Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday 26th July - Double Casp-tastic!

On Wednesday 24th July at 20-30hrs, news came out of a CASPIAN TERN in Cheshire. A quick check of the map revealed it was only about 30 mins away. I stood and thought. I do have a fondness for terns but I worked out it would be after 21-00hrs and the light would be fading. Its not often I freeze but I did and sorted of regretted it. It was 2006 when I saw my last CASPIAN TERN and they are magnificent birds. I planned to get up early in the morning before work.

The plan worked. I was out the house by 04-30hrs with the knowledge that the CASPIAN TERN  was present until 21-40hrs at least. I arrived at Acre Nook at 05-10hrs, only to find loads of cars already on site. I spoke to the first birder who told me there was no sign. I immediately headed back down the M6 to see if it was at Westport. Not this time though! And there was no further sign all day. I did kick myself.

So it was a bit of a surprise to read a text on Thursday evening saying the CASPIAN TERN had returned again to Acre Nook. This time it was 19-55hrs, and luckily, GAS was already at my house. We rang CJW and off we sped. Having been there already once that day, it was easy enough to find the site again. We arrived at 20-30hrs and we soon watching the Caspian Tern standing around on the mud among the other gulls. It was a very pleasant twitch with oodles of Curlew coming into roost. We headed for home at about 21-15hrs.

Mobile phone photo's again

On Friday 26th, I finished work for two weeks holiday and left work slightly early. As I was driving home, I had a phone call (at 13:43hrs) from a excellent source informing me that news had just come through about a CASPIAN TERN at Rudyard. Mass panic ensued as I was heading in the wrong direction, but I was at the right end of the city. A quick check of Birdguides revealed the time as late morning when it was present. Then Birdnet posted a time of 11-05hrs. That felt like hours ago and I knew there would be no chance of it still being around. I hurtled up to Rudyard and headed straight for the North End. I knew it would be alright to drive up the track to get nearer to the mud. I drove up and found no birders present at all. I pulled in the first layby and scanned the mud. I passed over only a few birds before my eyes came upon a monster tern with a huge red beak. "****!" I said. It was still present (14-20hrs). I quickly rang Dag at Birdnet and then attempted to get some photo's in case it flew off. Due to my impending vacation, I was armed with just a pair of bins and my phone only. I started snapping away and took about ten photo's. I glanced at one of the photo's to see if it was alright but I couldn't see the tern on it. I looked up and the tern was gone. I panicked and started scanning. It was nowhere to be seen. My worse nightmare. No pics. No bird. Birders on their way. Then a Heron flew in a flushed the gulls, and at the back of the flock was the Caspian Tern.

I took a few more pictures and glanced behind and saw two birders with bins. I smiled, said hello and they carried on walkng. I shouted them and asked if they'd seen the tern. They knew nothing about it, but I then recognised them from Acre Nook the night before. At least two other birders had seen it now. I'd also managed to get hold of Steve Seal and he was on his way armed with his camera. 

My record shot taken thru my bins with my mobile.

and Steve Seal's shot with his slightly better photographic equipment.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Saturday 13th July 2013 - Somerset & Gloucestershire

With the Ham Wall LITTLE BITTERNS starting to show more frequently, we decided to pop down with the intention of returning to Staffordshire for the afternoon. The day was forecasted to be the hottest day of the year so far, so it was on with the shorts (but the long trousers were in the boot to change into for our visit to the gravel pits).

We set out at 04:00hrs, and arrived at an already warm Ham Wall reserve at 07:35hrs. We only had to walk a short distance along the path before we came to the Little Bittern watchpoint. The RSPB had put a lot of effort in the making of this watchpoint.

The impressive all singing all dancing Little Bittern watchpoint.

The vast reed bed

The Crowd at the watchpoint

We stood, and scanned, and then stood again. I decided to stand of the end of the crowd in the only shade available. Two hours passed with no sign of any LITTLE BITTERNS. Then a shout went up. Little Bittern flying over the reeds towards the bush. I scanned frantically but after only a few seconds it had dropped down and I'd dipped.

Now this annoyed me for two reasons. Firstly, it was a vast reedbed with quite a few scattered bushes spread all over the place. I would have liked slightly better instructions. Secondly, at the time the shout went up, QUAIL MAN was distracting me. You see as we were standing, waiting, a Quail started calling. Nice day tick and another birder shouted out "Quail calling" or words to that effect. Then, a bloke in the middle of the crowd announced that it was in fact his ring tone on his phone. Then the Quail called again. Everyone looked around and the bloke just grinned again. And his Quail ring tone kept going off. I almost shouted at him that maybe he could possibly mute his phone, or words to that effect. But obviously Quail Man liked his ring tone. I was looking at Quail Man when the first Little Bittern sighting of the day came.

The second sighting was a glimpse of a male flying over the reed beds again. Slightly better directions were shouted out this time. We were told it was flying right. We didn't know where it was flying from though, and again we missed it. All the sightings were in a similar area, and so we upped our concentration levels. The third sighting came. Flying right again. I scanned left by mistake. 

It was getting frustrating now. The sun was beating down and our tripod legs were starting to melt. It was 10:00hrs, and 24C. By resting my bins on my scope, I was able to scan permanently, determine to see the next sighting so that we could return to the car to cool down. CJW spotted the next one, and I just managed to glimpse it as it dropped down. Seven years since my only other British Little Bittern sighting, and I managed to finally see my second one. We headed back to the car to cool down. 

While standing in the sub-tropical heat, we realised that it was possibly not that good an idea to visit Staffordshire's gravel pits with temperatures in the mid 40C's. They are sandy, dusty places with head high nettles and so we decided to pop into Slimbridge on the way back. 

We soon arrived at Slimbridge, but it was so hot (temperature now nudging 48C!) everyone was frying eggs on the tarmac. We managed, and as we did on our previous visit, to put CJW in a carrier bag and sneak him in without anyone noticing. The Spoonbill had already been reported today, and so we headed off to the posh South Lakes hide. As we walked in the hide, we could see that the nearest bird was the Spoonbill, literally only a few feet in front of the hide. It was a long-lens boys dream, but we didn't have a long lens so I took a few shots with my phone instead!

Spoonbill showing nicely at Slimbridge and no long lens boys trying to squeeze thru the hide windows to get closer views anywhere!

Amazingly, CJW then spotted a Common Crane feeding up the other end of the pool. We couldn't believe our eyes at bumping into this unexpected scarcity. We marvelled at its beautiful assortment of rings on its legs, plus we had superb views of a transponder on its other leg. Thank goodness Slimbridge are re-introducing these birds so we don't have to travel all the way to Hickling in Norfolk each year! Thanks WWT
Common Crane fitted with mega-bling. Not something you see everyday

Friday, 5 July 2013

Wednesday 3rd July - Midweek Magic

On Monday news broke that a BRIDLED TERN had turned up on the Farnes Islands. It soon disappeared but came back to roost again on Monday evening.

I was able to finish work early on Tuesday, and so we headed off as soon as I got changed. Half way there it started to rain, and by the time we arrived on site it was pouring down. Mid Wales on a wet afternoon isn't the place to be! You see, with all the news and mayhem associated with the BRIDLED TERN, almost unnoticed was a drake SURF SCOTER inland at Lake Vyrnwy, Powys, less than two hours away from home. An inland SURF SCOTER is always something I've wanted to see; preferably in Staffordshire, but I'll have to wait until I find one at Westport.

We arrived at Lake Vyrnwy and it was slashing down. News had been scant all day, but it was still present at 13:30hrs. We headed along the north shore to an area half a mile west of the Water Tower, but the shoreline was heavily wooded and there was nowhere to stop. We decided to head over the dam and drive along the south shore. We soon found a parking area, again as per directions (1/2 mile west of tower). I walked down to the shoreline, lifted my bins at the only duck in sight and it was a magnificent drake Surf Scoter. Amazingly, it was the only duck we saw all afternoon. Imagine the finder. He turns up and sees a duck. Maybe his first duck of the week. What will it be? A Mallard, maybe a Tufted. He lifts his bins and its a Surfie!

It soon stopped raining and I tried to take photo's with my increasingly frustratingly naff camera. We then realised that as it was damp, warm and by water, we had become surrounded by a cloud of midges. We were bit everywhere and soon had to return to the car.

Drake Surf Scoter at Lake Vyrnwy (don't blame me, blame the camera)

Back to the Bridled Tern. Fortunately, a vast majority of the Clayheads were around way back in 1988 to see the Cemlyn Bay BRIDLED TERN. A bird we were very fond of as it turned into a damned fine blocker for 25years. While we relaxed, the Clayhead B team was assembled and headed off to the Farnes on Wednesday. Eventually, following many hours of waiting, the Bridled Tern reappeared for them, and the team of Chris, Karl, Phill L and Mr Turtle were all extremely happy. Chris managed to take this photo below with his hand made camera made out of a cereal packet and some cling film. Well done Chris. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Saturday 29th June - Anglesey

Following the excitement of the Suffolk trip on the 15th June, the following weekend (22nd June) we decided to stay in Staffs and work the local patches. However, we realised that it was finally mid-summer, and we didn't really see anything all day. We decided at the end of the day, that a trip was in order the following weekend.

And so to the 29th June. PJ suggested that Anglesey would be a good destination, as you can always have a fairly decent day here, even in mid-summer. We had a few birds to aim for, with the star attraction being a singing male COMMON ROSEFINCH. Unfortunately, unlike my only other British singing Rosefinch (at Giggleswick, North Yorks on 15th June 2002), this was a brown bird. Nevertheless, a singing Rosefinch whatever the appearance, is a bird you shouldn’t sneer at and dismiss. It's not a bird you see everyday after all.

PJ was unable to join us, but we did welcome back CJW following his recent slightly poorly spell. We paid a quick visit to Westport, then headed off up the M6 and M56, then onto the A55 and the road to North Wales.

As we were driving along, we received news of a ROSEATE TERN on the river in Rhyl. We were only about 20 mins away, and so we reset the sat nav and headed there. We had nothing to lose, it was only a short diversion, and it was one bird that we were hoping to see later on Anglesey.

We parked up by the Marine Lake on a totally deserted car park. We weren’t very optimistic at this point, but we did have five Sandwich Terns fly over our heads. We walked down the River Clwyd and soon found the bridge. There was no actual path underneath the bridge, but we still managed to get under it. On the sandbanks, I counted 140 Sandwich Terns, but on this first scan, I saw no other terns amongst them. I started to scan again, and immediately I found a small tern with a nice rosy breast. Unfortunately, it was a very tired bird (following its flight from…), but it did on occasions lift its head to show us its beak. And whenever a train went past, the whole flock was flushed. There are some very nice photo’s of the Roseate Tern on the North Wales Blog. A good start to the day then, and it meant we wouldn’t have to visit Cemlyn later.

The knackered Roseate Tern in Rhyl.

We drove onto Anglesey and headed straight up to Porth Eilian, the small village by Point Lynas. We parked up and a quick scan of the harbour revealed four Black Guillemots. We drove up to the lighthouse looking for somewhere to park, and had passed one birder standing by the cattle grid looking for the COMMON ROSEFINCH. As we had driven back down from the lighthouse though (having failed to find any spaces), I’d seen a larger group standing in the field. We walked straight up to the larger group. “Any sign?” We asked. “Yes” was the reply, “but its distant and not showing. “Oh, how long ago did it last sing?” I asked. “About a minute ago” was the reply. And sure enough, the Common Rosefinch started singing again, but it was way in the distance.

The party decided to go (I think it was an Alan Davies guided party) and we stood and listened to the distant, still singing Rosefinch. The footpath carried on, and so we followed it. We walked through two fields, but we stopped when the path started to swing away from the Rosefinch. We could hear it singing still, but we thought that it was down in a gully, and therefore we’d no chance of seeing it. Occasionally it appeared to sing louder, and then it suddenly sang very loudly. We looked up and there it was perched on the telegraph wires going over the field in full view. It was an excellent view, and one we thought we’d never have.

Nice crisply focussed shot of the singing Common Rosefinch

The picturesque Porth Eilian - you see twitching is more than just driving 3hrs to see a bird you can see abroad! It's about visiting places, seeing the world, having a good trip out, having something to look forward to at weekends.

Well, we had two out of two so far. We had a quick walk up to Point Lynas to check the area for CHOUGH, but we didn’t see any. That meant we had to drive over to South Stack next. I drove across Anglesey as the other two slept.

As we walked over towards Ellen’s Tower, CJW struck lucky by spotting another year tick – amazingly a Stonechat – unbelievable to think it’s the end of June before we’ve seen one. The cliffs were in full flow, with loads of Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwake. We managed to see about five Puffin, plus we were able to show a nice couple some Puffin on the cliff face. We also saw 50+ Manx Shearwater in a flock sitting on the sea just out from the lighthouse, plus Chough were flying along the cliff at regular intervals.

So, all the target birds were seen and by 13:30hrs, we were all done and dusted. Can't be bad!

This was taken at South Stack - a very large concentration of Guillemots on seemingly fairly level rocks - but not their usual type of cliff. Late comers? Failed breeders?