Monday, 29 October 2012

Sat/Sun 27-28th October - Back in Staffs

Well after a few weekends away, it was back to birding in Staffs this weekend. We hadn't planned it this way though. We decided to go on another trip on Saturday, following our recent successes - you tend to get a taste for it and you want more. It was a late decision this time, but when a fly over PECHORA PIPIT appeared to land on Portland, plus the DAURIAN SHRIKE and SIBE STONECHAT, plans were made to head south on Saturday. However GAS had left his mobile phone at my house and was out on Friday evening. I left a message on his answer phone, suggesting a 05-00hrs start, and told him to give me a missed call or a email confirming the arrangement. I was up at 04-20hrs. No missed call, no email. At 05-10hrs, I started to realise that maybe the message hadn't got through to him. At 05-25hrs, I went back to bed.

And so the day restarted at a more sensible time, and Westport. Not a bad week with my 1w drake Scaup attracting quite a few visitors to the lake. Not a bad visit this morning, but it was cool with a NW wind, and counting Woodpigeons as they flew over kept me busy.

Immature drake Scaup watching flocks of Woodpigeons fly over (PJ)

Then we headed down to Blithfield, amazingly to see some more SCAUP. During the week there had been a flock of nine birds, and this would have been my biggest flock in Staffs. We started off in Blithe Bay where the two Whooper Swans were swimming on the far shore.

Two Whopper Swans in Blithe Bay

Then we walked round in Tad Bay and met up with GJM. Unfortunately, probably due to disturbance, most of the SCAUP weren't present. I did find an adult pair, and later an immature bird flew back in, but that was all we saw. 
Scaup, gcg, Scaup - in that order

Next stop was Branston Pits, only my second visit this month. There were still quite a few waders, with five Ruff, three Redshank, a Green Sandpiper and 120 Golden Plover. The wind was still incessant, but when sheltered, it was quite warm.

Goldies at BGP's - still searching for that elusive AGP amongst them

Sparrowhawk hiding in grass

The clocks went back on Sunday, and so I was down at Westport slightly earlier. The 28th October just also happens to be the 8th anniversary of seeing this -

The Ovenbird on St Mary's - 28th October 2004 - we saw it being picked up to start its final journey (although the Ovenbird wasn't aware of this when it agreed to be taken into care)

Westport was quite good on Sunday morning. From my car I could see a line of ducks, and when I lifted my bins, I was amazed to see a flock of 17 Wigeon and 22 Teal - quite exceptional for an urban pond like Westport. I wondered what else was on the lake, and my next scan reveal a drake Mandarin. To put that bird in context, it is only my 4th record in over 30yrs as man and boy plodding the footpaths round the lake.

Early morning at WPL with the lake full of duck

I walked round to get a better view, and eventually managed 34 Teal and 17, maybe up to 19 Wigeon. PJ left and headed off the find the Apedale Black Redstart. After finishing at Westport, I too headed up, joining up with DK,  Bill M and Steve P and we relocated the bird sat on a fence. Not a bad morning in North Staffs at all.

The Apedale Black Redstart, taken by PJ


Sunday, 28 October 2012

25th October Senior Clayheads day out to Norfolk (or Birding with the Greyheads!)

Purpose of this report is to dispel any malicious rumours that we were in Yorkshire auditioning for “Last of the Summer Wine”

DK, JJ, GAS & COL left Newcastle at a leisurely pace at 7.45 in DK’s big white Cadillac. The route took us through Melton Mowbray and the thought of all those pies had JJ salivating and had to be restrained whilst passing all the pie outlets with a promise of one on the way back, which we knew would not happen as they would hopefully be shut.

When 32 miles out from Kings Lynn, we had a change of driver, JJ taking the wheel. Unfortunately this coincided with the appearance of roundabouts that caused JJ to have “Senior Moments”, which caused him to choose randomly which exit to take from said roundabout! This meant we had a pleasant ride through the countryside before returning to our original route. As the Sat Nav was switched off we resorted to a “paper map” reader in the back seat (GAS) whilst DK became road sign spotter! Col slept through all this dreaming of Pintails and Avocets.
As the target bird had not been relocated this day, it meant the pressure was off the group and we made our way to the Cley Reserve car park passing on the way the site of the now famous White-crowned sparrow.

Not having a Sat Nav to guide us across the Marsh! we set off in the wrong direction! However the rear gunner again magically produces a “Paper map” and with this in hand DK safely guided us to the hide overlooking Pat’s Pool. Strangely all the birds seem to congregate on Pat’s Pool to the exclusion of all other pools so we knew we had the right one.

We soon observed five small waders, which eventually proved to be 3 Dunlin, a White-rumped Sandpiper and a Curlew Sandpiper. They were provided with a backdrop of Wigeon, Pintails, Avocets, Gadwalls, and Godwits etc. so COL.s dream came true as he gleefully spotted the real birds! On the way back across the Marsh we were entertained by a family of Bearded Tits flying around us to round off trip to Cley Marsh.

Distant shot of the Cley White-rumped Sandpiper by DK

A quick drive towards the East Bank to the car park had nothing to view so a quick lunch break was had.

DK took over the driving as we moved along the coast. We found the road called Greenway and found ourselves at Stiffkey Salt Marsh. Although we knew the Red-flanked Bluetail had not been located today we called as it was on our way. There were less than half a dozen birders about, but immediately on arrival some saw momentarily a Yellow-browed Warbler and a couple of Bramblings. As we waited for DK to return from a trek in the wood, a passing birder casually mentioned that a Black Redstart was to be found in the adjacent caravan field. This was soon located and photographed by DK

Black Redstart taken by DK
Unfortunately the coast road ahead was closed so a diversion inland was necessary passing through Burnham Overy, Burnham Market and Burnham Deepdale. This meant that the best Mussel trading posts were bypassed which meant that the Junior Clayheads had no Mussels for tea. Better luck next time.

We eventually arrived at Brancaster Staithe, parked up on the harbour approaches and proceeded along an excellent boardwalk. After about seven hundred yards a little group of birders was found looking into trees on the landside of the boardwalk. We soon had good views of the Arctic Warbler, which provided an excellent finale for the day.

Arctic Warbler by DK

Col woke up and took over the steering wheel as we set off back home, he could not be prised out of the seat so DK just sat there dreaming of Red-flanked Bluetails. Ah well there’ll be another bird another day.

All characters mentioned in the above narrative are fictional and any resemblance to living persons or those with similar initials is purely coincidental.

Some of the birds seen are listed below.

Swallow, Marsh Harrier, Carion Crow, Brent Goose, Little Egret, Wigeon, Moorhen, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Shelduck, Teal, White-rumped Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Black-headed Gull, Ruff, Avocet, Pintail, Redshank, Shoveler, Mallard, Lapwing, Gadwall, Coot, Fieldfare, Bearded Tit, Egyptian Goose, Pied Wagtail, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Goldfinch, Redwing, Song Thrush, Black Redstart, Yellow-browed Warbler, Brambling, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Kestrel, Ring Ouzel, and Arctic Warbler.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Saturday 20th October 2012 - Four go back and forth in Fife

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. There is a simple reason. Since my last post on the 7th October, I had a week off work. I had no plans and so I just waited for the Autumn rarities to appear, like they always do when I'm working. This year, however, the week I chose to have off was quiet to say the least. By the time Friday came, I'd only visited Westport and nowhere else. It was hard to even conjure up a day trip anywhere, with the only decent birds being in Cornwall, but that would have been a 5hr trip for several quality year ticks. 

On Friday 12th October, we headed off for North Wales and Anglesey. As we crossed the Menai Straits, we received news that there were three SURF SCOTERS off Llandulas. We screeched to a halt on the bridge, did a quick mushroom spin and headed back along the A55. We then spent nearly two hours watching a distant flock of c1000 Scoter bobbing about on a heaving sea. This just about summed the week up, but we did have good views of Raven and Chough at South Stack, plus a late Osprey at the Inland Sea.   

So it was rather amusing when I returned to work on Monday 15th, and rather predictably, there was a tick for me up in Scotland. We'd dipped the 2010 Flamborough EASTERN OLIVACEOUS when it did a Friday night bunk, and so for another one to be available so soon after was rather nice. However, we had to wait all week before we could go, and we were convinced it wouldn't last until the weekend. Friday morning came, and it was still present, and with a cloudy night forecast, it was all systems go.

There was a full Clayhead turnout for this trip, although Dr Slumberland (CJW) didn't actually need it, as he'd seen the 1966 Scilly bird. We set off at 03-00hrs, had a faultless journey north, and with about ten minutes of the journey left, we received the news that the EOW was indeed still present.

The sat nav slightly misbehaved by trying to take us down a dead end, and I drove past the car park entrance, but we were soon parking up at Kilminning - a large, empty, former picnic/toliet site that had maybe seen better days. It was a great birding area though on the Scottish east coast, and we walked to join the c40 birders already on site. The EOW was frequenting bushes near to the sewage treatment building, and despite the constant hum, we could hear the bird tic-ing away. For such a massive warbler, it was easy to follow as it crashed through the bushes, with branches bending all over the place, and still constantly calling. Unfortunately, we felt it was being harried a little by the long lens boys, and whenever it showed, they would move in for the kill. On one occasion it was feeding quite happily in one bush, but when the long-lensers moved in from the right and left, it soon moved on. Some long-lens boys are quite clueless. 
Initial views of the EOW by the green shed
The EOW. Copies available at the usual price
The Clayheads watching the EOW, with the new Clayhead twitching vehicle in the background

Satisfied with some rather good views of the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, we started to walk around the car park. Birds were pouring in from overhead, but most were birds like Greenfinches, Yellowhammers and a small flock of Tree Sparrows - not the birds we expected. A check of the sea saw Eider, Shag and a Red-throated Diver, plus Buzzard and Peregrine. The scenary was stunning with the Isle of May in front of us, and Bass Rock to our right.

Dr Slumberland, PJ and GAS started talking to a local dog walker, but I was more interested in watching a group of birders marching across to another set of bushes. I slowly wandered over and soon realised they were looking at something (all of them looking through their bins at the same time was the give away). I stood next to man who was just lifting his bins up. In a dude-like way, I asked him what he was looking at. It was the Radde's Warbler. I was soon watching it flit around low down in the bushes, and the rest of the crew slowly ambled over to join me. A very pleasant bonus bird, and with that we moved on.

Radde's Warbler - Original artwork by PJ

Next stop was just down the coast at Ruddon's Point, a place we had visited on our last trip to Fife in 2004 for the Masked Shrike at Kilrenny. Then, we found it an excellent sea watching location, and today was no different. We were soon watching a Red-necked Grebe, five Scaup, 10+ Velvet Scoters, Red-throated Divers, a couple of Long-tailed Ducks and plenty of Eider and Common Scoter. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the bird we were hoping for, SURF SCOTER. With news that the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was showing back at Kilminning, we decided to return there.

The Clayheads on Ruddon's Point

Fifteen minutes later and we were back at Kilminning. We found a group of five birders standing around, and it didn't look promising at all. We walked over to them, and one gentleman kindly poinrted to a close tree where it had been sitting. We waited a few moments, heard a "tac", and there was a delightful Red-breasted Flycatcher. It really did show extremely well, and the views of it sat on the car park really put the icing on the day's cake.

Red-breasted Fly - nailed by PJ's cam

We started heading for home, but we were desparately short of petrol (the guage showing less than 50 miles left in the tank). We set the sat nav for the nearest petrol station, only to find it was long shut. The second station was the same. We eventually found another one, and we filled up. As we sat there, news came from Ruddon's Point that a SURF SCOTER had been seen. Facing a 5-30hrs journey back, we worked out that as we were only five miles away, we still had a bit of time to return to Ruddon's to look for the Surfie. We parked up again, and walked out to the point. We also met the finder, but his sighting was 45 minutes ago, and the bird was way in the distance. We stood and scanned. As we did, we had the unusual sight of a small flock of Blue Tits flying overhead. Eventually, I spotted a duck with a bit of white on it on the otherside of the bay. We all got onto it, and eventually it swam a little closer, and we had found the Surf Scoter. We finally headed for home after enjoying a magical day.

Surf Scoter - original artwork by PJ

Monday, 8 October 2012

Saturday 7th October 2012 - Chasing former mega's

While birders were heading for Ireland in search of the EASTERN KINGBIRD, we decided to stay in Staffordshire and wait. That is what happens most Octobers, and it is a month that I've started not to look forward to. Birds turn up at the most awkward of times, and you simply can't book 31 days off during October. And when birds do turn up, they head off at Friday lunch times. No, I've still not got over that SANDHILL CRANE. 

So with American birds literally dropping out of the sky in Ireland, we were on standby for any mainland birds that may be found. We started the day at Westport. With clear skies, what was going over was obviously in orbit, and despite spending two hours there, we didn't have much to show for it. 

We briefly popped into Blithfield to see the female Scaup and then it was onto Branston GP's. There was just about enough on show here to make the visit worthwhile. As we were walking towards the Sandy Pit, the whole Lapwing/Golden Plover flock took flight, and as they were circling around, we managed to pick out a Dunlin and a Black-tailed Godwit among them. By the time we arrived at the Sandy Pit, everything was dropping back down to feed. Along with the Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit, there were three Ruff and a Green Sandpiper plus a healthy count of 226 Golden Plover.

Golden Plovers with a Black-tailed Godwit amongst them

I also managed to finally see the White Buzzard that has been frequenting the area. An awesome bird, my first glimpse of it had me sweating as I quickly trawled through all the white/grey birds of prey I knew.

These pictures of the Branston Gyr-Buzzard were taken by Jon Woodcock a few weeks ago

All the time we were wandering round Staffs, news was filtering through that the female PALLID HARRIER was still showing in South Yorkshire. We had half considered going to see this bird at first light, but with news that it was still hanging around, we decided to pop over. PJ came over and we left our car near to the A50 and headed off in his.

We planned to call in for the RING-NECKED DUCK at Orgreave first. I took me ages to find the site and programme it into the sat nav. We trusted the sat nav, even when it took us into Rotherham District Hospital. We realised I'd managed to mess the location up. Still, not a place you visit on a birding trip too often.

As we were driving out of Rotherham X-ray department, and past the Outpatients, PJ received information that the PALLID HARRIER was still showing. Hospital beds and trolleys went flying as we hurtled out of the hospital and screeched just up the road to Ravenfield. We parked up sensibly where all the other birders had parked (on the main road in Ravenfield) and started the one mile walk to the viewing point.

We were concerned for Pops making such a long walk, but we set off at a steady pace. We'd got plenty of time on our hands before it was due to roost. As we came to end the end of the first lane, PJ said he could see birders. I looked at the map on my phone but we were no where near the vantage point. We walked over to the crowd of birders in the field, and we were soon watching the female Pallid Harrier sat in a distant field.

The fem Pallid Harrier (this photo has been forwarded to the finders to use for their record submission to BBRC

The crowd shot

The field with the Pallid Harrier in is the one on the horizon

For the next hour, we stood and watched it preen, and not much else. It just sat there. We were determined to see it in flight, and eventually it did. And withins seconds, it flew over the ridge and out of sight.

We popped into the actual Orgreave lagoons on the way home, but in a brief search, in fading light, we were fairly certain the drake RING-NECKED DUCK wasn't present.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Saturday 29th September 2012 - Spurn

Last Saturday we had spent the day, as per usual, slogging our way around the less watched hotspots of Staffordshire (well that could be anywhere at the moment!) and at the end of 10+hrs in the field, we hadn't really seen much at all. We decided that we deserved a trip out again, and all week we were carefully surveying all the bird information services to see where we would end up. It had been blowing easterlies for the first half of the week, but by Thursday, the wind switched back to a westerly. There was still plenty to see on the East Coast though, and we decided to head for Spurn. In Autumn, you are always almost guaranteed a good day there. CJW decided he wanted a good Autumnal days birding as well, and so we set off at 05-00hrs, arriving at a sunny, cloudless Spurn at 08-00hrs. It was quite breezy though.

We paused briefly in the Crown & Anchor car park, but it was directly facing the wind, and there was clearly no shelter for any passerines. Then a birder walked in and told us there were two YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS by Kew Villa. We walked round and we could see it was a better area; in the sun and not as breezy. There was no sign of the YBW, but we did see a Lesser Whitethroat and a man tried to sell us a Redpoll. If it was rarer, then maybe we could have taken it back to Westport with us.

A ringer from Kew kindly came round and showed us this Redpoll, of which there were many flying over, along with other finch sp

We watched a Redstart hopping around on a path, plus two Blackcap, before we moved off to see the GREENISH WARBLER behind the Riverside Hotel. Again, the strong westerly wind was hampering us, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out when reached the bushes that the GREENISH WARBLER had already been seen this morning. We stood with the smallish crowd, and eventually, we saw occasional fleeting glimpses of a bird flitting about. Knowing where it roughly was in the bush was a great help, and soon we were having better views of the Greenish Warbler, feeding low down in the brambles. CJW was especially keen to see this, as he hadn't seen one for quite a while. As we stood there, birds were flying over all the time - nice to see viz migging in action.

Dave Kelsall saw the Spurn Greenish Warbler a few days before us, and took these four excellent photo's.

 We returned to the windy Crown & Anchor, then a brief check at Kew (only to accidentally stray in a private members only area!) and then we stood in the churchyard. There was quite a bit of activity here, and a Yellow-browed Warbler was soon on show, along with many Goldcrests.

We wandered off up Beacon Lane, checked the pools and even did a bit of seawatching; the highlight being seven extremely distant swan sp that were flying towards us. They then landed on the sea and had a preen.

We had our lunch in the car park of the Bluebell Cafe, and met up with Brocton Ian, who informed us the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER had been showing in the churchyard. We returned, and spent most of the rest of the afternoon there, watching the birds moving through the area. The Yellow-browed Warbler showed again, plus the Lesser Whitethroat. There was one shout for the RBFly, but we weren't quick enough onto it. We watched where it moved to, but we were slightly puzzled when a Chiffchaff came out into view!

The were side attractions, especially this very showy Lizard, sunning itself on the church.  

Quite a few dragonflies were also present, like this Migrant Hawker (picture by CJW)