Sunday, 29 January 2012

Saturday 28th January 2012 - A decent day in Staffordshire

We decided on another day in Staffordshire today. Unfortunately, despite all week hoping he was having the weekend off, CJW had to work and so was unable to join us.
The day started off at Westport as per usual, but even with the presence of PJ, it wasn't very productive, and the quiet start to the year continued at the Golden Pond.
Then, I thought I had better pop into Fenton Park to see the LESSER WHITETHROAT again, having not year ticked it yet. Mr Birding Frontier aka Martin Garner had been down to see it recently and had written an interesting article on it, suggesting it was indeed an EASTERN LESSER WHITETHROAT. We walked down to the sunken garden and stood and waited. I started to wonder how long would it be for it to appear and how long were we prepared to wait for it, when, as if by magic, it appeared it the trees above us. Lesser Whitethroat -A January tick and all done and dusted in two minutes. Talk about tick and run!

Next target bird was the female RED-CRESTED POCHARD at Copmere. This wasn't so easy, mainly due to the fact that viewing the lake is a nightmare. There is just no clear view - its always through the trees. Even Roy Wents watchpoint is obscured by trees. We eventually went down to the bottom where the fishermen go in and eventually found the Red-crested Pochard. Excuse the photo, I had a tree blocking my view.

Red-crested Pochard at Copmere (or Cockmere as it was put out on Birdnet)

We were on a roll now, but we felt the next target wouldn't be as easy. We headed to Belvide for the 1w drake Scaup. Now this bird could have been anywhere but luckily, I found it from the first hide, showing distantly in the corner. No photo's of this I'm afraid.

Off to the Pits next, and some proper birding for a change. We popped into Whitemoor Haye on the way, seeing two Grey Partridges, the two Little Owls showed a treat and we also added Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer to our Whitemoor day list.

Little Owls at Whitemoor Haye

Branston GP's was not bad despite quite a bit of shooting going on in the area. We faced the task of getting through Dead Mans Wood mid Pheasant shoot, but fortunately it stopped just as we approached, and we had a nice chat with the gamekeeper. He had no complaints it was good to hear. We also didn't end up in the pot, which was also quite good. We had 97 Golden Plovers, a Green Sandpiper, three Ruff, two Redshank and a Kingfisher.

Two of the three Ruff, two Redshank and a Curlew at Branston

We finished off the day very nicely by watching a drake Smew and two Egyptian Geese, plus a sign of spring with my first Staffordshire Oystercatcher of the year. A fine day where everything fell into place so nicely.

Drake Smew

First Oystercatcher back in Staffordshire

Heron in the late afternoon sun

Record shot of two Egyptian Geese - magical birds!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Thursday 26th January 2012 - Elton Hall Flash

It had been a funny week. I was getting up at 0400hrs everyday, and so I was able to do a little bit of birding on some afternoons. The only highlight from the beginning of the week was the appearance of a funny hybrid goose at Westport, probably either a Bar-headed x Barnacle or a Bar-headed x Farmyard. It only stayed two days, so it was probably a genuine hybrid.

On Thursday 26th, news came through at 11-30hrs that the GLOSSY IBIS was again at Sandbach. This bird was proving to be a bit of a bugger, and had only reappeared in the last few days following a ten day absence. This was my first visit for it, but CJW had dipped on it once before, and GAS twice before! It was getting personal between some of the Clayheads and this bird.

We arrived at Elton Hall Flash at 12-30 but there were only two birdwatchers on site, and they were looking at Pumphouse Flash. We were told it was on the left of Elton Hall Flash, but all the birds were being repeatedly flushed by something, and we just knew it wasn't on that flash, as at one stage, every bird was in the air. We walked down to the Pumphouse Flash, only to be told it was on the left back up at Elton Hall. Then we realised it was on the left hand side of the road (opposite EHF), in a flooded area. We walked back up again and there was the Glossy Ibis walking just a few feet away from us behind the wood. We were looking through the trees and so it was probably unaware that we were standing there, but viewing was tricky through the branches.

The view through the trees with the Ibis on show.

GAS and CJW finally catch up with the evasive Ibis. A Cheshire tick for both!

Glossy Ibis at EHF

We finished off the short visit with a check through the gulls on Pumphouse Flash, having good views of the sleeping 1w Iceland Gull.

Iceland Gull on Pumphouse Flash

PJ visited Sandbach Flashes on the 28th January when the Glossy Ibis was showing a little bit better. His pictures are below.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Friday 20th January 2012 - A rainy day

It rained today, all day. Infact, it was raining when I left the house at 05-00hrs this morning and it never stopped. The news that a GREEN-WINGED TEAL was a Sandbach Flashes caused us to head up there, despite the weather. It was actually only raining lightly when we arrived, and I soon found it sitting on the bank right at the back of Elton Hall Flash. There were also four BLACK-TAILED GODWITS.

The Green-winged Teal at Sandbach Flashes.
Then it was onto wet, rainy Westport. Its a bit of a struggle at Westport at the moment, as nothing it really happening there at the moment. Today, the Fowlea Brook was quite swollen, and that was about as good as it got.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Saturday 14th January - Another grip back in Hampshire

News broke late on Monday 9th January of a SPANISH SPARROW in Hampshire. At first before the news was fully released, I had visions of it being on private land and seen in 1990 or something similar. But when the news was released, it was in someones garden in Calshot. It had also been around since early December 2011, and there were also reports of hybrids in the area, suggesting it had been around a lot longer. Before access arrangements could be made, the SPANISH SPARROW was seen the following morning from the road, and so there was no need for a repeat of last years ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE queuing to get in a house.

Although I had to wait all week before I could go, it wasn't a nervous wait. I just made sure all the arrangements were in place and nothing hopefully could go wrong. There was also a very healthy supporting cast in the area with the DARK-EYED JUNCO nearby, a FERRUGINOUS DUCK, CATTLE EGRET, RING-BILLED GULL etc. Hopefully it would be another good day's birding. PJ had seen the Cumbria SPANISH SPARROW way back in the 90's and so it was just myself, GAS and CJW who headed down for the Hampshire Bird Fest, setting off at the incredibly early 03-30hrs.

It was a cool night, with temperatures as low -5.5C on the journey down, but at least we didn't experience any of the predicted fog. We arrived at Calshot at 07-00hrs when it was still dark. We were met by a car park attendant, resplendent in a high viz vest who came over to us, setting the scene, telling us what time it would appear and where we could get food from. All in all, it was an highly organised affair.

ABOVE - We really felt at home round here. The houses were exactly the same as the ones back in Stoke - even the same types of boats parked in the gardens.

Above - the expectant crowd standing around in the early morning

We set off in the dark so that we could get a good place, and we stood on the verge in front of the hedge, and waited for it to get light.We thought we were really lucky to get such a good vantage point, especially as the crowd started to grow - that was until the organiser came up to us to say we were stood in front of its favourite perch (we were facing the wrong hedge as well). At 08-10hrs, I sensed mumblings, movement and pointing from the roadside, and sure enough the Spanish Sparrow was sitting deep inside a hedge.

Above - The Calshot Spanish Sparrow - its first showing of the day.
It eventually flew out, and showed better in the hedge just in front of us.

Above - the Spanish Sparrow showing out in the open at last

It then flew off into the gardens, and didn't show again for quite a while. There were a few other birds in the area to look at while we waited. Two Green Woodpeckers flew over and a Peregrine was sat on the power station chimney.

ABOVE - A Peregrine on the chimney (I was laughed at when I took this potential Steve Seal frame-filling shot).

The Spanish Sparrow was relocated in the hedge by the village hall. I walked round to join the crowd in the car park, and had decent views again. We decided however, that we would leave now, while it was still showing, so as to be ahead of the pack at the JUNCO site. (We just knew everyone would be doing the same circuit as us, and the JUNCO was the logical next stop).

ABOVE - the crowd in the car park

And so with our first tick of the year safely tucked in our belts, we headed off into the New Forest, and to Hawkhill Inclosure. We had received no news on the JUNCO yet, but when we arrived we could see quite a healthy gathering in the clearing just beyond the car park. As we walked over, some of the crowd were suddenly moving, and some were running. As soon as we were in place, the Dark-eyed Junco came into view and we all enjoyed our 2nd British Dark-eyed Junco. It was to be a very enjoyable session, we some cracking views as the Junco kept appearing and disappearing, flitting around the area, loosely associating itself with a small Reed Bunting flock. We also had three Crossbill drop in, one a cracking red male.

ABOVE - The 1st winter male Dark-eyed Junco in the New Forest

ABOVE - A New Forest Pony

Next stop was at Blashford Lakes for the FERRUGINOUS DUCK. We had a bit of a nightmare finding this place (mainly due to the appalling internet coverage in the area, I just couldn't get my phone to work to find out where we were). Eventually after asking two people, the second one a birder, we found the reserve. The car park was full, and the place was heaving. We found the hide, only to find it full, but we just about managed to perch at the back. We had only just started to scan and settle in when a warden came in a kindly requested that if at all possible, could we please vacate the hide (if we wanted to) as a party of children were coming in. We duly obliged.

ABOVE - This was as good as it got with the Ferruginous Duck I'm afraid.

ABOVE - Loads of birdwatchers on site, no doubt attracted by the 450 different types of feeders dotted all over the reserve.

We could have stayed longer to be honest at Blashford, but we decided to head over to Warblington for the CATTLE EGRET that had already been reported during the morning. It was a 45 minute drive across Hampshire, and on arrival things looked promising with six Little Egrets feeding in a field, but we just couldn't turn any into a CATTLE. We met some locals who assured us it was a creature of habit, and she promised that it would return to the cattle field as it was high tide soon. We had a little walk around the area while we were waiting, seeing 500+ Dark-bellied Brents plus Red-breasted Merganser, Wigeon, Shelduck, Teal on the sea. There was also a pair of Gadwall (can't recall seeing one on the sea before). We hung around until 15-00hrs and then we decided to head for home. It had been another cracking day, and the CATTLE EGRET was the only blip. At 15-45hrs, as we were hurtling up the A34, we received news that it had indeed returned.

ABOVE - A pair of Gadwall sat on the sea

ABOVE - Brent Geese feeding at Warblington

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Saturday 7th January 2012 - Out and about in Staffs

We decided to head out into Staffordshire today. After a quiet week, there appeared a mass of reports on Friday which meant we had loads of target birds to see. There was the LESSER WHITETHROAT and LONG-EARED OWL in Stoke, two BLACK REDSTARTS at Gailey and Blithers, WATER PIPIT and WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE at Doxey, the photographers favourite GREAT GREY SHRIKE, plus a visit to the A38 corridor of pits. I realised that we probably had too many targets planned for the day, and we would probably miss a few of them, and we did!

Westport didn't take long as there wasn't much too see - it was also quite windy and rainy there again. We decided to skip the local birds and headed down to Doxey. As we parked up, there were quite a few cars turning up, and people getting out with binoculars. I thought that maybe the WATER PIPIT was attracting quite a crowd, but then it suddenly dawned on me what was going on - it was an organised walk! We quickly grabbed our stuff and headed off, just before everyone could start smiling at us and saying things like "Morning" and "Hello". It was quite embarrassing that some people thought we were coming on the walk as well. A close shave indeed.

The problem with Doxey today was that it was extremely windy again. All the geese were spread out, in ditches or just with their heads down. We couldn't find the WHITE-FRONTS anywhere. The paths to the WATER PIPIT zone were also quite flooded. Fortunately we were armed with wellies, and luckily, the guided walk party didn't follow us. But the WATER PIPIT just wasn't going to show today with such a strong wind. We did have a pipit sp fly up from the Pensioner Pollards, but it didn't call, and it landed in long grass. We did see a pair of Pintail and eleven Barnacle Geese, but not much else.

We had spent a little bit longer at Doxey than we planned, and so we decided against going to Blithers for the BLACK REDSTART as I thought that it could be tricky to find in the strong wind. We headed for Upper Longdon instead. On arrival, things looked a little bit bleak. The lay by was full of cars and there were birdwatchers and photographers literally scattered all over the area. We decided to head down into the valley where it would be quieter and more sheltered. We walked down with Hughie King, but had only walked a few yards when I spotted the Great Grey Shrike flying in low over the heather. It perched briefly, then it proceeded to hover. Never seen a shrike do this before, unless it was the wind that caused it. We also met another one of the long lens boys who'd said he'd taken over 700 shots of the bird so far.....

The stump on the right is one of its perches

The Upper Longdon Great Grey Shrike - nicely digiscoped from a safe distance

Next stop was in the A38 corridor set of pits. Full of Coot and Wigeon again, plus nearly 400 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were pre-roosting. Over 80 Pochard was a good count, but only four Goosander and 10+ Goldeneye were rather low. A pair of Pintail were the highlight.

With just enough light left, we hot footed it down to Chasewater for the roost. I realised why I find gull roosts so much fun after standing still for an hour and a half in a cold, icy wind, slowly getting colder and colder. RP struck first blood with an adult Med Gull, showing quite well.

Now excuse time and I do apologise for the quality of the next photo, but the light was fading. The picture illustrates the problem with gulls. One Herring is in immaculate s/pl and the other has an almighty dark hood. But they are the same species!

Next up was a sub adult Iceland Gull that I found, but only later did it come into the main roost and showed well. It wasn't the best of roosts as most of the big gulls decided to roost on the shore in a mass huddle. There could have been more white-wingers about, but we just couldn't see them!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sunday 1st January 2012 - North Wales

The start of another year, and in fact 2012 marks my 30th annversary since I went on my first YOC trip to Westport. We decided to mark New Years Day with a trip out. We could have joined all the other New Year Day listers and followed everyone round Staffs, but as we hadn't seen the majority of these New Year Day listers since Jan 1st, we headed out of the county and into North Wales. And a super day was had. It was a full Clayhead gathering, with PJ, Lucky CJW and GAS all managing to get up for 0630hrs despite getting to bed after midnight! I was more sensible and was safely tucked up in bed by half ten. I felt that a good early night was better preparation for the trip than singing one line of Auld Lang Syne and mumbling thru the rest!

First stop of the day was in Rhyl at the Marine Lake. We arrived at first light, and fortunately the torrential rain that accompanied us all the journey up had stopped, and we were able to get out of the car. The adult Great Northern Diver was only the 5th bird of the year seen, and we enjoyed distant views of it silhouetted in the gloom as it dived frequently before swimming behind the island out of view. What a good start. We also added a few other year ticks such as Magpie, Carrion Crow and Black-headed Gull. Don't you just love year listing!

Next stop was the beach! It was only a few minutes drive to Horton's Nose, Kinmel Bay where the SNOW BUNTINGS were. We had to stay in the car while it rained, but we eventually headed out and thru the dunes. It was quite breezy, but luckily it was a warm wind, or else birding today would have been most unpleasant. We soon found the flock of eleven Snow Buntings, but they were most flighty in the wind and they never settled long enough to take any photo's. I did manage a group shot of the boys on the beach tho.

New Years Day on the beach at Rhyl - simply perfect.

It then started to rain again. We had planned to go and see the HAWFINCHES and then onto CONWY for the FIRECRESTS, but we knew we stood no chance with either bird in the rain. We altered our schedule, and headed for Anglesey. As we drove along the A55, the torrential rain turned even heavier, and on Anglesey we were met by bouncing rain, lightening and a water spout! (We did point out to Lucky that it was in fact a chimney). But again, by the time we arrived at South Stack, it had stopped. But boy was in blowing a gale.

GAS and Lucky trying to stand up at South Stack looking for Guillemots!

The lighthouse at South Stack

We stopped to check the reservoir on the way up to South Stack, seeing several Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck and a Goldeneye, plus we had a fly over Hooded Crow hybrid. We soon found two Chough, several Ravens and two Peregrines performed overhead. There were quite a few Guillemots already flying onto the cliff face, plus quite a large raft offshore.

Two Chough at South Stack (picture by PJ).

So with no time to waste, we headed down to the harbour for the long staying BLACK-THROATED DIVER. We searched and searched but we just couldn't find it. We had two Black Guillemots (a s/pl and a w/pl), several Shag and R B Merganser, but we had to admit defeat with the BTD. Next stop was Beddmanarch Bay/Penrhos Coastal Nature Reserve where Lucky found a Slavonian Grebe mid channel, I added House Sparrow to my year list, plus a few other waders (Turnstone & Grey Plover). We visited the Inland Sea next, seeing the Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Lucky was on form again with a highly elusive Great Northern Diver (dived and never saw it again type)plus Little Egret, many Goldeneye etc.

As we walked back to the car, we met up with three other birders, who told us they had just been watching the BTD in the harbour. We hurtled back, parked further down this time by the marina, and we were soon watching the Black-throated Diver. I also managed to find a Little Grebe.

(Sorry about the lack of photo's by the way. Bit windy, bit distant, thank goodness PJ got the Chough pics!)

It was time for everyone to have their midday nap now, so I drove us back onto the mainland. First stop was at Llanfairfechan. The sea was quite empty here, and it took us ages to find a solitary Red-throated Diver. Other than that we only saw two G C Grebes and three R B Mergansers.

And so to the final stop of the day - Rhos-on-Sea for the Purps. This is the place where the waders show extremely well, and we all attempted to get Steve Seal standard shots. We only found two Purps this time, but they showed quite well as they roosted with the Turnstones. We also added Gannet, Common Scoter and Eider to our list, resulting in a magnificant 71 species seen by the group for the day. Infact, it was such a good score that only those who saw more birds than us today bettered our total.

Shot of a Purp with the Turnstones (by PJ)
And four shots by me just to pad the blog out a bit