Sunday, 26 February 2012

Saturday 25th February 2012 - A sawbill fest in Staffordshire

After our usual start to the day at Westport, we headed down to Penn Common for the long staying FIRECREST. This was our only target bird of the day and we thought it might take us some time to find it. There was no need to worry because when we arrived on site, the Firecrest had just been located following an hours search. We had good views of it, but it was feeding fairly high up in the trees. This is my first Firecrest in the county since the Hanchurch bird in 2008.

So after securing our target bird, we headed off to Branston GP's. There were two Little Egrets on the first pit, the 1w European White-fronted Goose was feeding with Canada Geese in the field, on the Sandy Pit there were four Green Sands, three Ruff, a Dunlin and 129 Golden Plover, and the Knot was on the far pit with a Redshank. We also had a Marsh Tit in the wood.

The 1w White-fronted Goose

Golden Plover on the Sandy Pit

Distant shot of a distant Knot

We then went in search of a flock of SMEW. We called into Barton North GPs, and were soon watching three Smew, a fine drake and two females.

On our final pit of the day, I saw another redhead Smew amongst other things.

A pair of newly returned Oystercatchers showing well in the sun

A poor picture but this Cormorant has probably the whitest head I've ever seen. Almost pure white!

My third redhead Smew of the day

A few Heron's!

We were heading for home when fellow Clayhead PJ rang to say he'd found a stunning drake RED-BREASTED MERGANSER at Copmere. We were only the other side of the county, but with these light nights, we headed over, arriving at just after 17-00hrs. There was just enough light to take a quick video of the drake as it displayed to the Goosander.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Saturday 18th February 2012 - Rhiwderin, Gwent

All week we had been discussing whether to stay in Staffordshire for a third consecutive weekend or should we go on a trip further afield. The problem was there was no clear cut location to visit, and we would have probably ended up staying locally, until news of a mega broke late on Thursday afternoon. A 1w COMMON YELLOWTHROAT had been found in South Wales. The funny thing was we had talked about the possibility of an over wintering Yank passerine last Autumn, and it had taken until February for it to be found. Dreams of visiting another garden soon evaporated when details were released; it was in a hedgerow in fields!

We assembled a crew together, but unfortunately, CJW was unable to go again, as it coincided with his long weekend in work, and so John Sutton came along with us. We left Stoke at 04-00hrs and made the straight forward journey down to South Wales with no problems at all. A field had been arranged for parking, but there was no access until 07-00hrs. We had virtually arrived on site when we came across a group of cars hovering in a lay by. We joined them but at 06-57hrs, I thought it was near enough time to head up, and so our car led the way up the lane. We were the first car in the field, and even at this early hour, access was tricky.

We were soon stood in the fields, waiting for the light to improve and for the bird to be relocated. We knew it was going to rain from about 09-00hrs until early afternoon, and we were hoping for an early showing. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong, and by 09-00hrs, despite quite a lot of searching there was sign of the YELLOWTHROAT.

ABOVE - The expectant crowd gathers at first light and waits...

The whole twitch was slowly dying on its feet as the morning went on. We hadn't even had a possible sighting of a Dunnock to chase after and get everyone going. There was a small glimmer of when we moved down to the dung heap area. One birder had seen something flit across the ditch here, and then another bird was seen by someone else. We thought we were finally going to strike lucky, but then the trail went cold. The rain came down heavier, and by 10-30hrs we were sat back in the car having a bite to eat. The rain came down even heavier and we watched as the cars headed out of the car park, most needing to be pushed.

At 12-30hrs, it was suggested that we headed down the short distance to see the LESSER SCAUP. At least it was something to see, and was only 15 minutes away by sat nav. Unfortunately, the sat nav took us right through the centre of Cardiff, and we were soon sat in traffic going nowhere. PJ started to panic, but we carried on crawling at a snail's pace. Then, the rain appeared to be easing off, and finally, the inevitable message came on the pager - the COMMON YELLOWTHROAT had been seen briefly at 13-05hrs. Somehow we managed to turn the car round, and the roads out of town were relatively traffic free. We hurtled up the lane to the field again, only to be confronted by a traffic jam as the cars became stuck in the mud trying to get back in to the field. I turned the car round in a drive way, but it was then suggested that we leave the car here as well. I wasn't too sure, but I was persuaded and we parked up. As the others were heading off, the house owner came out. She was alright about us parking there as long as were didn't block her gates. What a stroke of luck and thanks if you are reading this Mrs Nice Welsh-Lady.

We ran/trotted/walked down the field and joined the crowd. We soon had brief flight views, but even though these views were fleeting, you had a sense of the olive colouration of the bird. We thought we had made a classic school boy error by leaving the scene, but when finally the Common Yellowthroat came out in full view it was a very sweet moment. It moved through the hedges and eventually settled in a ditch area, and we had a series of regular views as it flew back and forth. The sun was out by now, and South Wales turned into a lovely place to be.

The crowd shot including a rare picture of me - time to play "Where's Wally!"

The jubilant crew celebrate

The view down the field towards Rhiwderin

A videograb of the Common Yellowthroat.

This stunning collection of video's were the only shots I managed to get

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sunday 12th February 2012 - Super Sunday at Westport

Duck counting today, and this time at Westport. Its always fun to count the ducks, but especially when its foggy like it was this morning. We couldn't really see the whole of the ice free area on the main lake, and it never really looked like clearing. I was able to count the one Great Crested Grebe, plus the flock of seven Pochard, but not much else. We carried on walking through the reserve, moaning about birding in fog. You can bird in the rain, and high winds, but there's something about the fog that slightly hampers you. Having not seen very much at all, we returned to the main lake and found that the visibility had improved a bit. I could count the Tufted Ducks, I found five Wigeon and decided to start counting the Mallards. This meant a return down to view the model boat lake again, as this had the largest gathering of Mallard. We walked down, and I counted away. There were quite a few LBBG's on the small lake, and CJW was busy checking through, just in case there was something nice amongst them, like a Herring Gull (it is Westport after all). As I finished counting, CJW casually remarked there was an adult GLAUCOUS GULL sat on the ice. Now I had only just scanned through the gulls, so I smiled at him, and thought "wishful thinking!". CJW, alarmed at my non plussed attitude, then repeated that there was an adult GLAUCOUS GULL on the ice. I think it was the way he expressed it the second time that made me look, and there was an adult Glaucous Gull sat on the ice. We soon had all the regulars hurtling down and a nice small twitch was formed. It eventually flew onto the main lake before flying off north at just after 0930.

ABOVE - CJW's picture of the Westport Glaucous Gull

ABOVE - PJ's shot.

Sorry for over indulging, but its eight years since our last Glaucous Gull at WPL!

Then, this afternoon whilst cleaning out the rabbit, PJ rang. As per usual, I said I was on my way. He said that I'd better be, as there was eleven Whooper Swans sat on the ice. Out I hurtled again, exactly like last Sunday for the Knot. When I reached the car park, you could barely see the end of the pier as it was that foggy. A quick call revealed where he was standing, and sure enough, through the fog it was just possible to see the eleven Whoopers sat on the ice. My largest ever group at Westport, and probably was my largest flock in Staffs since the Longsdon Mill birds in the early 80's. Photography was tricky to say the least!

My attempt

and PJ's shot.

Saturday 11th February 2012 - Duck counting

It was WEBS weekend again. I had offered my assistance at Blithfield and I was counting the Deep End as per usual along with RP. Its usually a doddle as often there's not too much to count. However today was different as the bays were quite frozen and the deep end was full of birds. My first struggle was with a mixed flock of c750 Greylag Geese and Canada Geese. Then I met a flock of 700+ Wigeon to count along with some more geese. As a reward though, as I started to walk over the dam, the Black Redstart was showing very well on the overflow. (Ironically, I found the Black Redstart on the December duck count, and its survived to the February count and still going strong).

This group of Dunlin were happily roosting in a field by the side of the res
Thoroughly exhausted by all the counting, we headed off to the pits for a rest. It was a beautiful sunny day by now, and walking across the snowy sheep field with the sun beating down was quite blinding!

I paused by the style again as the open area of water was right by the path again. I noticed some geese sitting on the ice just to my right, and one was obviously smaller than the Canada's. Unfortunately, I was looking into the light and the glare, and it took a few moments to realise it was a 1w White-fronted Goose - another site tick for me! I checked through the other geese just to see if it was the flock of seven White-fronts from Knypersley, but they were all Greylags.

1w White-fronted Goose at Branston GP
The Sandy Pit was frozen again, but the other pits were slightly more productive, with five Dunlin, two Ruff, a Redshank and most surprising of all, last weeks Knot was still present.

Above - Red-legged Partridge, Teal and Redshank at BGP's.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Saturday 4th February 2012 - A wintery weekend in Staffs

Little bit of music for you today

Following the lowest overnight temperatures of the winter so far, Saturday started off at Westport. Other than increase the numbers of Tufted Duck and Pochard, the recent cold snap brought nothing new into Westport, and as per usual, the duck numbers then slowly drop day by day. The only area of open water was in the centre of the lake, and is becoming smaller by the day.

As we were walking round, news came from Belvide that the previous nights roosting GLAUCOUS GULL was still present. We decided to leave Westport and head straight down. There was a slight delay on the motorway so we headed through Stafford, adding about 15 minutes to the journey. Then the inevitable happened, and as we were leaving the M6 at Gailey, we found out that the GLAUCOUS GULL had flown off.

As we were so close, we diverted to Gailey to look for the BLACK REDSTART. We met up with the Snapper but there was no sign of the BLACK REDSTART or the regular MED GULL. It was still only 0930hrs and we were struggling as to where to go next.

I checked the sat nav and found that Stubbers Green was only 8 miles away. We'd never been before and so we headed down. We found the pool, but I couldn't really see where to park the car. I had a quick walk around but there were only a few gulls, and these were sat on the ice. You could see a constant movement between there and the tip, and you could sense a decent gull could drop in at any moment. But at least I can stay say I've been to Stubbers now. As we drove away, we passed a sign welcoming us back into Staffordshire. Strange I thought as some of the poor map readers from South Staffs think Stubbers is in Staffs!

And so on to Branston GP's next. We hadn't really seen much so far today, and as I was walking across the sheep field, I received news that the BLACK REDSTART had been seen at Gailey and there was an ICELAND GULL at Stubbers. Super I thought. The first pit at Branston was mainly frozen except for a small area right next to the footpath. I stood by the stile and counted what I could. Most of the birds I did flush did a circle and dropped back in. I then walked along the path and a wader flew off from the shore. I was most surprised to find it was a Knot and I watched it fly to the other side and land. A site tick for me! I met up with GAS and we grilled a flock of 60 Redpoll, but I just couldn't fudge any of them into a Mealy. We didn't expect much on the Sandy Pit, but as I scanned the reeds, I spotted two Snipe. I realised one of them wasn't a Common, and we were soon enjoying good views of a bobbing Jack Snipe. The day was slowly becoming not bad after all.

Jack Snipe at Branston GP's. Usual prices apply but limited to only one per person.

The snow was forecast to hit us at 15-00hrs, but I was aware it was already snowing in Stoke. I headed to the last pit of the day. I started working my way round, seeing 464 Pochard including the leucistic bird. Then it started to snow, but I battled on. In near blizzard conditions, I found the drake Smew again. A perfect bird for a snowy day.

Sunday and I had to battle through four inches of snow to get to Westport. Fortunately the main roads were clear of snow. We had 25 Lapwing on the ice, but it was quite foggy, and duck counting was tricky. During the afternoon, I checked my emails and found that matt4scfc had seen a Knot and two drake Pintail at 3pm. It was by now nearly 17-00hrs and going dark. I hurtled down, but it took me three different platforms before i found the Knot, feeding among the Mallard. I phoned PJ and GAS and they both saw it in the fading light as it roosted on the ice. Eventually I managed to get hold of CJW, and we waited for him to run down. He managed to see a small blob on the ice in the rapidly fading light.

This is the 7th record of Knot at Westport.
1990- 1st record – One flew south Dec 15th
1993- One on Apr 4th
1993- One Sept 8th
2000- One flew around and was chased off by Black-headed Gulls on Sept 26th
2001- One flew through on Dec 30th
2005- One standing on the ice on Dec 30th
2012- One roosted on the ice on February 5th.

PJ kindly produced this artists impression of the Knot at Westport