Sunday, 28 April 2013

Late April 2013

I'd only left the county once during April so far, and we had discussed the possibility of going on a trip this weekend. North Wales did seem rather tempting with a SUBALPINE WARBLER and WOODCHAT SHRIKE, but the recent GOLDEN ORIOLE on Anglesey had not been reported recently.

Staffordshire had been quite productive this Spring, but in the last few days, the winds had swung back round to the north and the migrants had dried up somewhat. Highlight of the week though was Mr Graham Mant's excellent finding of Blithfield's second ever Whiskered Tern on Wednesday 24th April. Fortunately due to a late shift, I was able to pop down as soon as news broke, and we enjoyed distant views as the tern fed at the bottom of Blithe Bay.

Whiskered Tern at Blithfield. Photo's by Dave Kelsall

On Saturday we headed over to Spurn for the Rock Thrush, but unfortunately it had done an overnight flit following a two day stay. We did see a few Whimbrel, Grey Plover and a drake Long-tailed Duck and three Little Tern on Beacon Ponds.

We headed up the road to Flamborough Head. Our target bird here was an IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF, but not just an ordinary IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF. This was a none singing bird, expertly identified by Birding Frontier's Martin Garner. We parked in the lighthouse carpark and walked round to join the small group that were stood on the pavement outside the coastguard cottages. There had been no sign of the IBE CHIFF for about an hour, and it was rumoured that it did a huge circuit that included the Old Fall hedge. We stood and waited, musing about what an excellent day we'd had when one spotter suddenly pointed at a bush. I also heard a bird calling, and it was different. We were soon watching the Iberian Chiffchaff flit in and out of the willows, calling away. The bird was quite bright, and in some ways had an almost Wood Warbler like appearance, appearing quite bulky and almost white underneath. It certainly was a striking bird. A full report and photo's appear on the Yorkshire Coast nature blog.

We just had time for one more place to visit. And we chose Bempton. Standing on the cliff tops with the north wind still blowing was bracing to say the least. We managed to see a few auks, a few Gannets, Kittiwake, Fulmar and several Puffins flying in.  

Photo's at Bempton - Tree Sparrow and Gannet. Pictures by Phil Jones.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Early April - Migrant chasing

No, the Clayhead blog hasn''t fell by the wayside. I've just been busy. So I will try to put three weeks of birding into one blog.

Spring Migrants
Despite seeing an early LRP on 16th March at Westport, I had to wait until 1st April for my first migrant Chiffchaff, some two weeks later than normal. I then had to wait until a damp day on the 11th April to see Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow - altogether over the lake at the same time - again, all three nearly two weeks later than normal. Then the flood gates opened with a triple whammy of returning Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Common Sandpiper on the 13th April. But then, the "second wave" of migrants caught up with the first, and on the 16th, I had my earliest ever British Whitethroat (again at Westport). There was a good fall of migrants on Berryhill on the same day, and in the afternoon, CJW, GAS and myself managed to see 12+ Wheatear, a male and a female Redstart and two Whinchat (early again, this was my earliest in Staffordshire). Back to Westport with a returning Sedge Warbler on 17th (my second earliest date ever) and with a good passage of Arctic Terns through the county, I managed to catch up with one at Westport during the afternoon of the 18th (equal earliest ever date).

Arctic Tern at Westport Lake. Picture taken by DK 

Despite dipping three RING OUZELS at Berryhill on the 16th, we had a second chance with two there on the 19th, along with another Whinchat (I've seen three now this year after seeing none last year in Staffs!). And so despite a late start, the recent southerly winds have been quite productive for the summer visitors. 

Winter Migrants
With winter keeping its long, hard grip on the county well into April, a few winter migrants decided to stay. On the 1st April, I saw a juvenile Glaucous Gull in flight at Kingswood over the tip. I was amazed at the number of gulls still present in the area. (a count on 27th March was estimated at 6200 large gulls in the roost). Redwings were also lingering. We had our last sighting at Westport on 14th April, setting a new latest date for me, only for another to be seen on Cannock Chase on the 20th April. Finally, also on the 20th, we saw the Whooper Swan at Blithbury, again, setting a new latest date. Its been a bizarre month. 

Whooper Swan at Blithbury, again by DK
The Best of the Rest
On the 1st April, being Easter Monday, I was allowed out for a few hours. It was still freezing cold if you remember, with the "beast from the east wind" still producing -4C windchill factors. First stop was at Gailey where two Little Gulls had stayed for a few days. The two White-fronted Geese were still present in the fields opposite the entrance, showing well at 09:00 (oops, wrong blog!)

Fantastic photo the 1w Little Gull at Gailey taken by PJ

The Gailey White-fronted Geese

We just had time to pop over to the various gravel pits in the A38 corridor. Highlight was a patch tick for me. I first, I heard it calling, and it sounded quite unfamiliar. Then I found it. You know you've had a good day when you have seen one of these.

Bar-headed Goose! A patch tick for me

I was off work for Easter week, and later in the week we went down to London for a few day. However, before we  went away, I managed to get another quick trip in. We went up to Cheshire to Denhall Quay to see the drake American Wigeon. It had been reported a few times during the day, but when we arrived it wasn't on show. Eventually it came out of the grass and showed distantly.

American Wigeon at Denhall Quay - my entry in the Photo of the Month competition (fingers crossed but I think I've a good chance with this one)

Saturday 6th April started off on the Chase, but for some reason we saw none of the Cannock Chase speciality birds. In fact, we saw not a lot on the Chase. And as it was a Saturday, it was back to the gravel pits for the afternoon. With the pits, you just never know what is going to drop in, or what has. They can be untouched goldmines, or just quiet. Today we spotted a wader. We straight away said Dunlin, but immediately I commented on its size, and its huge beak. I half suggested it was a CURLEW SANDPIPER, but being early April, with one of the longest winters just ending, I knew there was no way it could be one.Anyway, I managed a few shots and video, and then decided that maybe it was one of the northern, longer-billed races of Dunlin. The following weekend, I received a call from another birder saying he had seen a probable adult winter CURLEW SANDPIPER. How strange I thought. I sent the photo's to two eminent local birders who both suggested it was indeed a Curlew Sandpiper.

Video and photograph of an adult w/pl Curlew Sandpiper in Staffs

On further investigation, I discovered that April records of Curlew Sandpipers in Staffs are quite unusual. In fact, our bird was only the 6th April record ever. As for an early April bird, there have only ever been two previous records, way back in 1954 and 1955!

The complete list of records of Curlew Sandpipers in April in Staffordshire is as follows:-
1954 Whittington One on April 9th.
1955 Belvide Resr One on April 2nd.
1958 Chasewater One on April 27th.
1997 Belvide Resr Two on April 26th.
2003 Belvide Resr A s/pl bird on April 27th and 28th.

Onto the next weekend now, the 13th April. We were on our way to the Chase again when we received news of a BEAN GOOSE at Copmere. We headed off to there instead. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, there was no sign of the reported BEAN GOOSE, but there was a Pink-footed Goose present.

Video grab of the Copmere PFG

And onto the 20th April. Back to the Chase for our third visit of the spring, seeing Tree Pipit and one Redstart singing. Blithfield was fairly quiet following a productive few days there. We saw just two Yellow Wagtails plus seven Common Terns and an Arctic Tern.