Tuesday, 30 December 2014

29th December 2014 - Wakefield, West Yorkshire and review of year

I managed to get a few days off this year in between Christmas and New Year, and so when a possible THAYER'S GULL was found in West Yorks, it fitted in nicely with visiting the wintering BLYTH'S PIPIT near to Pugneys CP.

I arrived at Mirfield just after 08:00hrs, but it took quite a while to suss the area out and for all the birders to get together. We had an Iceland Gull fly over, but the flock of large gulls never really settled, and when they did they were out of view on warehouse roofs. Eventually they circled and all flew off. 

The Blyth's Pipit was only 25 minutes away so I headed over. I stood for an hour waiting for something to happen and then it did. One of the locals very kindly walked through the area, and out popped the Blyth's Pipit. A brief flight along with a nice call and it landed on the other side of the road in a culvert...with short grass. This allowed everyone to get a decent view and the cameras were clicking away.


 Blyth's Pipit near to Wakefield, West Yorks

This is the grass where it showed so well

This is where it hides until it's organised flushed out.  

Satisfied with my views, I headed over to Pugney's hoping that the possible Thayer's was going to roost again. I told the posh bloke from Bedfordshire standing next to me at 14:30hrs that the roost wasn't going to form, as there were only about ten large gulls present. By 15:30hrs it wasn't quite at Chasewater levels, in fact there were only about 50 gulls present. Having done a roost before, I just had that gut feeling. There was no sign of the Thayers in a much reduce sized roost was the official line. I stood for nearly two hours on a frozen bank, and I have to admit, I gave up before it was dark as I was just absolutely frozen. Heaters on full all the way back thawed me out nicely.

And so that's it for 2014. No need to review the year as you can read all about it on my blog. And so 2015 will begin in a few days time. And what do we expect next year from us? CJW hopefully will reach a listing milestone and finally get to join the @NGBirders 200 Club. BUBO says he's about 12 short, so maybe by the second weekend in January he should get there. He also is celebrating his 60th birthday next year. A celebration trip is already being planned. Fingers crossed and Staffordshire birding will kick into life again soon. It's been quite a quiet spell or even quiet a quite spell recently, but we'll keep plodding on looking for that big one. Maybe next year we'll do a Barrymore and strike it lucky and find a big one. 

Big thanks this year goes to the other three Clayheads who had to drive me around during January and February when I was unable to drive. Much appreciated and hope you all enjoyed finally being able to walk faster than me for a short time. 

Apologies now. 

First to PJ. PJ offered to take me up to Tittesworth to see the Lesser Scaup. It was a bird I wanted to see as I'd been putting the news out daily whilst in hospital. So what better way to announce my return to birding than a trip up the moors. However it was only five days after I'd come out of intensive care (true fact), and maybe looking back it was a bit too soon. But I managed it, we saw the bird and PJ dropped me off outside my house. The last thing I said to him as I got out of the car was "Watch the balls". (We have low lying street furniture in the street and if you forget about them and drive forward, it hurts the car a bit). Poor old PJ did me a huge favour, took me out, then wrote off his car outside my house. 

Secondly to CJW who had to watch as I walked/stood on the slippiest bank in the world while watching the Gloucs/Wiltshire Red-flanked Bluetail. It was only four weeks after surgery and he was slightly worried as to what happened if I fell over. (I would have split open again Chris and made a mess of your car)
 Stunning days indeed. The bank was incredibly slippy so we stood on it.

And for my bird of the year?

Take your pick

See you all in 2015. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

6th December 2014 - The Strange tale of the Westport Smew

I'm not sure whether you know this or not, but it's December now, and the days aren't as long as they are in June or July. Back in the summer, I could easily visit Westport before work, arriving before 06:00hrs on some days to give the site a thorough grilling. In December though, morning visits are out of the question and even afternoon visits are a bit of a rush. I do try and visit the lake every afternoon during the week, but if I get held up at work or stuck in traffic then there's no chance of making it. 

On Wednesday 3rd December, I arrived quite late in the afternoon, parking up at 15:45hrs. As the light was already fading, I didn't bother with my wellies and just walked round in my work shoes. This meant I stuck to the paths and I didn't stand on my usual jetty to scan the lake. I counted the tufted and pochard as per usual, highlight being a drake Goldeneye and I returned home. Run of the mill visit. Happens every night.

But then it went bang and pop. I received an email sent from a gentleman with whom we'd had a few reports sent into Staffsbirdnews in the past. The email contained a photograph of a redhead SMEW taken at Westport at 13:00hrs. Smew is quite a Westport mega with only a handful of sightings in the past. I've sort of missed two previously over the years and still needed it for my list. 

The doubts started to go round my head. Had I missed it in my haste? Had I been complacent and not done a proper check? Could I really have counted the ducks with the Smew under water all the time? Did my bum really look big in these trousers?

I convinced myself that the Smew must have flown off and I wasn't really complacent and sloppy. PLo said he would check the lake in the morning and so all was calm. By the time he had arrived, DK had already been on site since 07:30hrs and there was no sign. But it then transpired that another visitor had seen the SMEW whilst walking around at 15:45hrs. Exactly the same time as I arrived. He'd rang another birder to say he had thought he'd seen a SMEW (thanks for passing the message on), returned to his car to fetch his bins but when he returned to the lake at 15:55hrs there was no sign. The mystery deepened when DK said he'd been checking the gulls at 14:30hrs and seen no SMEW. It was all very odd. 

Thursday and Friday afternoon produced no further sightings and we spent from 07:30hrs to 10:00hrs on site on Saturday morning. We wandered off to the pits still discussing the mystery of the Smew. 

Then, PLo rang me to say he'd met Simon Middleton (the original finder) by the top pool who told him the SMEW was again present. PLo checked and there it was. He rang us, we put the news out and hurtled back along the A50, arriving at Westport about 45 mins later. The boys on the bank hadn't seen the Smew for ten mins but following an anxious wait, it was found again in the bottom corner. It was the largest gathering at Westport since the last time something was found (CJW's Glaucous Gull maybe?), and we saw the Suttons, the Carthy's, Karl, Bill M, Gronk, young Bromley plus several faces I didn't recognise, along with PLo and PJ.

This is the 5th record of Smew at Westport, the first for 17yrs. It's also my 3rd Westport tick of the year, even though my year list total is one of the lowest for quite a few years. Photos below are taken by PJ.

1986 - A drake was seen on February 23rd and March 1st.
1991 - Two redheads were seen on February 17th.
1996 - A redhead seen on December 9th.
1997 - A redhead arrived on January 29th with a party of Goosander and was still present the following day.
2014 - A first-winter drake was seen on 3rd and 6th December.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Nov 30th 2014 - Great Grey Shrike, Swynnerton Old Park

November 2014 had been a largely forgettable month for those with British lists of over 250. I'd not left the county and had mainly been watching the gravel pits, hoping to strike it lucky. The best bird so far had been the early Smew at Belvide.

Finally on the last day of the month, a few bits appeared for us to see. Originally we had hoped to go to Cleveland to see the ISABELLINE WHEATEAR but it did a Thursday night flit instead of the usual Friday night. So we decided to stay in Staffordshire instead.

After finishing off at Westport, we all met up at Hanchurch where a Great Grey Shrike had been found the previous day. By the time we arrived, the Shrike was already being watched by a small crowd of North Staffordshire birding stalwarts. It put on a fine display as it fed in front of us, perching on the stumps and coming quite close at times.


A small gathering of North Staffordshire's birders

The video and the drawing

Phil Jones latest artwork

We were heading off towards the East Staffs pits when we received news of a GREEN-WINGED TEAL came on from Derbyshire. We were heading that way and it was still relatively early so it fitted in nicely with the day. It took CJW ages to find the site as it was just by the junction of the A38 and A61 - a roundabout we fly round many times on the way east (sorry Flyboy but not that type of flying!). All we knew was that it was on some floods. We drove down the A61 a short way, parked up and walked back to view the floods. Second teal I saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was as easy as that. Petty we were standing next to such a busy road.

The flood field just before the roundabout at the A38/A61 junction. A new site for us

And so we finally arrived at the gravel pits where the highlight of the visit was a very large gull roost. We managed to find at least three Yellow-legged Gulls, adult Mediterranean Gull and a fine adult Caspian Gull. It's amazing what you can see in Staffordshire.

A few photos of the Caspian Gull

Monday, 27 October 2014

Friday 24th October 2014 - Porthgwarra, Cornwall

As we were driving back home from Somerset, we were receiving news that the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO was still present in Cornwall. The last message came through at 15:00hrs. The question was then asked as to whether I would travel down to Cornwall when the last sighting was at 15:00hrs. It was a tough question to answer. If we travelled on positive news, then we wouldn't arrive until 14:00hrs. We decided that as we were dealing with a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO it was worth taking the risk. We decided on a late start, aiming to leave Stoke at 04:00hrs, the plan being if there was early negative news, then we wouldn't have to drive all the way to Porthgwarra. There were three or four other bits in Cornwall, so there was at least something to see.

The situation eased a little when we received news that there had been a further sighting at 17:30hrs. The trip was finalised. Despite having a full day in Somerset, it was such a pleasure to hear my alarm go off at 03:45hrs. We picked CJW and we had a smooth run down the motorway to Cornwall for a change (most recent visits we've had to divert off the motorway in the middle of the night when they are closed). 

There was still no news as we raced through Penzance, and as we got closer to Porthgwarra, we knew our internet connection would suddenly go (Porthgwarra is in a internet and phone signal free zone). We were just in the narrow lanes ten minutes from Portgwarra when CJW started leaping for joy. The YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO was well made, and had survived the night.

As we descended into the valley, we could see the crowd gathered on the hillside opposite. We played it cool though and parked in the proper car park and took the walk up on the moor to the dried up pool. We parked up at 09:30hrs and by 09:50hrs we were watching the elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo flitting between the bushes. As we stood there and finally celebrated my first lifer this autumn, I asked CJW if it was a tick for him too. Of course he smiled and replied "No". He seen the 1965 St Agnes bird whilst birding with Hilda Quick, DIM Wallace and a young William Oddie. 

 Not a bad crowd for a Friday morning

 It was a good job we had these early views because there was no sign for the next hour. The drizzle slowly came down and the crowd spread out. Eventually it was relocated and we enjoyed more prolonged views. It was quite amusing to watch one of the top birders in the country struggle to get on the bird every single time. We would be watching it, snapping away with our cameras, and we'd hear a "So which bush is it in again?". How he's managed to get up to nearly 500 I don't know.

By 11:30hrs, the drizzle was constant and the visibility was quite poor. We retreated back to the car.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Porthgwarra, Cornwall.

We stopped off at Hayle and saw the Lesser Yellowlegs, but as soon as we got out of the car, it started drizzling again. We drove around looking for the ROSE-COLOURED STARLING but it was playing hard to get. Finally we drove up to Davidstow Airfield, and enjoyed some rather splendid views of the juvenile American Golden Plover.

It wasn't a bad week to have as a holiday after all.

 American Golden Plover on Davidstow Airfield

Sunday, 26 October 2014

23rd October 2014 - The Pallid Harrier dip in Somerset

Following the successful trip to South Wales on Monday, the week faded a little bit. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings were spent at Westport; Wednesday being especially good at Westport with one of the best mornings birding there for quite a while. Viz mig was in full flow with a personal record count of 3245 Woodpigeons over. There were lots of other decent birds seen, with stuff like Brambling, Raven, Linnet, Nuthatches, Rooks, Siskin, Cormorants - all birds you don't see often down there. It just shows when it starts going quiet nationally, there's always your local patch to fall back on. You just have to drop down your lists a little bit. 

The end of the week was approaching and we needed a trip. There were two choices basically. A SIBERIAN STONECHAT in Hampshire (but nothing else down there to see at all), or a PALLID HARRIER in Somerset. 

We decided on Somerset and a return visit to Steart Point. We'd seen the wintering Temminck's Stint there in 2013. Now, the area had been re-developed since and it was a brand new reserve called Steart Marshes WWT. We skipped Westport and headed straight down the M5 again. A short drive through Weston-super-Mare and we headed out onto the point itself. At first the roads were unfamiliar and we didn't recognise the area. Then we drove past a caravan park and still the signposts weren't saying Steart. In fact, they were saying Brean. I started to feel a little bit uneasy and decided to stop and check my phone as to where we were. 

The lads took it quite well, and 40 mins later we were on Steart Point parking up in the brand new reserve car park. The slight detour to the headland above Steart wasn't planned but it was good to explore the area. We now know there are two peninsulars on the Somerset coast and I'm sure that will come in useful one day.

As I said before, Steart Marshes WWT is new. The car park is brand new, all the signs and posts were immaculate. The information boards are well presented and the staff we spoke to were very pleasant. The paths were well laid out. There were toilets but no visitors centre yet. There is just one slight problem with the reserve though - there's hardly any birds there.

We stood next to the Mendip hide and joined the small crowd and scanned over the newly created marshes. There were a few Little Egrets to look at. And that was about all. After about half an hour of standing by the side of the hide, standing on the bank being buffeted by the wind, sharp-eyed CJW made a startling observation. There were birders sat inside the hide. We assumed that because everyone was stood by the hide that it was shut. I tried the door and it opened. We sat down out of the wind and set our scopes up. Unfortunately, the only window space left was a large window that wouldn't open. And the glass was foggy. But we coped. 

We sat there all morning. The highlight was finally seeing the Great White Egret as it showed briefly in one of the channels. We found a few Shoveler and Mallard, a few Canada Geese flew in, several flocks of distant waders flew across. We even saw a Merlin. But the juvenile PALLID HARRIER was missing.

Our visit sort of summed up the week. Sadly missing something. If there had been birds to look at, it might have made the visit better. But there wasn't. It's hard to think of a more birdless place that we'd visited recently. We didn't, despite searching, even see a Coot. But where as other WWT have been built around areas of wintering geese and swans for example, Steart is a man made flooded area by an estuary. The notice boards only list the estuary waders as birds you are likely to see. I'm sure it will develop and birds will start visiting it...eventually. Maybe if the PALLID HARRIER had put on a show, we would have enjoyed the visit a little bit more.

Then, at 12:55hrs, as if the god's above were laughing at us, news broke of just the sort of bird we had dreamed of this week. A YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO had been found at Porthgwarra. We were half way there. It would only take us about three hours to get there. It would leave us with a couple of hours of light and, as we all know, American Cuckoos rarely survive into a second day. Then incredibly news came of a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO on North Ronaldsay. The hurricane of Tuesday was finally producing the goods. 

Unfortunately, I had to be back home by 18:30hrs to baby sit. It was the only night of the week that my good lady was going out. There was nothing left to do. We headed for home.

No photo's were taken today as we didn't see much. So here's a bird I saw 23yrs ago, on the 18th October 1991. I'm sure some of you younger readers will enjoy them. And I was the second birder to arrive on scene. And I'd been twice before with WJL following rumours of one being present. And I didn't charter any planes to see it. In fact, I didn't have to leave the city boundaries!



Monday 20th October 2014 - Kentish Plover, Crymlyn Burrows, Glamorgan

Following the less than impressive week off in September, I was hoping for a slightly better return from my October week off. I have been fortunate enough to have seen a few top notch mega's at the end of previous Octobers, but as the week started, I wasn't feeling too confident.

We decided on a trip out on the first day of the week to get the week off to a good start. There wasn't an awful lot about, but a KENTISH PLOVER in South Wales that had been present over the weekend did catch our attention. 

We had a leisurely walk around Westport and then headed off down the M5/M50 to Swansea. The directions told us to walk through the University campus. However upon our arrival, we discovered that the university campus was still being built, and it was a huge building site. In the end we asked a returning fisherman how to get onto the beach, and he showed us a gap in the fence. We then walked across some disused ex-industrial site and finally came to the beach. Our next obstacle was to climb over the huge boulders put in on the edge of the beach. We were absolutely certain we'd come in the correct way.

 The beach with the University campus in the background and the flood defences middle top of photo that we had to climb over

Eventually we were walking on the beach and checking through the small Ringed Plover flocks. There were two other birders on the beach and we slowly made our way towards them. The tide was coming in, and the waders were slowly bunching together on the banks of the river. The wind was whipping up and the conditions weren't pleasant, but with all Ringed Plovers sat facing us, it was easy to slowly check each one. As I was scanning, I was suddenly aware of bits hitting me. CJW informed me it was sand being blown at me. It then dawned on me it was raining. There we were in the middle of a beach, with a strong wind whipping up the sand and then it started pelting down. Just at this moment, I found the Kentish Plover at the front of the flock. I passed my scope over to CJW but conditions worsened, the flock was flushed and we retreated to the dunes for some sort of shelter.

The shower soon passed, and we returned to find the Ringed Plovers again. Fortunately they all gathered in virtually the same area as before. And I soon found the pale Plover again. The problem was it was asleep, and it took a bit of persuading the local birders that it was the Kentish. Until it woke up that was.

Initial views. Stood out as pale and the only juvenile on the beach. It was still called a Sanderling by one tho

 The large crowd slowly increased in size. And a nice bunch they were. They welcomed the odd visitors from Stoke and even showed us the right way to get back to the car.

The 3rd Kentish Plover for Glamorgan and a bit of a Welsh mega

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

October 2014 - Ferreting around after year ticks

If you want to read about the rare birds on Shetland this autumn then this ain't the blog for you. If you want to read a blog about a tickless Autumn with only year ticks to show then read on.

First of all, there was a STEPPE GREY SHRIKE in Norfolk that was proving to be quite popular. CJW and GAS had already seen in during the week, and as it was six years since the Lincolnshire bird, I thought it was about time to see another one. You can always have a decent days birding in Norfolk this time of the year, but unfortunately the proposed trip didn't go ahead.

Here is CJW's excellent video of the Shrike.

A quick trip after work saw my second Common Crane at Blithfield. The bird hung around for three days.

Then, the following week, another decent Shrike sp. turned up in Norfolk and East Yorks - this time an ISABELLINE SHRIKE. It's even longer since I've seen one of these, way back in 2006. The one on Spurn wasn't as reliable as the Norfolk one, and so I headed down to Norfolk.

I arrived at Warham Greens and there had been still no reports of it. There were plenty of birders around though, enjoying the delights of Autumn in North Norfolk. Flocks of finches were flying in off the sea, and there were Goldcrests and Redwings in most bushes. A shout went up and we were soon watching a Rough-legged Buzzard flying over the saltmarsh. I headed off to Cley - I could have always popped back if the ISABELLINE SHRIKE was refound - and saw the very showy Grey Phalarope from the beach car park. 

Next stop was at Holkham where I enjoyed walking along the track with a small group of birders, chatting away as if we'd known each other for hours, and not only just met each other. In the end I managed three Yellow-browed Warblers. It was nice to meet up with a @NGBirder and his dad from Market Harboro. Very keen to learn and not just interested in when the next giga turns up and where the next charter flight leaves from. Young Jake even stood there and asked what a YBW sounded like. Happy to oblige I played the call on my phone. Quite a few other birders turned round immediately.....oh the joys of having bird calls on your phone.

Last stop of the day was at Titchwell. The place was heaving with small groups of OAP's who liked to stand around on the paths and chat. I managed my fourth Yellow-browed Warbler of the day here.

 A few photo's from Titchwell