Monday, 30 September 2013

28th Sept 2013 - The Clayheads are Spurned again

Following a few decent day's weather for the East Coast, there had been a large fall of YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER plus a few other Autumn bits. We decided to head to Spurn again, where on Friday, there had been 21 YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS, a RED-B FLY and a COMMON ROSEFINCH. 

We'd all had a difficult week at work, and so what we hoped for was just a decent days birding. There's nothing quite like a bit of fresh sea air, a nice change of scenary and some birds you don't see everyday to blow away those modern day life cobwebs and make you human again instead of spending all weekend stressed and pent up still, waiting for Monday morning to come again. 

We left home at 05:00hrs and parked up in the Bluebell Cafe car park at 08:00hrs. We had a quick walk up Beacon Lane, but there wasn't much to be seen. We were walking down towards the Canal Scrape carpark when a car pulled up and a birder wound his window down. It came as a complete surprise to us when he told us there was a probable BLYTH'S REED WARBLER at Easington. We headed back to the car and we soon parked up in Vicar's Lane where a small crowd were gathered, peering through a fence. 

We joined them and soon had several fleeting glimpses of a large brown warbler, skulking deep inside a bush. It then flew out, flew over our heads and dropped into the bushes further along. We learnt that the original observer(s) had had good views, but no one else had views that could add to the identity. Its one we might just have to forget about, but it would have been a stonking start to the day. 

We returned to the Canal Scrape, and started the birding again. We had good views of the Yellow-browed Warbler here and the colour-ringed Little Stint was on the Scrape. We had our first few winter migrants with a Brambling flying in, a few Redwings over and Brent Geese on the River. As we stood there on the bank glancing through the waders, CJW shouted out "Gannet". I laughed at him in the same way as when he shouted out "Glaucous Gull" at Westport that morning last year. We were, after all facing the River Humber well away from the coast. He repeated "Gannet" and there in front of us were eight juvenile Gannets all flying low over the mud following the river. We felt that they were possibly on the wrong side of Spurn. 

We carried on our way up to the Crown and Anchor, onto the Churchyard and back to the car. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and despite the lack of birds, it was just a very pleasant stroll.   

During our walk around, we spotted this Spurn birder using a new technique for checking for the more skulking species. 

The bad side of modern day twitchers reared its head again on Spurn. Just look at this group of newbie twitchers. Fancy forgetting the table! Unbelievable

We returned to the Canal Scrape where the Little Stint was showing well from the hide. 

Colour rung in Norway

A finally, a musical treat for you all. This video is especially for all you birders who haven't had a tick yet this Autumn.

Monday, 23 September 2013

A couple of grey birds perk up a grey Autumn spell

Well into Autumn now but its been a mixed start for the mighty Clayheads. As is always the case in Autumn, you look forward to the mega's rolling in and the ticks arriving en masse. Most Autumns though, in reality, are hard going, with most ticks on far flung islands during the week (and if you can't have weekdays off you are knackered), and then when the weekend comes, they bugger off and you end up chasing birds around the country like a blue-bottomed fly desperately trying to join in the Autumn ticking fest. Yes, I find Autumn stressful and I'm not a big fan. I look forward to December, January and February when we can start moaning that we haven't had a tick for a while. 

Anyway, back to Saturday 14th September. We had planned to go on a trip as it was WeBs duck count the following weekend. There were bits around, but not many bobs, but there was quite a nice forecast for a bit of east coast sea watching. We set off early and arrived at Flamborough Head just after 08:00hrs. We joined the locals perched on the cliff face. I asked the birder next to me what he'd seen already. A Sooty and a few Arctic Skuas was his reply. It was not what we had expected. We sat there for almost two hours. There was a trickle of stuff going past, but we were always waiting for the big shout. Basically we had a few Arctic Skuas past and a small passage of Red-throated Divers. That was about all.    

We returned to the car and pondered our next move. I suggested heading back to Staffs for the Blithfield Crane and Little Stint. CJW suggested staying put on the east coast. In the end, we decided to walk around the headland to see what we could find. Not a lot was the answer. The Old Fall Hedge was totally bird less. We didn't even see a single Chiffchaff. It was quite amazing. It was a pleasant walk in the Autumn sunshine though. 

The best two things about Flamboro today - the lighthouse and the scenery

We realised that the East Coast wasn't having one of its better days, so we headed inland. Our destination was Broomhead Resv in South Yorks where the TWO-BARRED CROSSBILLS had been seen during the morning. GAS and CJW had seen these when they had first arrived, but not the male. We parked up and joined the group of birders stood beneath the trees. We found out there had been no further sign since this morning. We stood there in our chosen spot, and waited. We soon had small flocks of Crossbills flying over, but none were landing. There was something else in the air too. We were stood in a damp woodland, on a warm day, and there were swarms of midges in the air. Unfortunately, as I'm full of exceedingly good quality royal blood, I'm also very tasty to midges, horse flies etc. I zipped my coat up, put my woollen hat on and my gloves. I was roasting and still getting bit. We stuck it out for about an hour before we admitted defeat and headed back to the car. It was exactly like Nightjarring on the Chase except in September, and in the daytime. It was terrible. 

We headed for home pondering on what a super day we'd had. Then news broke of a GREAT SNIPE on Spurn. It could have been worse, it could have been on Flamboro. We did consider popping down to Spurn  earlier as well after Flamboro, but there was only a Red-backed Shrike so we didn't bother.

Sunday, when the GREAT SNIPE put on its infamous show to one and all, I was busy. Well here is a video of it for you all to savour here.

And so we aimed to make up for our previous weekend's misfortune and we planned a trip for Saturday 21st September. CJW fancied the LESSER GREY SHRIKE in Suffolk, along with a ROSE-COLOURED STARLING and 2BARS at Lynford. But on the Friday, as CJW put it, the spanner in the works came along with a BROWN SHRIKE in Hampshire. However, I threw a complete spanner in the factory by being on standby for the Blithfield duck count and receiving a request to help out at the Deep End (East Shore plus Cormorants, gulls and terns). We hatched a cunning plan and worked out if we counted as quick as we could, then we could be away from Blithfield and on our way south by 09:00hrs.  

We arrived at the Deep End just after 07:00hrs. I did the first bay and CJW did the concrete bay. CJW managed to upset the locals again. They'd never seen anyone from St Helen's before and just sat and stared at him.

To be honest, as is the case with the Deep End, there wasn't exactly a lot to count. I did manage to count the single Tufted Duck present (that's one figure that was correct!). We were all counted up by 08:00hrs. But there was no news from Hants yet on the BROWN SHRIKE. We headed down into Blithe Bay to help GJM with his count, and still no news came. It looked like it was a one day bird and had done a Friday night flit. It was annoying but on the other hand, we hadn't actually set off for Hampshire. Going on news had come good again. But, with news that the Suffolk LESSER GREY SHRIKE was still present made us realise if we had stuck to our original plan , we might have had a decent day. Our heads were turned by the better bird winking at us. Autumn - don't you just love it. 

We decided to stay in Staffs and do some proper birding (not spend all day retweeting other birders news out!). We joined up with Richard "Tad Bay" Powell to help him, only to find out he'd counted everything already. We sat and chatted and scanned and then all of a sudden, the Crane was sat in front of us. No one saw it fly in or from where it came. It was just there.

The Blithfield Common Crane, present for its 9th day

Next stop was at Branston GP's. Its still not having the best of years, and the water level had risen on the Sandy Pit. I started scanning and then my eyes landed upon a truly breath taking bird. Every so often a bird will have this effect on you. A bird you've been chasing for ages. And there it was in front of us.

I've been involved with this bird right from when it first landed in Staffordshire. I opened an email from a gentleman saying he'd seen a bird that he couldn't identify. Large, long legged etc. I read the description and thought, yes, a massive mega in Staffs is just about to be identified. I was thinking along the lines of Great or Little Bustard. A few days later, its identity was confirmed. 

We had hoped to bump into it as it toured East Staffs, but we never did. We've even missed it three times at Branston recently. But today the chase ended. CAPE BARREN GOOSE OML!

Cape Barren Goose - A truly awesome bird - all the way in from South Australia

And so with a decent visit to another pit, it turned out to be not a bad day after all. They may both have been grey, but there's nowt wrong with a couple of big old grey birds to boost your flagging spirits.

More pictures from today

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Friday 13th September 2013 - Blithfield Resv

News broke during the afternoon that a CRANE had been found in Tad Bay. It was already raining and the chances were good of it staying for the rest of the day. After tea, we headed down and despite the pouring rain, we enjoyed excellent views of the Crane as it fed in front of the hide in Tad Bay. My third Blithfield tick of the year.

The Crane - 5th record for Blithfield with previous records in Oct 1971, Mar 2000, Jun 2012 and May 2013 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

End of summer and onto Autumn

Back to normal routine Staffs birding now and getting all ready for Autumn. A full day out around the usual sites on Saturday August 25th saw a visit to Blithfield Reservoir, seeing two juvenile Black Terns and two Osprey sat in their usual tree in Tad Bay. 

Two Ospreys in Tad Bay

We visited Branston GP's afterwards but there really wasn't much on show. Its not been a vintage year at Branston yet this year, but hopefully the Autumn wader passage will be more productive. 

The following Saturday, 31st August, I'd agreed to take the girls to North Wales for the day, and so we were out birding on Sunday instead. A decent rarity had turned up in Cheshire the previous day, and CJW had hurtled up to Neumann's Flash to see the STILT SANDPIPER (amazingly his 2nd for Cheshire). As it was so close to Staffordshire, we decided to pop up there after Westport, and CJW got to see the Stilt Sandpiper for the second day running. 

Stilt Sandpiper at Neumann's Flash. 

Stilt Sandpiper is one of those birds that I've managed to photograph every single one I've seen. My first was the Pennington Marsh bird in Hampshire in July 2002.

Then there was the Brownsea Island bird in August 2006 - my big year listing year and a solo trip to boot!

Stunning views

Then we went for the juvenile bird in Cumbria in September 2008. This was only the third ever juvenile bird in Britain at the time. We went for it because I was off for the week and it was somewhere and something to see!

The rest of Sunday was spent in Staffordshire. We ended up at Blithfield again to look for the Little Stints but they had departed during the day. Big thanks to CJW for his efforts during the day. 

And so onto a busy start to Autumn. On Monday 2nd September, the Stilt Sandpiper was flushed by a Sparrowhawk, and a few hours later it was relocated on Elton Hall Flash at Sandbach. I had to take my daughter to Congleton after tea, and a trip to Sandbach on the way back fitted in nicely. It would have been a bit rude of me not to have seen it at Sandbach as it was so close to home. Although not a Sandbach lister like a lot of the Clayhead birders, I do like to see the decent stuff up there when it turns up. 

Unfortunately, it was a little bit distant. The video shows the bird clearly (if you look hard enough). 

And the busy week continued when MPR found a CATTLE EGRET in Tad Bay at Blithfield. It was 19:20hrs and the sun was still out. I knew I was in with a chance of getting down to see it. I phoned GAS and he was very prompt in picking me up. However, as soon as we were on the A50, the sun dropped, despite sunset being reported as 19:55hrs. I almost considered turning back but I carried on. We pulled up in Newton Hurst Lane at the end of Tad Bay at just before 20:00hrs. I knew it would give me a few minutes more of light instead of driving to the hide in Stansley Wood. A quick glance thru my bins and there was the adult s/pl Cattle Egret still sat on the shoreline. A fine Blithfield tick and my second in Staffordshire having missed the Doxey bird due to being in Portugal on holiday.

Video showing distant Cattle Egret at dusk. Beautiful!

Finally, congratulations must go to the number one Clayhead stalker Ian Burgess on reaching the magical 400. Wherever we go, he's always there first. See you soon Ian!