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!