Sunday, 29 December 2013

A nice Christmas present

During one of our recent trips, I'd made a comment about ticks turning up at Christmas time, and how I always had to wait until the 27th December before I was released from Christmas duties. This happened in 2005 with the Black-throated Thrush in Somerset, and in 2008 with the Cornish Snowy Owl. 

Low and behold, on Boxing Day, a photo of a Brünnich’s Guillemot was posted on twitter having been taken in Portland Harbour. Confirmation of its continued presence came at about 10:00hrs, and those fortunate enough to be free on Boxing Day had time to get down to Portland for a most unexpected Christmas tick.

I was unavailable on Boxing Day and back at work on Friday 27th, so I had to play the waiting game again. With each report, I dared to start believing that it would actually stay until Saturday. GAS had a prior engagement on Saturday, and so he embarked on a crazy, epic solo trip on the Friday, not leaving Stoke until 10:00hrs and finally arriving in Portland at 15:00hrs due to the horrendous Friday traffic. He met up with legendary West Mids birder Hughie King and together they watched it feeding away in the harbour until dusk, when it flew out to deeper water. 

And so it was an early start on Saturday and we headed down to the south coast. CJW had returned from his Christmas break in Billinge-by-the-Sea, but PJ was away in Norfolk for a few days. KSt joined up with us again, and the journey was easy, arriving in Portland Harbour at 07:45hrs, just as it was getting light. 

As we were getting out of the car, we noticed birders running towards the quayside. We couldn't quite believe what was happening, but within moments of parking up, we were watching the Brünnich’s Guillemot diving away in the half light. It certainly was a moment to savour. We were watching a bird we'd only ever dreamt of seeing, probably following a trek to Shetland and a dreadful ferry crossing and not on the south coast of England. 

As the light improved, the views became slightly better, but it was diving frequently and it was hard to keep track of where it came up. It fed all the way over to the right, then it came all the way back over to the left and fed amongst the boats. It was amusing to watch birders trying to keep up with it, running backwards and forwards along the whole length of the quayside. We just stood still in the middle. 

Views around the Harbour

Eventually it stayed still long enough for me to get this full frame shot

There was quite a bit of birding to do as we stood and waited. We managed to see the Black Guillemot feeding distantly offshore - an England tick for me. There were plenty of Shag and Red-breasted Merganser plus two Great Northern Divers. I eventually captured the star bird on video, and at 09:00hrs, we headed off for our second destination of the day.  

We made the 83 mile journey along the coast to Brixham Harbour, where the south coasts second star attraction was. Probably as a result of the same storm that blew the Brünnich’s Guillemot in, a White-billed Diver had set up temporary home in the harbour. The journey took about two hours to do, and parking in the centre of Brixham was a slight problem. Eventually we found a space and walked down to the harbour side. Amazingly, the White-billed Diver surfaced a few feet in front of us. It was a truly incredible view, but unfortunately it started to swim out of the harbour and further away. We had made it by the skin of our teeth. We walked round to the other side and watched it feeding in the open water, still showing well but not the same incredible views as it had been giving before our arrival. We also had to answer questions off virtually every passer by. One asked if it was a photography competition! Most were genuinely interested about the bird, why we were watching it and even how far we'd travelled to see it. There were three Black-throated Divers also present.

The stunning Brixham White-billed Diver

Just before Christmas and following the Ivory Gull trip, I had made a collage of the best birds we'd seen during 2013 thinking that the year was finally over. How wrong could I have been. Almost the best trip of the year was saved for last.

Updated version!

PJ returned from his mini-break in Norfolk and headed down to Portland Harbour on Monday 30th December along with NDP. Despite the inclement weather and extremely strong winds, the Brünnich’s Guillemot showed well. 

On the return home, Radipole was his next destination, seeing Mediterranean Gull and the Glossy Ibis.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Clayhead's Christmas trip

For this years Clayheads Christmas trip, we decided to pop over to Yorkshire. We thought what better way to celebrate what a fabulous year its been for all the premiership, cheque-book, drop at any cost, school bobbing birders (GCSE's come in useful you know) than by standing on the edge of the Humber estuary with a 25mph wind blowing in your face early one winter's Saturday morning staring at rotting fish. So that's what we chose to do.  

Fortunately, as we were walking down the track to Patrington Haven, we received news that the 1w Ivory Gull was already gorging itself on the fore mentioned rotting fish. It was quite a memorable twitch for several reasons. Firstly, as we walked down, in the distance we could see someone using a flash to take photo's. It certainly made us walk quicker. The Ivory Gull was not really settled all the time it fed, which is understandable with the "get-a-shot-at-any-cost" photographers that appear to be at most big twitches now. 

The second memorable thing was the fish organiser, a certain Mr Trout. Mr Trout came along, armed with his one metre long lens a bit later than everyone else, and after the Ivory Gull had flown away from its first feed. He started to re-arranged the feeding area, removing any bits of unsightly dead fish, removing any bits of wood and litter and making the area nice for his "award-winning money shot". He then plonked down the largest piece of pink salmon you've ever seen. It was enormous and it sat there for all to see, whilst the Ivory Gull was sat on the rocks miles away. Along came Mr Nice. He got out his carrier bag of fish (imagine what his car smelt like) and emptied his bag, kindly donating his last few little pieces of fish that he owned. Incredibly, along came Mr Trout and basically told him to remove his fish (we think because they were too small and from his arm movements he was suggesting the gull would come down and grab one and fly off). This poor bloke then bent down and started picking up his offerings with his bare hands. We all genuinely felt sorry for Mr Nice, but Mr Trout wanted his nice shot and didn't want it to be ruined by anyone else. What a complete tw...

Anyway, I digress. The 1w Ivory Gull showed extremely well in the early morning light. It flew in at 07:15 hrs and was first spotted by none other than the Clayhead's No1 stalker - Ian! Nothing quite like ending the year with a stalker in tow, and hopefully it will happen again next year. It flew off and sat on the rocks in between flying around but it never looked like returning to feast on the fresh salmon. At 09:00hrs, we walked back to the car and headed off. By now, the lane was full of cars, and it was tight for us to drive down. Imagine a tanker coming down!  


1w Ivory Gull, Patrington Haven, Yorkshire (c) Clayheads

Next stop was Hornsea Mere. It was incredibly windy here, so strong in fact that you had to cling on to your tripod for dear life in case you were blown away. From the point, a very showy Grey Phalarope was feeding away frantically. In the reeds opposite a Great White Egret was skulking away but we couldn't find the Long-tailed Duck or Velvet Scoter - the waves were too high. We quickly retreated back to the car before the wind ruined our hairstyles for the rest of the trip.

Photos by Phil Jones

We headed down towards North Cave next and drove through the quite picturesque town of Beverley, a place I'd never been to before. North Cave was a small YWT reserve and I think they knew they would be attracting quite a few birders on the way back from Patrington, calling in here to see the GREEN-WINGED TEAL. There was a nice man giving out directions, showing us where to go on a map, a nice selection of books for sale on his table. All very good except for one major mistake. We were all thinking how can we get past him without paying when we realised we weren't going to be charged a penny to go in! We couldn't quite believe our stroke of fortune. (For legal reasons, I'd like to point out I am a fully paid up member of the RSPB even though they supported the Ruddy Duck cull, the WWT, BTO and WMBC). We walked to the Turret hide and the birders just leaving (must have smelt CJW's big lump of fresh salmon he had in his pocket for his tea ) told us where the Green-winged Teal was. It was on an island, hidden in a gully asleep. And basically for an hour that's where it stayed. Crippling views were had and a fine bird to end the day on. The hides at North Cave were quite good. Plenty to read in there while you were waiting for the GWT to wake up. There were site lists, dragonfly lists and endless identification articles from Birdwatching magazine all nicely laminated. Excellent stuff.

At first it was asleep with only its head showing....
...then it woke up but it didn't move much....

....but then it did move at bit, then went back to sleep......

.....then there was a big disturbance and it came out into the open and went to sleep showing not very well.

Following some advice given to me on Saturday during the long hours spent in the car, it was suggested that I needed to inject some humour into the blog. So here it is...
What does a policeman have on his sandwiches?
- Luncheon meat!

I think I got the punch line right. I can't remember now. So that concludes the trip. Today we saw a magnificant Black Swan at Hornsea Mere.....

and an Ivory Gull at Patrington.... 

which leads into today's song.....

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Its up to the BBRC now

Late on Saturday while we were sat musing in the hide at Aqualate, news started filtering through about a BAIKAL TEAL at Crossens Outer Marsh near Southport in Lancashire. It was finally relocated at midday on Sunday but with a hectic work schedule at the beginning of the week, I wasn't able to realistically make a visit until Wednesday afternoon. Everything went to plan on Wednesday and I was on the road for 12:30hrs. I woke up the St Helen's kid and picked him up and headed towards his old stomping ground. As we headed off the motorway, all I kept hearing was "that's the first tree I climbed" and "I've ate a meal in that pub" and "that's where I saw my first German bomber" and "that's where I saw The Rocket steam train".

We had received no updated information on the BAIKAL TEAL since the last message at 10:00hrs, but as we were on the outskirts, we finally received confirmation that it was still present. We were worried that we would have to find it ourselves. We parked up by the pumping station and spoke to the first birder we met walking back to his car. He told us it had flown from the road side area where everyone was standing and it would be best to follow the embankment path. We soon found a small group of birdwatchers, but they hadn't found the BAIKAL TEAL again. We tried scanning through the endless flocks of Wigeon, but by now it was quite windy, and getting very cold. It was the sort of wind that blew  your scope over. I also realised there were only Wigeon here and no Teal. We started walking further along the path and found quite a few Teal actually in the channel, most of which was hidden from view. It wasn't looking good.

We wandered away from the crowd, but we had lost contact with the larger group. We decided to rejoin them. But they were all standing still scanning the same Wigeon flocks. This time, we decided that CJW would stay behind, and I would wander along the path. We'd found a large group of Teal further up and I felt this was our final hope. I walked down and several other birders followed me this time.

Eventually, a birder from this forward group found the sleeping drake Baikal Teal roosting on the banks of the channel. They shouted to me as I was slightly in front of them. I rang CJW and soon the whole group was on the bird. We were all quite relieved to finally see the thing.

And so now we wait for BBRC to accept it or not. Its my preference to have a clean BOU list with everything accepted and above board. That's my decision and I'm sticking to it. No dodgy unaccepted birds on my list!

February 2014 Postscript - Baikal Teal accepted!

Ok, so its request time again for this weeks video to end the blog slot. This week, I had a nice email from Martyn who lives on a high hill in Birmingham. He writes " Hi, love your end of the blog video slot. Some excellent classic tunes. Being up here on my high hill, I get very lonely as I don't see anyone and there are no birds up here to look at. I often sing this song at the top of my voice and do the dance. It makes me feel so much happier". Well Martyn from a high hill in Birmingham, here's your favourite tune!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Clayheads enjoy sea duck bonanza in landlocked Staffs!

First stop today was in Cannock and to meet up with one of @Staffbirdnews followers. We met Georgia who very kindly tried to find the RING-NECKED PARAKEET that had been seen in the area recently. She also persuaded the neighbour in whose garden it had fed to come and have a chat with us. Unfortunately, the RNP didn't play ball today.

We met up with Phill Locker and Phil Jones and formed a Clayhead-convoy that weaved its way for the rest of the day through Staffordshire. We called in at Belvide and tried to see as many of its current star birds as we could. We walked up to the west end where the adult Greenland White-fronted Goose was with the Canada Geese on the north shore. A few birders are now realising that this is quite a rare bird in Staffs and there is quite a bit of interest in it. The last one in the county was in 2009 at Whitemoor/Croxall, but that didn't attract much of a crowd. In fact when I went down with PJ to see it, the crowd was only three!      

The Belvide GWFG

This is only the 5th record of Greenland White-fronted Goose in Staffordshire. The previous four records are below

Belvide Resr
Five (pair and three immatures ) from October 30th to February 26th 1950.
Belvide Resr
Four adults in a flock of Eurasian birds on February 14th.
A juvenile on January 25th.
Whitemoor Haye
A first-winter from February 26th to March 2nd, also visiting Croxall Lakes.

We walked up to the west end and had excellent views of the singing Cetti's Warbler, showing well in a nice thin hedgerow with the sun shining on it. We could also see the 1st winter drake Scaup from the lane. Three birds down, and we walked back down to the Scott hide for the BITTERN. Unfortunately, it was being rather elusive today, but we did have distant views of the two immature Long-tailed Ducks. As Meatloaf once sang, four out of five ain't bad. 

Just as we were arriving at Belvide, we received news from Ian Grant (@Ian_m_grant) at Aqualate. We already knew there were five COMMON SCOTER present, but he'd also found a female VELVET SCOTER. After finishing at Belvide, we made the short journey over to Aqualate. In the hide, Ian was still present, and had been joined by Richard Powell. We were hoping that the female Velvet Scoter wasn't feeding down at the far end, and we were pleasantly surprised to see it feeding with four Tufted Ducks in the middle of the water. I managed to see two of the female Common Scoter, making it the first time I'd seen two species of Scoter together in Staffs. Quite a crowd gathered in the hide, and we were soon joined by Clayheads No.1 Stalker Ian - the second weekend running he's managed to find us!

Nice set of images all dazzled by the bright winter sun!   

A quality scarce bird in Staffordshire, this is only the 5th record in the county since 1990. I've managed to see three now; the two immatures at Chasewater in Dec 1986 and the incredible sub adult drake at Westport Lake in 1992. Below is a photograph taken by WJL

Also at Aqualate, Marsh Tits came down to the feeders. PJ took this photo

and while sitting in the hide, PJ did this excellent drawing of the Velvet Scoter. 

And finally, this week I received an email from Richard of Uttoxeter Quarry. He writes "I really think all your song choices are excellent. Simply all time classics. But you seem to constantly forget one of the all time greats". You are right Richard of Uttoxeter Quarry. Hopefully this song will make amends!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Clayheads face hefty bill following trip to Norfolk

This weekend, 23rd November, we decided to head out of Staffordshire again for a day out in Norfolk. The previous two weekends had been alright, and we hadn't left the county since the Cornish trip on the first weekend. On Saturday 9th, we saw the Great Northern Diver at Chasewater and then had an amazing sight of an immature Gannet flying over Branston GP's as we sat in the car waiting to go in. 

Great Northern Diver at Chasewater 9th November 2013

On Saturday 16th November, we went to Belvide and saw the two immature Long-tailed Ducks; the first time I've seen more than one together in Staffs. The rest of the day was spent at the pits, where we didn't see much at all.   
Long-tailed Duck at Belvide 16th November 2013

Our main target for our trip to Norfolk were the PARROT CROSSBILLS at Holt, a species we'd only previously seen in Scotland. There is something rather enigmatic and reminiscent about this species in Norfolk, probably due to hearing stories of the Wells 1984 birds in my YOC days. Unfortunately, CJW was unable to come due to work, but PJ accompanied us. The journey was fairly uneventful except for one roundabout in Norfolk where the exit had been altered due to roadworks and wasn't where I anticipated it to be. When you are reading a text, the barriers and cones came as a bit of a surprise to me! Fortunately, PJ had some spare pants in his bag as per usual. 

As we drove into the car park at Holt, the crowd were obviously standing watching the Parrot Crossbills close to the entrance. We just parked along the track and jumped out, managing our first views through a kind gentleman's scope. I returned to the car and parked it in the correct location and purchased a parking ticket. I then met Clayhead's No1 Stalker Ian who had just arrived - first time in a few weeks that he'd decided to stalk us. We caught up with his trials and tribulations during this hard, savage Autumn for birders. He told me about his trip over to Rhum on the Saturday when they missed the MOURNING DOVE. I had to take a seasickness tablet just listening to him. 

The Parrot Crossbills showed extremely well, feeding at the top of a conifer for about an hour. Their bills were enormous, and it was stunning to watch them rip off the fir cones and carry them in their beak to a better perch. Huge birds all round and a fine England tick for me.

Parrot Crossbills at Holt 23rd November 2013

Satisfied with a better than expected showing at Holt, we headed up to the coast and to Cley. First stop was at Salthouse where a flock of 39 Turnstones showed rather well. In fact, they were feeding around our feet.

The very showy Turnstones at Salthouse (above photo by Phil Jones)

Two Egyptian Geese on the way up to Salthouse (Phil Jones)

Following a quick visit to the centre at Cley to look at the books, we headed back to look at a flock of Brent Geese we had just driven past. Luckily we found a pull in and we were soon watching the local Black Brant

Black Brant (above photo by PJ)

We headed to Titchwell, which was rather quiet to be honest. It was also raining rather heavily but we were able to shelter in the hides there.  

I'm still getting 1000's of emails each week requesting music for my "End of Blog Music Slot". This week, Ian , who has just moved to Stoke has made a request. He writes " I love your end of blog music slot. Always a brilliant tune from the pop giants". Well, thanks Ian, and here is your all time favourite tune that you have requested.  

Sunday, 3 November 2013

October 31st 2013 - The Clayheads and the Hermit

Following the great St Jude's Day storm that blew a few crisp packets into my garden, a few mega's started to appear. This was great as I was off all week with only Wednesday when I was unavailable. Mega's and flexibility could only mean one thing - a great week in store. First of all on Monday there was a Myrtle Warbler on Lundy, then a Mourning Dove on Rhum and finally on Tuesday a Hermit Thrush was found in Cornwall. 

As my week progressed, I realised I was doing more jobs than birding, and there was no one else available to go out on a trip; even GAS had decided to book two days with a workman. I had two choices, either to do no birding or go on a solo trip. On Wednesday evening I announced that I was going on a trip on Thursday. I was originally trying to go to Lundy on a charter, but with no sign of the bird since Day 1 and a bad forecast meaning the boat was cancelled, my thoughts turned to Cornwall.

Following a late request, I arranged to pick Chris Bromley up. We headed off at 04:00hrs, meaning we would hopefully receive news on whether it had stayed the night or not well before we got there. At 07:30hrs, we did receive that positive news. We parked up at Porthgwarra at 09:20hrs, and met up with the legendary Bernie Smith. He filled us in on the mornings sightings. Apparently it had been seen briefly early morning but slight over exuberance by a small minority meant it had been flushed and had flown up the valley into deeper thicker cover. It was not the news we had been expecting. Bernie had only seen it as it flew past him.

We stood around and waited, but I started to get a bad feeling about the twitch. Nothing was happening, there were hardly any birds to see and it was all very quiet. For nearly three hours I stood in the same spot. At 12:20hrs, I wandered back to the car for a bite to eat. I was tired, and had given up. Then, as if by magic, I spotted a vision running towards me. It was only the mighty LGRE running full pelt towards me. I thought he was maybe after my dinner, but he ran past, with four other birders running behind him. I decided to jog along with then. One of the joggers asked me if we were running to the bird. I replied I didn't know but I felt it was best to join in. We rounded the corner and started running up the bank when one of the birders from where I had been standing ran down towards us. He asked why we were all running as no one had seen anything on this side. LGRE's sheepishly stopped and turned away. I decided to carry on walking up the hill. I stood back in my spot again as if nothing had happened. I glanced up the road and saw no crowd there. Then, a birder came into the road and pointed. It had been found after all.

I joined the melee and jostled myself into an elevated position and I was soon watching the Hermit Thrush feeding on the ground amongst the vegetation. Views were brief with birders constantly arriving and standing in front of me plus there were many branches in the way too. But they were views I didn't expect to have. Eventually it flitted left, and I was in a good position to go back to my old spot again. The Hermit Thrush soon came into view and finally perched out in the open to give everyone still present the views they wanted.

With the Hermit Thrush still being present, our thoughts turned to Saturday's trip. I'd promised that despite me going to Cornwall on Thursday, I wouldn't jeopardise any trip on Saturday and if the thrush was still present, I would return. On Friday, there was a usual early morning sighting but that was all for the day. It had started to become far more elusive and it was wandering away into the gardens now.

We knew we had to get down to Cornwall earlier, and so we set off from Stoke at 02:00hrs. We were due to arrive at about 07:00hrs, but the journey got off to a dreadful start with two parts of the M6 being shut due to roadworks. The second closure meant we couldn't even access the M5. These detours cost us 45 mins. We chipped away at the arrival time, and eventually arrived at Porthgwarra at 08:00hrs. We had received no news yet but I knew there was no phone signal down in the valley. We joined the crowd and waited. One thing I noticed straight away was that no one was looking thru their bins. They were all just standing there expecting the thrush to jump out for them. It was a completely different twitch to Thursday and it soon became clear that most had given up hope of seeing the thrush at an early stage. Following a torrrential downpour we all started the search again, but even after an hour, cars were already driving off. I was gutted for the lads when it became clear the Hermit had done a runner. The Friday flitter strikes again.

We headed back towards Penzance at 11:15hrs to try and salvage something from the day. En route we received news that the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was at St Leven again, north of the church. We headed back, parked up and checked the area by the church. There was no sign and none of the other birders in the area had seen it either. Then following a conversation with the church warden who had descended upon the car park to make sure everyone had paid, one birder found out the area was in fact three fields away from the church! We set off and after a half hour walk we were soon watching the Red-breasted Flycatcher feeding in a small clump.

The Red-breasted Fly at St Leven by Phil "this is where I saw the Veery" Jones

Original artwork by Phil Jones

With news that the WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS were on the Hayle again, we headed there next. It took us a while to find Copperhouse Creek but by the time we arrived the two White rumps had flown off. We knew it was going to be one of those days but hey ho, not to worry, the Clayheads will dust themselves off and ride again. You never know, the next blog may involve a tale of birds and planes like everyone else's blogs seem to.
Two of the four Mediterranean Gulls at Hayle by Phil Jones

Next week read how the Clayheads go to Cosford Air Museum and what they saw there.

Finally, this week's song is dedicated to everyone who's dipped something this weekend. This song is just for you!