Sunday, 29 December 2013

A nice Christmas present

During one of our recent trips, I'd made a comment about ticks turning up at Christmas time, and how I always had to wait until the 27th December before I was released from Christmas duties. This happened in 2005 with the Black-throated Thrush in Somerset, and in 2008 with the Cornish Snowy Owl. 

Low and behold, on Boxing Day, a photo of a Brünnich’s Guillemot was posted on twitter having been taken in Portland Harbour. Confirmation of its continued presence came at about 10:00hrs, and those fortunate enough to be free on Boxing Day had time to get down to Portland for a most unexpected Christmas tick.

I was unavailable on Boxing Day and back at work on Friday 27th, so I had to play the waiting game again. With each report, I dared to start believing that it would actually stay until Saturday. GAS had a prior engagement on Saturday, and so he embarked on a crazy, epic solo trip on the Friday, not leaving Stoke until 10:00hrs and finally arriving in Portland at 15:00hrs due to the horrendous Friday traffic. He met up with legendary West Mids birder Hughie King and together they watched it feeding away in the harbour until dusk, when it flew out to deeper water. 

And so it was an early start on Saturday and we headed down to the south coast. CJW had returned from his Christmas break in Billinge-by-the-Sea, but PJ was away in Norfolk for a few days. KSt joined up with us again, and the journey was easy, arriving in Portland Harbour at 07:45hrs, just as it was getting light. 

As we were getting out of the car, we noticed birders running towards the quayside. We couldn't quite believe what was happening, but within moments of parking up, we were watching the Brünnich’s Guillemot diving away in the half light. It certainly was a moment to savour. We were watching a bird we'd only ever dreamt of seeing, probably following a trek to Shetland and a dreadful ferry crossing and not on the south coast of England. 

As the light improved, the views became slightly better, but it was diving frequently and it was hard to keep track of where it came up. It fed all the way over to the right, then it came all the way back over to the left and fed amongst the boats. It was amusing to watch birders trying to keep up with it, running backwards and forwards along the whole length of the quayside. We just stood still in the middle. 

Views around the Harbour

Eventually it stayed still long enough for me to get this full frame shot

There was quite a bit of birding to do as we stood and waited. We managed to see the Black Guillemot feeding distantly offshore - an England tick for me. There were plenty of Shag and Red-breasted Merganser plus two Great Northern Divers. I eventually captured the star bird on video, and at 09:00hrs, we headed off for our second destination of the day.  

We made the 83 mile journey along the coast to Brixham Harbour, where the south coasts second star attraction was. Probably as a result of the same storm that blew the Brünnich’s Guillemot in, a White-billed Diver had set up temporary home in the harbour. The journey took about two hours to do, and parking in the centre of Brixham was a slight problem. Eventually we found a space and walked down to the harbour side. Amazingly, the White-billed Diver surfaced a few feet in front of us. It was a truly incredible view, but unfortunately it started to swim out of the harbour and further away. We had made it by the skin of our teeth. We walked round to the other side and watched it feeding in the open water, still showing well but not the same incredible views as it had been giving before our arrival. We also had to answer questions off virtually every passer by. One asked if it was a photography competition! Most were genuinely interested about the bird, why we were watching it and even how far we'd travelled to see it. There were three Black-throated Divers also present.

The stunning Brixham White-billed Diver

Just before Christmas and following the Ivory Gull trip, I had made a collage of the best birds we'd seen during 2013 thinking that the year was finally over. How wrong could I have been. Almost the best trip of the year was saved for last.

Updated version!

PJ returned from his mini-break in Norfolk and headed down to Portland Harbour on Monday 30th December along with NDP. Despite the inclement weather and extremely strong winds, the Brünnich’s Guillemot showed well. 

On the return home, Radipole was his next destination, seeing Mediterranean Gull and the Glossy Ibis.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Clayhead's Christmas trip

For this years Clayheads Christmas trip, we decided to pop over to Yorkshire. We thought what better way to celebrate what a fabulous year its been for all the premiership, cheque-book, drop at any cost, school bobbing birders (GCSE's come in useful you know) than by standing on the edge of the Humber estuary with a 25mph wind blowing in your face early one winter's Saturday morning staring at rotting fish. So that's what we chose to do.  

Fortunately, as we were walking down the track to Patrington Haven, we received news that the 1w Ivory Gull was already gorging itself on the fore mentioned rotting fish. It was quite a memorable twitch for several reasons. Firstly, as we walked down, in the distance we could see someone using a flash to take photo's. It certainly made us walk quicker. The Ivory Gull was not really settled all the time it fed, which is understandable with the "get-a-shot-at-any-cost" photographers that appear to be at most big twitches now. 

The second memorable thing was the fish organiser, a certain Mr Trout. Mr Trout came along, armed with his one metre long lens a bit later than everyone else, and after the Ivory Gull had flown away from its first feed. He started to re-arranged the feeding area, removing any bits of unsightly dead fish, removing any bits of wood and litter and making the area nice for his "award-winning money shot". He then plonked down the largest piece of pink salmon you've ever seen. It was enormous and it sat there for all to see, whilst the Ivory Gull was sat on the rocks miles away. Along came Mr Nice. He got out his carrier bag of fish (imagine what his car smelt like) and emptied his bag, kindly donating his last few little pieces of fish that he owned. Incredibly, along came Mr Trout and basically told him to remove his fish (we think because they were too small and from his arm movements he was suggesting the gull would come down and grab one and fly off). This poor bloke then bent down and started picking up his offerings with his bare hands. We all genuinely felt sorry for Mr Nice, but Mr Trout wanted his nice shot and didn't want it to be ruined by anyone else. What a complete tw...

Anyway, I digress. The 1w Ivory Gull showed extremely well in the early morning light. It flew in at 07:15 hrs and was first spotted by none other than the Clayhead's No1 stalker - Ian! Nothing quite like ending the year with a stalker in tow, and hopefully it will happen again next year. It flew off and sat on the rocks in between flying around but it never looked like returning to feast on the fresh salmon. At 09:00hrs, we walked back to the car and headed off. By now, the lane was full of cars, and it was tight for us to drive down. Imagine a tanker coming down!  


1w Ivory Gull, Patrington Haven, Yorkshire (c) Clayheads

Next stop was Hornsea Mere. It was incredibly windy here, so strong in fact that you had to cling on to your tripod for dear life in case you were blown away. From the point, a very showy Grey Phalarope was feeding away frantically. In the reeds opposite a Great White Egret was skulking away but we couldn't find the Long-tailed Duck or Velvet Scoter - the waves were too high. We quickly retreated back to the car before the wind ruined our hairstyles for the rest of the trip.

Photos by Phil Jones

We headed down towards North Cave next and drove through the quite picturesque town of Beverley, a place I'd never been to before. North Cave was a small YWT reserve and I think they knew they would be attracting quite a few birders on the way back from Patrington, calling in here to see the GREEN-WINGED TEAL. There was a nice man giving out directions, showing us where to go on a map, a nice selection of books for sale on his table. All very good except for one major mistake. We were all thinking how can we get past him without paying when we realised we weren't going to be charged a penny to go in! We couldn't quite believe our stroke of fortune. (For legal reasons, I'd like to point out I am a fully paid up member of the RSPB even though they supported the Ruddy Duck cull, the WWT, BTO and WMBC). We walked to the Turret hide and the birders just leaving (must have smelt CJW's big lump of fresh salmon he had in his pocket for his tea ) told us where the Green-winged Teal was. It was on an island, hidden in a gully asleep. And basically for an hour that's where it stayed. Crippling views were had and a fine bird to end the day on. The hides at North Cave were quite good. Plenty to read in there while you were waiting for the GWT to wake up. There were site lists, dragonfly lists and endless identification articles from Birdwatching magazine all nicely laminated. Excellent stuff.

At first it was asleep with only its head showing....
...then it woke up but it didn't move much....

....but then it did move at bit, then went back to sleep......

.....then there was a big disturbance and it came out into the open and went to sleep showing not very well.

Following some advice given to me on Saturday during the long hours spent in the car, it was suggested that I needed to inject some humour into the blog. So here it is...
What does a policeman have on his sandwiches?
- Luncheon meat!

I think I got the punch line right. I can't remember now. So that concludes the trip. Today we saw a magnificant Black Swan at Hornsea Mere.....

and an Ivory Gull at Patrington.... 

which leads into today's song.....

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Its up to the BBRC now

Late on Saturday while we were sat musing in the hide at Aqualate, news started filtering through about a BAIKAL TEAL at Crossens Outer Marsh near Southport in Lancashire. It was finally relocated at midday on Sunday but with a hectic work schedule at the beginning of the week, I wasn't able to realistically make a visit until Wednesday afternoon. Everything went to plan on Wednesday and I was on the road for 12:30hrs. I woke up the St Helen's kid and picked him up and headed towards his old stomping ground. As we headed off the motorway, all I kept hearing was "that's the first tree I climbed" and "I've ate a meal in that pub" and "that's where I saw my first German bomber" and "that's where I saw The Rocket steam train".

We had received no updated information on the BAIKAL TEAL since the last message at 10:00hrs, but as we were on the outskirts, we finally received confirmation that it was still present. We were worried that we would have to find it ourselves. We parked up by the pumping station and spoke to the first birder we met walking back to his car. He told us it had flown from the road side area where everyone was standing and it would be best to follow the embankment path. We soon found a small group of birdwatchers, but they hadn't found the BAIKAL TEAL again. We tried scanning through the endless flocks of Wigeon, but by now it was quite windy, and getting very cold. It was the sort of wind that blew  your scope over. I also realised there were only Wigeon here and no Teal. We started walking further along the path and found quite a few Teal actually in the channel, most of which was hidden from view. It wasn't looking good.

We wandered away from the crowd, but we had lost contact with the larger group. We decided to rejoin them. But they were all standing still scanning the same Wigeon flocks. This time, we decided that CJW would stay behind, and I would wander along the path. We'd found a large group of Teal further up and I felt this was our final hope. I walked down and several other birders followed me this time.

Eventually, a birder from this forward group found the sleeping drake Baikal Teal roosting on the banks of the channel. They shouted to me as I was slightly in front of them. I rang CJW and soon the whole group was on the bird. We were all quite relieved to finally see the thing.

And so now we wait for BBRC to accept it or not. Its my preference to have a clean BOU list with everything accepted and above board. That's my decision and I'm sticking to it. No dodgy unaccepted birds on my list!

February 2014 Postscript - Baikal Teal accepted!

Ok, so its request time again for this weeks video to end the blog slot. This week, I had a nice email from Martyn who lives on a high hill in Birmingham. He writes " Hi, love your end of the blog video slot. Some excellent classic tunes. Being up here on my high hill, I get very lonely as I don't see anyone and there are no birds up here to look at. I often sing this song at the top of my voice and do the dance. It makes me feel so much happier". Well Martyn from a high hill in Birmingham, here's your favourite tune!