternoon, it was still raining heavily. I was down to my third and final coat and so we sat in the car waiting for it to stop. Fellow Clayhead PJ was at Rudyard, seeing his second EIDER in Staffordshire. We had a brief conversation, and he told me how he was watching the EIDER from the comfort of his car. Moments later, I had a text thru saying RED-THROATED DIVER at Rudyard. I forwarded it to PJ, only to find that as he was watching the EIDER, the RTD popped up next to it! We were faced with a tricky decision now. Either get soaked walking round one of the pits in the rain or head to Rudyard for a fine North Staffs tick.

The journey up to Leek wasn't too bad, but as we got nearer to Rudyard, the rain turned to snow. Quite heavy snow. In fact the A523 was quite slippery, and we nearly slid on one of the bends. We headed for the north end of Rudyard where PJ had been, but we just couldn't find a decent place where to stop. The snow paused briefly, and so we headed to the sailing club. The road went over the moors onto high ground, and we were soon driving on very slippery roads, with snow still coming down. From the sailing club, we could see the Eider, but no sign of the diver. We drove up to the dam, and I started walking. In the end, I walked the whole length of the lake, back to the north end, and still there was no sign. My suspicions were that it flew off as soon as it had stopped snowing. I did see two drake Mandarin though, another Rudyard tick!

PJ's shot of the Eider showing the snow falling
My photo as the light was fading.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Monday 12th December 2011 - A Staffs tick!

News started filtering thru today on Birdnet that an EIDER was present for its 2nd day at Rudyard. Several strokes of luck meant that Steve Seal was off today and able to pop up and confirm its presence, plus I started work at 0600 today and so I was able to have a legitimate early finish. Unfortunately tho, I only had my bins on me as I'd stopped carrying my scope in the car with me on a daily basis now as it was winter. I arrived at the sailing club at Rudyard at 14-20hrs, and was soon watching my first Eider in Staffs. Having missed the Westport EIDER by a day (I'd paid a visit the day before but decided not to go the day the EIDER was present) it was a welcome addition, especially as Eider have become quite scarce in Staffordshire in the last decade.

So due to have no scope or camera with me, I had to phonebin!

But Steve Seal produced the goods again, and with his kind permission, I am able to post some of his pictures below. Thanks Steve again!

Check out Steves blog here

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Saturday 10th December 2011 - Two out of three ain't bad

Cue my favourite Meatloaf song!

Anyway, we decided to stay local today and started off at Westport as per usual. Its been quite a quiet period down there recently, so when three Goosanders flew in, it was high fives all round. But that was about as good as it got.

Then we headed down to south Staffs for a couple of ticks. We were originally heading to Gailey first for the BLACK REDSTART and then it was fingers crossed time that the TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE would fly back into Belvide for us. However, as we headed down the M6, news came thru that the TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE had already arrived. We reset the sat nav and headed to Belvide first.

It was fairly quiet at Belvide; presumably all the new Staffs listers and dodgy year listers had already seen the flock of Beans present here a few weeks ago. We walked to the West end and met up with SN. The Tundra Bean Goose was still present and showing well on the shore. Still a rare bird in Staffs, this is my 3rd one, following the Whitemoor Haye birds in 2004/5 and Ingestre birds in Jan 2006 (Thanks to PJ for pointing this out - forgot about Ingestre birds!)

The Tundra Bean Goose at Belvide

Blast from the past - The Whitemoor birds in Dec 2004.

.......and the Ingestre birds in Jan 2006.

So with our first tick in the bag (a Belvide tick of course!), we headed for our second tick (a Gailey tick). There was a small crowd at Gailey, but we soon realised the BLACK REDSTART had not been seen for a while. We met up with Westport Lake's resident photographer Steve Seal, and he assured us that if we stood by the sailing club, then it would keep returning to feed on the shore. We stood there for a short time, and then "Lucky" CJW got itchy feet and wandered off. I followed him and we walked up the causeway in between the two lakes. Then the Black Redstart flew in. We headed back and just managed to get onto it before it flew back to the island. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get a photo, but I know a man who did, and Mr Steve Seal has kindly given me permission to show you his photo's on my blog.

make sure you check out Steve's excellent blog

A shore line at Gailey! Messrs Snapper and Moore-hen have been so desparate to add waders to their patch list that they've siphoning the water away since Autumn.

And so with two site ticks in the bag, we had a decision to make as to where we would head to next. After several suggestions, we decided to head to Clee Hill for the long staying DESERT WHEATEAR. It was less than 30 miles away and about an hours drive, so we headed off. The sat nav performed wonders again, and we were parked up by the quarry on Clee Hill by 14-30hrs.

We had already spoken to a couple of birders as we drove up, and they hadn't seen the DESERT WHEATEAR in nearly an hours search. We set off and searched the whole area, and there was a steady flow of birders coming and going but by 15-30hrs, we had to admit defeat. It was quite windy up there, but we did find a few sheltered areas but there was just no sign. Desert Wheatear will just have to wait a little bit longer to get on my Shropshire list.

Its possible to see Blackpool Tower and Big Ben from up here on a clear day.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Saturday 3rd December - A peep show in Norfolk

When a SEMI-P SANDPIPER at Cley was re-identified on Thursday as a WESTERN SANDPIPER, PJ rang me to ask if I was interested in going to see it on Saturday. I replied with "Already seen one. Don't need it". Now this is something I don't have the privilege of saying very often to veteran British lister PJ, as his list is considerably larger than mine (He's a member of the UK500 club now!). In fact, I only have three birds on him, one of which is WESTERN SANDPIPER.

Western Sandpiper at Brownsea Island in Oct 2004.

We had planned to pop down to Chew to see the SHARP-TAILED SAND and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, but you usually can't go wrong with a day out to Norfolk and so I agreed to change my plans and help PJ make his list that bit bigger. "Lucky" CJW was also available to come along, despite having only two hours sleep following a late shift. We set off at 05-00hrs, and arrived at Cley at 08-40hrs.

Now in time honoured Clayhead tradition, we decided to sneak into the reserve without buying a permit. We walked along the path, knowing the fact that the WESTERN SANDPIPER was showing and we could see the hides. Then, on the last bend, a cunning NWT warden was carefully positioned to check permits. We then had to retrace our steps and walk all the way back to the visitors centre. The most annoying thing about this was not the long walk back with the bird showing, nor was it that they could have told us before hand to buy a permit (original instructions said the visitors centre was open at 10-00hrs to buy permits), but the fact that when we walked back towards the hide, the little man had disappeared, and in fact I showed no one my permit at all during my visit.

Anyway, we managed to squeeze ourselves in one of the hides, and we were soon watching the Western Sandpiper distantly. Views weren't great, and then it poured down and the light wasn't very good.

Western Sandpiper at Cley, Dec 2011

Eventually it flew off down onto the other scrape. We moved into the Daukes hide, but we were now looking into the sun. So we walked down to the Bishop hide where we hoped we would have good views with the sun behind us. But by the time we reached the hide, it had flown back to the Simmonds scrape. We did however, see the drake Green-winged Teal, a Norfolk tick would you believe for "Lucky" CJW and PJ.

Everyone agreed that we should head back up to look at the Western Sandpiper for one last time. The sun was out now, the hide wasn't too busy and the bird was out of view, tucked up below a bank! It did eventually show, and we could finally see all the Western Sand features such as the legs looked like a Western Sand's legs, and the plumage and shape were also reminiscent of a Western Sand.

My photo's of the Western Sandpiper - A valuable aid in the id process for anyone.

For a more in depth discussion on the identification of Western Sandpipers, click here

PJ and "Lucky" CJW in the hides at Cley

And so we headed along the coast for our next target bird, the ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD at Holkham. We stopped overlooking the fresh marsh at first, seeing 70+ White-fronted Geese, a Marsh Harrier and a few Egyptian Geese. We carried along a bit further, and found loads of cars parked and birders. It looked promising, and by the time we had crossed the road, the Rough-legged Buzzard had been found and was flying in front of the pines. It was a bit distant, but it performed very well for us, even landing on the ground. Another Norfolk tick for CJW - his third of the trip!

Rough-legged Buzzard at Holkham/Burnham Overy Dunes - copies available on request

We were on a roll now, and our last stop was at Titchwell for the YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. We were told that it had been heard calling around the car park area, and we had a good look around there and along to the Fen hide, but we didn't see it. We did see, however, a Spoonbill, Spotted Redshank and Little Egret to finish off a fine day's birding in Norfolk.

This sign was in the visitors centre at Titchwell. I'm glad that good old Potteries dialect is alive and kicking in North Norfolk. Good on you young Bob!

PJ trying to photograph the fancy handles in the weird Parinder hide.

Two Pintail

Wigeon showing well

Little Egret at Titchwell (photo by PJ)

Black-tailed Godwit at Titchwell (photo by PJ)

A triumphant Clayhead gang trudge wearily back to the car at the end of the day.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Saturday 19th November - Northumberland

Last week as we were walking around Branston, we received news that a GREATER YELLOWLEGS had been found in Northumberland. We were actually looking for the Derbyshire GLOSSY IBIS at the time. We considered racing up for it, but then it started getting more active and flighty and we reconsidered; the problem being that if we headed up and then the bird disappeared, we would actually have ruined our planned day out and just spent the day driving up and down the motorway.

Of course, the GREATER YELLOWLEGS performed all day on Sunday but it just wasn't convenient to head up there (I didn't even dare to ask permission to be honest) and so began one of the fun parts of twitching - the week long build up. Sometimes when a rare turns up late on a Friday, there is no build up to the event, you just head off on the Saturday and jobs done - it can be a little bit flat on occasions. So with a week to wait, you have the excitement of waiting every day to see if its still present, dreading every time when it flies off high to the south (as the GREATERLEGS did on the Tuesday, only to return at 10-00!) but eventually, by Friday, you start to think it may just stay until Saturday (as we thought with the bloody Sandhill Crane - "as good as on our list" said Mr Jones). And with the finding of another EASTERN BLACK REDSTART on Holy Island, we not only had two decent birds to go and see, it also saved us a possible trip down to Kent where the other EASTERN BLACK REDSTART was.

And so with all the birds still in place on Friday afternoon, the finishing touches were put in place. PJ opted out of the trip, and so it was just myself, GAS and "Lucky Chris" who headed up north, setting off at 03-30hrs.

The GREATERLEGS had last been seen at Druridge Bay CP and so that's where we headed for first, arriving at 07-30hrs. There were a few birders arriving on site at the same time as us, and we all headed down to the lakeside. We started seeing birds almost immediately, with at least three Scaup (one a male) on the lake and four Red-breasted Mergansers. One birder started walking and checked to the right of the centre, and then he started checking the shore to the left. We just stood still, but we were well placed when another birder shouted to us that the GREATERLEGS had been found - at Hauxley. We headed back to the car and hurtled up the coast to Hauxley. We parked up, walked down the path to Eric's Hide, opened the door and there was ...........just one birder sat on the bench. He informed us that the GREATERLEGS had flown, and was probably showing from the other hide - the one we had just walked past.

We laughed at the thought that it could be one of those days, wandering up and down the coast chasing the GREATERLEGS from reserve to reserve. We entered the other hide, and everyone was crowded up the corner. The Greater Yellowlegs was literally feet away from the hide, but it was tucked right up the corner. I lent over and managed to glimpse it, but eventually it started to walk along the shore. I gambled and took a seat at the front of the hide, and soon enough, the GREATER YELLOWLEGS walk straight past me, only a few feet away. Incredible views were had in the early morning sun.

The juv Greater Yellowlegs

Video of the Greater Yellowlegs at Hauxley NR

We then headed up to Holy Island.

The safe crossing time was at 10-56hrs, but we arrived just after 10-00hrs. Several cars were already heading over, but the road was still quite wet. We sat in the lay by and had a quick scan around, finding a flock of c150 Pale-bellied Brent Geese. After only about ten minutes wait, the road was dry and we drove across, seeing a Merlin flying across, only to be chased by a Peregrine. We were soon walking into the town and down onto the beach. Two birders were walking from our right, and so we started walking in the same direction. I climbed down onto the beach, but by the time I was down, "Lucky" Chris had found the Eastern Black Redstart working its way along the seaweed. It really was an awesome bird - with its red belly it looked like a weird Redstart. We eventually had good views of it as it fed quite unconcerned in front of an ever growing audience.

The Eastern Black Redstart

As we stood there, we had flocks of dark-bellied Brent Geese flying past, plus in the channel there was a good sized Merganser flock, six Long-tailed Ducks (five were splendid males) and a few Eider. We also had a flock of 17 probable Tundra Bean Geese over as well. We walked round to the harbour where there were mixed dark & pale-bellied Brents plus a flock of 80 White-fronted Geese flew over.

Brent Geese in the harbour

White-fronts overhead

We weren't finish yet though. We headed south to see the LESSER SCAUP at Marsden Quarry. On the way, however, we had news that the two ROSS'S GEESE were still present. We headed towards Dunston Hill, and eventually we found the flock of geese. The two Ross's Geese were easily spotted, but we also had good numbers of Barnacle Geese, several White-fronts and 5+ Tundra Bean Geese in with the Pink-foots. A fine way to end a most enjoyable days birding.