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