Sunday, 30 January 2011

Saturday 29th January 2011

Another day out in Staffordshire was planned, following on from last weekends rather productive session. First stop after Westport was at Brookleys Lake, which was rather frozen following a fall to -3C overnight. All the wildfowl were congregated around a small open patch on the right, and so we stayed at the bottom and scoped from there so as to avoid flushing. We saw six Mandarin.

A pair of Mandarin at Brookleys Lake

We had brief pauses at JCB Pools, Rocester and on the causeway at Blithfield before heading to Branston GPs, and our first visit of the year to this site. The first pool was quite busy with two Pink-feet among the Greylags, 22 Gadwall, six Shelduck, 62 Wigeon, 45 Pochard and a Redshank, but the rest of the pits were virtually birdless, with just two Crows on the Sandy Pits and single Green Sands and Redshank further along.

We were going to check other pits in the area but with working and maintenance going on, it was necessary to head elsewhere. We made the decision to cross the county line and head down to West Mids County and go and see the BLACK-THROATED DIVER at Clayhanger Marsh. This was a new site to us, and many thanks to Messrs Yapp, Nuttall and Jones who all assisted in trying to get us to the site. We did eventually find Ryder's Mere (the problem was it was in Pelsall, and not Brownhills or Clayhanger) and easily found the very showy juvenile Black-throated Diver. We had been alerted to the fact that the diver was showing a chin strap, but despite all our efforts, we couldn't quite make it into a PACIFIC.

Juvenile Black-throated Diver on Ryder's Mere

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Saturday 22nd January 2011

A surprise visitor to the garden this week with a Sparrowhawk feeding on one of the local racing pigeons. It seemed quite happy just to sit there despite the whole household watching it through the window.

And so onto Saturday and amazingly my first full days birding in Staffordshire this year. First stop was at Gailey where two Bewick's Swans were still present with a small flock of Mutes.

We then went onto the Chase for the GREAT GREY SHRIKE, but, we couldn't find it and the Chase was generally very quiet.
Next stop was just past Croxall and the five Whopper Swans were showing very well in the field.

We finished off the day at Chasewater for the roost. This was my first roost at the new look Chasewater, and it was a bit of a nightmare. Some gulls were roosting on the water, and some on the shore in the middle, but these were clumped together tightly, so you couldn't really see them all. Then all these plus the ones on the water were flushed by something and most flew off. There were still a few gulls dropping in late on, and fortunately, Steve Richards, who was standing on the veranda with Jules, rang to tell the juvenile Iceland Gull had dropped in. The drake Smew was also showing well all afternoon.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Saturday 15th January 2011 - Just rubbish!

News broke late Thursday night of a probable SLATY-BACKED GULL at Rainham in Greater London. It was seen again several times during Friday afternoon, and so we decided to head down on Saturday. It was a good decision as finally, late on Friday evening, its identity was confirmed following a series of flight shots published on Surfbirds. CJW was working all weekend, and so Carl joined us today. We set off at 04-30hrs and enjoyed an easy and trouble free journey to Rainham, arriving just after 07-30hrs. Howard was on hand as soon as we arrived and guided us in to a space in an already packed car park. In the early morning light, we set off for a 25 mins walked along the river side to the tip. It was quite windy, but fortunately dry.
As we were walking along, three cockney geezers in front were staring at some gulls flying over in the gloom. We asked them what they were looking at - they thought they had just seen the SLATY-BACK fly over. Interesting we thought. We eventually arrived at the tip - and we were confronted with a long line of birders all standing on top of a bank jammed up against the fence. We tried a few places first before we eventually joined the end of the line. This was to be our home for the next four hours.

We just spent hours scanning through the thousands of gulls in flight over the tip and those sitting on the deck. There was very little calling out in our area and we had no knowledge of what was going on further down the line. We just hoped the pagers would produce the goods. There was some early excitement as someone just a bit further along shouted up for a Doctor. The ambulance turned up eventually about an hour later. The poor bloke had waited so long he walked off with the paramedics.

At 12-15hrs, I finally decided to leave my spot just to stretch my legs at the bottom of the bank. I was starting to feel the effects of standing in a strong wind all morning. I noticed a small commotion along the line and then people started running. I returned to my spot and informed the others. The story was that two Belgians had seen an interesting bird with two LBBG's over the tip and it had flown towards the river. This seems to sparked the beginning of the end, as the tipping also finished and most of the gulls started to disperse. Some birders went to the river, some stayed at the tip, others just stood around talking like they had all morning.
We decided to walk down to the riverside. There weren't really many birders down here, and what few gulls were widely scattered on the river and the banks. We just walked along, and eventually got back to the car. And that was that. First twitch of the year and it ended in a most frustrating dip, made even worse when rumours came out that it had been claimed at 08-00hrs on the tip, and a Norfolk birder had been watching it for ten minutes sitting by a pond on the tip itself. The forum was also full of glimpse-it records (I'm sure I saw it but for only 15 nanoseconds but I returned home and checked my field guides and saw a space on my list and my mate saw it yesterday and I'm sure it was it)
Yes, right. Of course you did. And we saw a 10ft tall deep sea diver coming out of the Thames!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Saturday 8th January 2011 - Lancashire

We scoured Westport again for two hours this morning, with a GBBG as our only reward. It was our original intention to tour Staffordshire, but when the 1w RED-BREASTED GOOSE came on again in Lancashire, we had a tricky decision to make. Now I was always a little bit suspect about this goose, due to the fact it was with Pink-feet, but there was just something about the bird, plus a few other little goodies in the area that made us head north. PJ was busy chasing WAXWINGS in Longton and so it was just CJW, GAS and myself today. We headed for Staynall where the goose had been reported earlier. We found the lane, but it was one of the tighest lanes I've been down for a while, and very few passing spaces. We made one car reverse quite a way back, but fortunately they were birders (cheers chaps!) and they told us there was no sign of it, and no one had seen it either. Viewing here was extremely difficult - a combination of undulating fields in a valley and high hedges, so we drove down to the bottom road to try and get better views. Three birders were walking back to their cars from out of a field, so I stopped and waited to chat to them. One was Bill Brydges, so we had a little chat. The Pink-feet were in the field, but they couldn't see them properly as they would have been flushed if they had gone any further. It was turning into a frustrating visit. Soon all the geese were up in the air (a duck shoot was going on nearby) and we saw where they landed and headed there. Viewing was from the narrow lane again and eventually we found a gap in the hedge and we could view most of the flock - but there was no sign of the R B Goose. We tried again from another angle where most of the birders in the area had gathered but we were looking into the sunlight from here. Most birders gave up and we headed for Fluke Hall to the north, a place where I remember seeing geese on my last visit up here in 2002. At last we found a field full of Pink-feet all perfectly visible, but, no sign of the RBGoose. We did see some more in a field further back with 11 Whopper Swans, but again not all were visible here. By now we had spent nearly three hours in the area, and so we decided to call it a day.

Above - Pink-footed Geese at Fluke Hall

We headed down to Fairhaven Lake where we soon spotted a very showy 1w Red-necked Grebe. It was relatively easy to spot - you just had to look where the long lens boys were gathered. But for a Red-necked Grebe, it was showing ridiculously close in at times. There was also a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers here as well. And that was all wwe had time for. We originally planned to head down to Inner Marsh for the GREEN-WINGED TEAL but we had run out of time.

Above - Red-necked Grebe and Red-breasted Mergansers at Fairhaven Lake

Postscript to RED-BREASTED GOOSE -The following two afternoons, the RBGoose was to be found in the Fluke Hall/Pilling Lane area, exactly where we had been. When I asked on the forum for local opinion on the bird, this is the reply I got -
Local opinion is probably what local opinion anywhere would be these days:

- it's definitely wild
- there's no way of knowing
- it's definitely an escape

No there hasn't been one knocking around this summer. It isn't immediately evident how a first winter would end up in with Pinkfeet. Red-breasted Goose did breed in the 'wild' in the UK this year but apparently on dates it isn't one of that brood. It is the kind of record where 'unknown origin' means just that but if I had to come off the fence I would say it is an escape which would have to be from a successful captive pairing.

Stephen Dunstan

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Sunday 2nd January - East Norfolk

We always plan a new year trip to Norfolk, and this year, having seen the NORTHERN HARRIER before Christmas, we decided to head to see the TAIGA BEAN GEESE instead. I last saw one of these back in 2003 and had never seen any in Norfolk, having dipped them once in 2006. To add some excitement to the day, the LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE was still present. We had a few other sites in mind too, but we would see how the day panned out. It was a full Clayhead Crew with GAS, PJ and CJW joining us again after his month long girl flu session. After a mammoth 3hr 45 mins journey (this ain't as close as North Norfolk!) we parked up in School Lane to view Cantley Marshes. As we were walking down, a birder asked us if we knew where we were going. In true Clayhead fashion we replied with a no, and he gave us directions to a field just up the lane. We joined a group of about 15 birders but the viewing through the trees was limited, seeing only a small flock of Taiga's. We already had been told that there was no sign of the LWFG here. Moments later it came on PJ's pager that it was down the road at Buckenham Marshes, so in true wacky races style, we all sped off. We parked up at Buckenham, walked just a few metres down the lane to join the crowd, only to be then told that it was an erroneous message. The goose was a feral/hybrid LWFG that lived with thelocal Greylags/Farmyard Geese. Things were not going to plan, so we wandered down the track to see what was on offer here, and hoped the LWFG would be found soon. We had good views of Peregrine, endless numbers of Wigeon plus a few waders. There was also a Chinese Water Deer. The visit was only spoilt by a heavy sleet shower, but we found some shelter and sat and pondered, watching the birders taking the long walk following the River Yare to view the Taiga's, and discussing whether we should follow them or not.

Above - Peregrine, CWD and Wigeon at Buckenham Marshes

Then PJ's pager (again Dag!) came up trumps. The LWFG was at Cantley, viewable from the bottom of School Lane - the very place we were heading for in the first place before being directed away to the field. We managed to jam into a parking space and walked down to view from the gate at the bottom. It was quite crowded and premium spaces were limited. After a short wait, the adult Lesser White-fronted Goose came into view as it fed in a flock of c50 Taiga's. It then walked behind a bush and out of view, and apart from a brief glimpse I had of it through the bush, that was the last we saw of it.

Above - Taiga Bean Geese at Cantley

Above - PJ's excellent Lesser White-fronted Goose drawing

It had taken us slightly longer to see the LWFG than we had originally planned, but we still stuck to our plan and heading to Stubbs Mill and for the Cranes/Harrier roost. We had a quick scan on arrival, and then we walked up the river to view the fields, but apart from several Marsh Harriers, there were no sign of any CRANES. We could have driven round to Horsey, but we decided to stay put at the watchpoint. The were several large flocks of Pink-feet flying over, and PJ , whilst pouring a coffee, pointed out a low flying group. One quick scan of my bins revealed they were not geese and I shouted out to everyone to take a look at these! It was a truly marvellous sight to see nine Cranes slowly fly past right in front of you. We saw two Bitterns fly over the reeds, one being chased by at least five Marsh Harriers, a Woodcock flew around us twice, a Peregrine, five Whopper Swans and a Hen Harrier was reported as being seen but unfortunately this happened while I was taking the car to the proper parking space 4 miles down the lane.

Above - The Crane fly past at Stubbs Mill

Later, another three Cranes flew in, but these were more distant.

Below - Some of the Pink-feet going over

New Year 2011

1st January 2010
A quiet start to the New Year this year with a visit to Westport on the 1st to start things off. We managed to bag the highly prized Westport mega - the female Pheasant - on our list following several days of careful preparation to entice it to stay. We also saw Goosander, Wigeon and Teal but it was generally a quiet visit (38 species in all). Below is a video of the Pheasant hiding under the bushes in the snow taken through my bins - its a corker!

I then planned a quick solo trip during the afternoon, birding just in the city with three target species. The 25 Waxwings were still at the bottom of Anchor Road,but it took me slightly longer to find two Long-eared Owls at Parkhall plus two Golden Plover in the field. Finally, I decided to head to the North Staffs Bird Forum's own bird reserve Berryhill to see the wintering Short-eared Owls. Now I was expecting a full turn out here of every member of the bird forum (as had happened every night at the back end of last year) but I was pleasantly surprised to find just me, a dog walker and two other birdwatchers who stood right up at the far end. The two Short-eared Owls showed down to a few feet again.

4th January 2010
A quick trip to Westport saw an adult Yellow-legged Gull standing on the ice - another useful addition to the Westport year list.

Sammy the resident Westport Shoveler (present for nearly a year now) has decided to give up shovelling and take up the far nicer bread option on the car park.

Final visit of the day was at Doxey for the Bitterns. One had been showing well before we arrived, but we just managed to catch the last glimpses of it before it went into the reeds. We probably had a second bird fly over from the right later on as well.

Monday, 3 January 2011

A quick review of 2010

The year saw me add six British ticks to my list - namely Scottish Crossbill in Scotland, Lesser Kestrel in Suffolk, the Lincolnshire Oriental Pratincole, the Gwent Marmora's Warbler, Alder Flycatcher on Blakeney Point and the Cornish American Bittern. I also saw the Norfolk Northern Harrier and the House Finch in Devon but we'll save these for later. Luckily, I only dipped once this year - on the usually productive Flamborough Head and the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler.

Above - Lesser Kestrel on Westleton Heath, Suffolk 31st March 2010

Above - Oriental Pratincole at Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire on 11th May 2010

Above - Marmora's Warbler at Blorenge, Gwent

In Staffordshire, it was rather quiet all year, but there was just the one tick, the Franklin's Gull at Chasewater on 15th July.

It was a good year at Westport Lake, with my highest year total to date - 112. I also managed six ticks enabling my promotion into the exclusive Westport150 Club - Woodcock, Nuthatch, Crossbill, Green Sandpiper, Sandwich Tern and Pheasant plus added Tawny Owl to my heard only list, and Marbled Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Cape Shelduck and Chestnut Teal to my feral duck list.

Nuthatch and Sandwich Tern at Westport.

and not forgetting Marbles in June

I also had a Brent Goose, a flock of 16 Barnacle Geese, a Black-tailed Godwit, two Green Sandpipers, Hobby, two Little Egrets, Lesser Whitethroat and Mediterranean Gull.

It was a year of seconds this year, with six birds being seen only for the second time - Pallid Swift, Iberian Chiffchaff, Gull-billed Tern, Booted Warbler, Arctic Warbler and finally, after a 23yr wait, Pied-billed Grebe.

Other rares included a Bonaparte's Gull on Anglesey, two King Eiders off Burghead in March and off Suffolk in October, a drake Blue-winged Teal in Cambs, Northern Long-tailed Tit in Suffolk and a Glossy Ibis on Anglesey.

Bonaparte's Gull, Lligwy, Anglesey. January 2010

Ferruginous Duck, Brookleys Lake, Staffs. January 2010

Buzzard at Gigrin Farm, Powys in February 2010

The overwintering Black Kite at Gigrin in February 2010

Capercaillie in Scotlandshire in March 2010

And finally, who can forget the bird of the year, the Alder Flycatcher on Blakeney. This was very satisfying after harshly dipping the Cornish bird in 2008, but boy, those who saw it on the Sunday will never forget the conditions from midday onwards.

Two of the Clayhead Crew celebrating seeing the Alder Flycatcher.