Sunday, 27 February 2011

Saturday 26th February 2011 - Rainham Marsh

Bit of music for you to listen to while you read this one

Well, there had been a few sightings of the SLATY-BACKED GULL at Rainham this week, but not many, and there were mumblings on the forum that some sightings were possibly "a bit unreliable". We discussed the pros and cons of going, but in the end wise old PJ said "you ain't gonna see it sitting at home". We also realised that time was probably running out to see this gull, as dispersal would be starting soon. We had not much to loose, resigned ourselves to possibly dipping and headed off. To be honest, I thought that maybe we had a 50:50 chance of seeing it - surely some sightings in the week were genuine?

We arrived at about 0830hrs and went straight to the tip and we were pleasantly surprised to see 15+ birders already on site.

The crowd at the tip on our arrival

The tip....again

We watched the tip until about 1100hrs but we felt that there weren't that many large gulls present and so with the constant rain that was to last for the next five hours we headed back to view the marsh. So now the birders were split between two sites. Here we heard a rumour that a named birder had seen the SBG on the tip during the morning, but those around him couldn't get onto it. Now bearing in mind the line of birders at the tip was c20 at that stage, we knew nothing about this sighting at all, but our hopes were raised a little - maybe it was still around? We carried on viewing the marsh and then we had the next message saying the gull had been seen flying away from the marsh and over the tip. Oh we thought. And then another message came on that the SBG had been present on the tip from 1120-1150, but this message came out about an hour too late.
So by midday, we were slightly confused and we had met no one who had seen the gull. We also heard from a local that the gull has been present everyday this week on the marsh up to Thursday.

Phil enjoying himself in the fine weather

Then things hotted up. The SBG was showing at 13-50 from the Shooting Butts hide. We all went to the Serin mound to view over the reserve. Fortunately, a voluntary warden was there and he immediately rang the centre. They knew nothing about the sighting but they named the birder who had reported it (he didn't know him though). We all then headed for the Shooting Butts hide, about a 20 min walk from the mound. Just as we were getting close to the hide, a birder came out and shook his head. It had already flown and no one knew in which direction.
So we headed back to the mound, slightly knackered, quite gutted, and we stood in the rain again and our spirits were getting lower and lower. There were very few gulls flying onto the marsh (1430ish) but a few trickling away, and so we thought we'd had our last opportunity to see it.
Then I noticed a bloke in a blue coat walking quite quickly in the direction of the tip, pointing towards the tip as he walked past birders. I sensed something, and suggested we headed in the direction of the tip. Soon we got the message on the pager that the SBG was on the tip. En masse everyone headed for the tip. PJ managed to do a bit of running and he reached the bottom of the slope and it was still on show. By the time he stood next to the finders, the SBG had walked out of view and down a slope. Soon there were 40+ birders looking at the tip again but despite the feeling that it would suddenly walk back into view, it never did. Then all the gulls went up, and no one was able to pick it out in flight. Most birders headed back to the marsh as most gulls were generally heading that way, but by the time we arrived, there were only a handful of large gulls still roosting - it was by now 15-45hrs. We just couldn't believe we had missed it again.

So to summarise, we stood in the rain for at least 5hrs today, and out of the 40+ birder on site today, I would guess at c5 saw the bird today. At the final showing, we did meet someone who had actually seen the gull, and this was at his 4th attempt.

Unfortunately, as far as the Clayheads are concerned, we are still firmly in the hybrid camp, and maybe for sometime to come!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Saturday 20th February - Chipping Norton, Oxon and South Mimms Services, M25

There were two potential ticks for the Clayhead Crew - the ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE in Oxfordshire and the SLATY-BACKED GULL at Rainham. Unfortunately, the SBG didn't show on Friday, but we knew we could always head down from Chipping Norton on news - Rainham was only two hours away. Due to logistics, there was only two of us in the car, but PJ travelled down with the Suttons and Karl, and we arranged to meet on site. I knew there would be quite a queue this morning, and so we set off at 04-10hrs, arriving on site in the rain at 06-10hrs. I couldn't believe how many cars there were already parked up, and my fears came true as I saw the queue that had already formed outside the house. I stood at 06-10hrs in constant rain with c50 birders already in front of me. So much for getting up early! It gradually got light at 07-00hrs, and the first Jackdaws started to appear. GAS left the warmth of his car to stand with me, and the rain eased slightly. The other car load arrived, but despite an offer to stand with me, they all nobly joined the back of the queue.

My view for nearly three hours

The rain got heavier, and despite quite a few neighbours and the first few birders being let into the house, it was clear there was no sign of the DOVE at first. The rain got heavier, and we gradually became wetter and colder. Then, at 08-45hrs, someone on the opposite side of the street spotted the dove in the trees in between the two houses. All hell broke loose, and the treasured place in the queue was lost. We all dived into whatever space we could find to try and see the dove. I gently lent on another birder and just managed to get the right angle and saw the Oriental Turtle Dove. It was all too easy and we had our tick in the bag..............ah, if life was that simple.

The Oriental Turtle Dove had virtually taken over my life this week, and I was getting to know the street quite well. This was my third attempt this week. On Tuesday, the first big full day, I suddenly felt unwell at work, and at 0900hrs I was heading south to join the queue, the plan being that the DOVE was showing and the queue had died down. I arrived at 11-35hrs with no sign of the dove since first thing and the queue was not moving. I only had two hours on site before I had to return for the school run, and needless to say, I dipped.

The queue on Tuesday

Then, on Thursday, there were frequent sightings of it in the morning. I finished work at 12-00hrs, and we again headed south. We had two sightings come on the pager while we were driving, and we were starting to feel confident we would nail it this time. The last report was at 13-10, and we arrived at 14-00hrs. At first there were just a few birders walking around, then we were joined by the successful twitchers of the SLATY-BACKED GULL returning from the south. We walked around for three hours, and again, there was no further sign.

But there's more. In December 2002, I travelled to Orkney for the long staying RUFOUS TURTLE DOVE. We planned to go on the Saturday 21st, but there had been no news on the Friday. We decided to risk it (probably they had got bored of phoning it in we thought) and anyway, with Christmas looming, it would be well into the new year before we could come up again. We drove through the night and caught the 05-00hrs ferry across. It was a nightmare crossing, and the only way I coped was to sit outside and stare at the island on the horizon. Unfortunately, I sat directly into the oncoming wind, and in my half sleep/boat sickness condition I realised I was becoming quite numb with cold. I forced myself back inside, but I completed the voyage intact. We walked over to the roosting Collared Doves, and even while it was still dark, we couldn't see the RTD, and we feared the worse. The one thing I remember about the dreadful dip was the first road sign we passed once we were back on the mainland - 100 miles to Inverness.

So back to the Oriental in Chipping Norton. It flew from the tree, and was then showing in the garden. Birders were slowly going in the house. There were only two birders in front of us - the dove was on the bird table - we would finally get in the house - and then it flew.

Eventually it was relocated down at the bottom of the street, and we all hurtled down. Now on the Bird Forum, one person who was there said he was embarrassed by the sight of grown men running down the street, jumping over the gate, jostling for position. Well pal, I've travelled 1655miles in my quest to add ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE to my British list. I think I just about deserve to run and climb after that effort!

Grown men crouching in a field after jumping over a gate - Shocking

Record shot Oriental Turtle Dove at Chipping Norton

And so despite being soaked, optically steamed up and cold, we were rather pleased at our mornings success. We decided to head off to see the AMERICAN WIGEON. We hadn't been driving for long when PJ rang me to say the SLATY-BACKED GULL had been seen at Rainham (only nine birders on site!). We made a quick decision, reset the sat nav and headed for London town. Despite torrential rain all the way, we made fairly good progress and we were about 30 mins away when we received news that it had now gone to Pitsea. We headed for South Mimms services and decided that was pretty much that for the day. The gull will just have to wait.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Saturday 12th February 2011

Normal service resumed this weekend after no birding last weekend due to being busy/wet weekend forecast. First stop, as per usual was at Westport, where we saw a whopping 33 Goosander (main lake record) plus signs of spring with the first three Shelducks of the year down there. Best bird of the day though was a new CR Coot. This bird (picture below) was rung at Crompton Lodges near Bolton on 14th Dec 2010 and walked 57km in 60days! (Well have you ever had a Coot fly over?).

Next stop was a rare visit to another North Staffs Bird Forum reserve, Uttoxeter Quarry to look for the rare geese that have been seen here recently. We easily found the goose flock viewable in fields from the access track off the A50, but viewing was hampered by the flock repeatedly feeding behind bushes. We did see one White-front and one Pink-foot, but we decided to head to the pits instead for better views. By this time, the geese had moved out of the field and onto the water, and we saw the single White-front again but no sign of the Pink-foot this time. First two Oystercatchers are the year - more signs of spring.

White-fronted Goose at Uttoxeter Quarry

Next stop was at BGP's where there was a Little Egret on the first pit, and the Sandy Pit was covered with birds including 20 Curlew and three Redshank.

We also visited other pits in area, seeing the five Whooper Swans that are usually found at Croxall, a Black-tailed Godwit plus a female Red-breasted Merganser, that probably promptly left as one was found at Blithers on Sunday.