Saturday, 28 April 2012

Saturday 28th April 2012 - Thanks a lot

I headed down to Blithfield today in search of the Green-winged Teal and any lingering terns from the weeks influx. We sat in Tad Bay waiting for the GWT to show when I received the news that a Wheatear had been seen at Westport - useful year tick I thought. Then worse was to follow. I received a call saying there was a Pied Fly by the Ted Heath rocks - a much needed site tick having missed two previously. Initially I was told it was mobile, then it appeared to settle in one tree. We made a decision to head back to Westport, a journey of about 40 mins. I received news it was still showing at 10-45hrs, and I was due to arrive at 11-05hrs. We parked up and headed straight across to the rocks. I could see PL in the distance and joined him, only to find he was the only birder on site. He hadn't seen the Pied Fly yet as he had arrived late as well. We searched for an hour but there was no sign of it. The trail had gone cold.
CJW made a return visit in the evening and amazingly refound the Pied Fly. I hurtled down and finally managed to see the Pied Fly! Thanks Chris

Below is another excellent drawing from the Phil Jones collection, and many thanks to him for allowing me to use this sketch. Phil can be contacted on

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Early April catch up

Having returned late Sunday evening from Hungary and had about four hours sleep before work, I didn't really appreciate the news that a COMMON CRANE had been seen near to Kingswood on the Monday night. There was no way I could simply pop down again, and so I turned down a lift. Unfortunately, this bird didn't play ball, like all previous other recent Cranes in Staffs.

However, it was relocated on Thursday evening, 5th April in Stafford. I worked out there was about an hours light left and it was all systems go. Except my wife was out and I was looking after the girls. I tried to persuade them that a CRANE was quite interesting, but they didn't understand the importance of this bird and my Staffs list. In the end, I managed to drop them off at my mums and I headed down to Stafford.

The motorway was running fine, and then I drove into Stafford. From the start, we were unsure of the precise location of the CRANE, and so I headed towards the Wildwood estate. I almost got down to the canal from here but there was a playground in the way. Then I remembered it was by the boat club. I found the entrance to this, but it was all locked up. Time was rapidly running out, and the light was seriously fading by now. I rang PJ who informed me he was watching it still. He gave me directions to where he was parked and I hurtled off.

I parked up and headed across the large grassy area opposite the Radford Bank pub and made my way down to the canal. The path I was on soon disappeared off into a small wood, and then I had a horrible thought. I rang PJ and asked him which side of the canal he was on. I was only on the wrong side and I knew there was no chance of getting back round to the correct side as it was almost dark my now. I carried on through the wood and eventually found PJ and PL on the opposite side of the canal. I then realised I'd made another mistake by not bringing my scope as I assumed I would be looking through PJ's. The Crane was distant, the light was fading, I'd mess up. PJ then relocated the Crane and started shouting out directions. PL found it through his bins, and I eventually saw the grey blob feeding in the field. Fortunately it flew a short distance, giving me distant gloomy flight shots. I walked back to the car alone - everyone else was on the other side of the canal!

I returned at first light the following morning with GAS.

Crane at Radford Meadows SWT early on Good Friday.

Easter Monday saw the family head off to Christchurch for the week. Mixed birding fortunes, but I did get to see the Rose-coloured Starling at Hordle.

Little Egret at Stanpit

Finally, Saturday 14th April was spent back in Staffs - my first Saturday spent in Staffordshire since mid March! A fairly decent day was had, including these deer showing well on the Chase.

Clayheads on Tour - Hungary 2012 (1 April)

Hotel Villa Völgy – We had a late start today as Roy was picking us up at 08-15hrs. I went for a walk up the lane, seeing ♂ ♀ Black Redstart in the hotel, plus Hawfinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Jay, Chiffchaff, 3♂ Blackcap, two Great Spotted Woodpecker, another ♀ Black Redstart, two Syrian Woodpeckers, a Marsh Tit, three Lapwings over and a Green Woodpecker. As we waited for Roy after breakfast, two Fieldfare flew over.

Nice car!

The Hotel and above - the Church - check the sky

Classy buildings in the local town Eger

Síkfőrút Project Wood – Our first stop of the day was a GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER site, our priority bird for the day. There was no sign or sound of any, but we saw a Continental Blue Tit (brighter, and quite bright blue in colour), Marsh Tit, four Yellowhammers, two Chiffchaffs, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Hawfinches and we had a singing Short-toed Treecreeper, but we couldn’t find it. We also stopped at another wood just down the road, again a GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER site, but this wood was even quieter.

Noszvaj – Our next stop was another wood, this time a LSW site. Here, finally, we had good views of a ♀ Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We had Hawfinches flying over again. In the distance, a Black Woodpecker was calling, and a distant Raven was also calling.

Digibinned Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Tard Protected Forest – This was our last attempt at GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER. Roy whistled as soon as we got out of the car, and a Grey-headed Woodpecker responded back. Eventually, after much tape playing, a Grey-headed Woodpecker flew across the road. We did have another view of it as it flew back across. A Black Woodpecker was also calling, and we had excellent views of the ♀ Black Woodpecker as it fed on the ground. To finish off an excellent site visit, a ♂ Middle Spotted Woodpecker also showed well. To add to these, we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Green Woodpecker. We now headed to the Hortobágy.

Heves Plain nr Egerlövő – We called in at the SAKER nest site again, but there was again no sign. A short distance down the road we stopped again to watch ♂♀ Eastern Imperial Eagle displaying over a small wood.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Hortobágy – We finally arrived in the Hortobágy area. Roy took us to an area of fish ponds, a site for BLUETHROAT but there was clearly no sign of any birds. We made our way through the reeds to a small viewing platform and witnessed some amazing birding. There was a nesting colony of 15+ Great White Egrets with birds in the air over the reeds constantly. A White-tailed Eagle flew high over, and we also had a Wood Sandpiper fly over. There were many Bearded Tits in the area. Two Ferruginous Ducks were on another pool, and then a flock of four Spoonbills flew over, soon followed by another flock of twelve over. Roy spotted the first of two Pygmy Cormorants fly over, although I expected better views, but it was still early in the year for them, and there weren’t that many birds in yet. From the viewing platform we had excellent views of Bearded Tits as they fed just below us. Our main target bird here was MOUSTACHED WARBLER, but I only managed brief views of a bird, and then saw it flying across the reeds again.
Proof that I've birded in the Hortobágy! 

Roy and GAS walking to the platform

Record shot of the GWE colony

We didn’t visit any other sites in the Hortobágy, and started to head back north. We had only driven a short distance when six Black Storks flew over the road. As we watched them, two Common Crane also flew over.
Six Black Storks flew over the car

Lake Tisza – We called in at the same site as we had visited on Friday. There were 50+ Teal and eight Great White Egrets. On the far side of the lake, we counted nine White-tailed Eagles sat on stumps on the lake edge. A Green Sandpiper flew over, and Roy picked out two Caspian Gulls.

Six White-tailed Eagles just about visible on the stumps

Heves Plain nr Egerlövő – We made one final stop at the SAKER nest site, but it was probably still too windy for it. This was our third visit, and unfortunately our only target bird we dipped on. I saw the Eastern Imperial Eagle again, plus a Booted Eagle flew over.

Mezőkövesd Petrol Station – A brief stop at the petrol station saw our final birding in Hungary. There was a Crested Lark and a Black Redstart.

On the motorway back to Budapest, Roy made one final stop at another SAKER nesting site. Alas, it was just not to be.

And so our four day mini break to hungary was sadly over. It was a superb trip, only one target bird missed, but to see parts of Hungary well off the tourist trail made the trip so better. Many thanks to Roy for all his efforts. His website is and I can heartily recommend him.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Clayheads on Tour - Hungary 2012 (31 March)

Day 3 - Hotel Villa Völgy – Up early to meet Roy at 06-00hrs again. The resident ♂ Black Redstart was again singing from the hotel roof.

Omya Quarry, Felnémet – Our first stop was at a working quarry just to the north of Eger. We parked up by the entrance and started scanning the cliff faces. A quick blast of the phone and I spotted a ♂ Rock Bunting, but it soon flew out of view. We had 3+ Black Redstarts, including a ♂ singing from the building. We wandered back towards the car again, and I played the tape one more time. Roy spotted another ♂ Rock Bunting in the bush right in front of us. It was so close, neither me nor GAS could see it at first, but we enjoyed stunning views as it sat literally yards away from us. We also had Buzzard, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Hawfinches over, Jay, Nuthatch, Starling and Green Woodpecker. We tried for GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER again without success. We drove a short distance to view a wet woodland area, another spot for LSW and GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER. Neither were seen, although a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was calling. We had two Green Woodpeckers, Marsh Tit and several Hawfinches. Then we returned for breakfast.
Rock Bunting digi-binned!

Bükk National Park - Our first visit after breakfast for one of our target birds was to the Bükk National Park for WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER. On the way up we saw two pairs of Grey Wagtails feeding on the road. We pulled in at a carpark by the 18KM marker, another site for LSW and GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER. We had a Northern Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff and Hawfinches again. I saw a Black Woodpecker on the trees opposite us, but it soon disappeared. We drove a short distance up the road and pulled over again, and had cracking views of ♂♀ Middle Spotted Woodpecker and heard another Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
GAS standing by a notice board
You've never seen so many trees in all your life. 15KM of this for scenary

We continued driving the 15KM stretch of road through the Bükk National Park. The road was extremely winding with frequent hair pin bends, and we were passing thousands of trees. I was glad to finally reach our destination.
The White-backed Wood site

We parked up and soon were watching a ♀ Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Roy could hear the contact call of the WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER, and eventually found a ♀ White-backed Woodpecker perched on a tree only feet off the ground. We then had a ♂ White-backed Woodpecker on the opposite side of the road, soon followed by a ♂ Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Treecreeper and many White Wagtails (miles away from the nearest water) were also seen. We headed back down, stopping several times for LSW and GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER. We added Heron, Wren (a northern European bird and so only found high up in Hungary), Great Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Tit.

Female White-backed Woodpecker

We drove through Miskolc, a vast industrial town and then checked a few sites out on the way south. We had good views of a Syrian Woodpecker in Sajószsōged, and two Long-eared Owls were roosting in a town centre.

Syrian Woodpecker

Perfect LEO roosting trees in a town centre

Showing Parkhall style!
GAS takes a break after dipping the reported White Stork

The day finished at Gelej Fish Ponds. Some excellent birding here, with two Black Storks, c50 Ferruginous Ducks, loads of Garganey and a White-tailed Eagle amongst the highlights. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong by now, as it had been all day.

We went out in the evening for our end of trip celebration meal with Roy and his wife. It was an excellent evening, starting off in the wine cellars for a few glasses of Hungarian wine, costing only a few pence.

Then onto an authentic Hungarian restaurant. I had venison and wild boar - the only problem was I didn't know which was which. That's a Clayhead for you!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Clayheads on Tour - Hungary 2012 (30 March)

Day 2 - Hotel Villa Völgy - We were meeting Roy at 06-00hrs this morning for our pre-breakfast session. My alarm woke me up at 05-30hrs. The dawn chorus was in full swing, but only consisted of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Around the hotel as we waited for Roy, we saw Greenfinches, several Hawfinches and a male Black Redstart.

Felsőtárkány – Our first stop was an area of oak woodland to the north west of Eger. We had Jay and Nuthatch as we got out of the car, and then I spotted our first tick of the tour, a female Middle Spotted Woodpecker. We watched it feeding at quite close range, giving us excellent views. The first of many Hawfinches flew over, with several of them singing. There were Blue Tits (dull birds, similar to British birds – part of the wintering population), and Great Tit present. Alarm calls rang out and a male Goshawk flew out of a tree just behind us. We had a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and a Common Treecreeper was singing (known as “Hill” Treecreeper in Hungary). We kept hearing a distant Grey-headed Woodpecker calling, and in our search for this bird, we found five Hawfinches displaying in a tree. A male Black Redstart was singing in a youth camp on the edge of the wood, and on the way back to the car, we had good views of a male Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker - Original artwork by Phil Jones

Bükk National Park Education Centre - We drove the short distance to the local park. Almost immediately, Roy located a Syrian Woodpecker. It showed well before being chased off by a Great Spotted Woodpecker. In a brief walk around, we heard a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, several White Wagtails, a Goldcrest, Great Tit, Chaffinch and House Sparrow. As we drove back to the hotel, we saw one of the only pair of nesting White Storks in Eger. Two ticks before breakfast wasn't too bad going.
GSW and Syrian Woodpecker - Artwork by Phil Jones

After breakfast, we headed to Roy’s local village. We drove down a rutted dirt track and stopped by some trees. Soon a female Black Woodpecker flew in from behind us and landed in the trees. We watched as it perched on the side of the tree and started to excavate a hole out. We had a Tree Sparrow, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Yellowhammer sang briefly, plus Jay and Buzzard. We drove a little bit further down the track to a LSW site. We had good views of a pair of Green Woodpeckers, Hawfinches flew over, a pair of Marsh Tits and a Raven also present.

Mezőkövesd Small Pools – Fully refreshed following a stop at Tesco, we drove down a track to view to reed fringed pools. Two Marsh Harriers were displaying in the area. On the right hand pool, there were two Great Crested Grebes, several Coots, a female Red-crested Pochard, a Pochard and eight Ferruginous Ducks. The other pool was quiet with just Great Crested Grebes and Coots on it. We took a walk down a path that took us further into the site, flushing two Garganey. There were Hooded Crows in the area and a Kingfisher was heard. Then a male Penduline Tit showed very well in a bush just in front of us, singing away. A Reed Warbler was singing and there was a pair of Mute Swans. On the roadside pool, five Garganey were seen.
Ferruginous Ducks

Poroszló - Driving through the town, we saw two White Storks sat on a nesting platform. Roy pulled up by a disused building. We walked down the side to view two conifers. There were two Long-eared Owls roosting here, one showing well. We stopped for our lunch, eating our sandwiches in a petrol station. It was still extremely windy, and in the distance we could see showers.

The Long-eared Owl

Lake Tisza – Roy told us that the lake was a good spot, but unfortunately, we stood on a bank and in the wind it was impossible to keep the scope still. Most of the birds were distant as well. There were 5+ Cormorants, a pair of s/pl Red-necked Grebes in a flock of 5+ Great Crested Grebes and three Great White Egrets. We drove further down the lane, seeing sixteen Pintails, four Gadwall flew over, eight Shoveler and 10+ Ruff. Ten Yellow-legged Gulls were our first large gulls of the trip. Roy decided from here to change the itinerary. We were originally heading to the Hortobágy to see MOUSTACHED WARBLER, but clearly it was going to be impossible to see in this wind. We headed for an EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLE nesting site instead.

Lake Tisza

We soon found the EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLE nest, but there was no sign of any eagles nearby, although Roy had seen activity here at the nest recently. We stood by the car scanning away until I spotted a large bird of prey circling in the distance. As it came closer, Roy confirmed it was the Eastern Imperial Eagle. It circled over the area before drifting off.

 The Eastern Imperial Eagle nest is visible in this picture

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Clayheads On Tour - Hungary 2012 (29 March)

Day One - We took off from Luton Airport at 12-15hrs on a EasyJet, and touched down at Budapest Airport at 15-30hrs. Our guide for the trip, Roy, met up with us in the airport and we immediately set off birding. Our first destination was 30 miles south of Budapest in Kiskunság National Park. En route we had our first taste of Hungary – very Eastern European in appearance and also extremely flat and dusty. There hadn’t been any significant rainfall since early January. On our journey down, we saw Buzzard, Marsh Harriers, and in one village a newly arrived White Stork was sat on a nest. We passed a lake and a Great White Egret flew over.

Apaj, Kiskunság National Park – We finally arrived at the site Roy was heading for. It must have took over an hour to get there.

The Clayheads have arrived in Hungary

We had Corn Bunting on the wires, many Greylag Geese and another Marsh Harrier over. On the flooded fields, there were 12+ Garganey, 10+ Ruff as well as Teal and Hooded Crows, Redshank, a Meadow Pipit over and 3+ Blue-headed Wagtails. There were several White Wagtails by a stream. On the opposite side of the road, there were two distant Great Bustards, our target bird for the area. We drove a little further up the road and soon the flock slowly increased in size. Eventually we had 44 Great Bustards, including at least one male displaying. Unfortunately, they were a little distant, the light was fading and it was extremely windy. As we drove back, a flock of 20+ Black-tailed Godwits flew over.

An example of the completely flat countryside

Part of the Great Bustard flock - honest!

We had a drive of two hours to our hotel in Eger in Northern Hungary. En route we added Blackbird and Green Woodpecker to our list.
Original artwork by PJ to aid you with finding the Bustards on my photo