Friday, 21 February 2014

A few more trips under the belt

A wintering RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL had been found on the Gloucestershire Wiltshire border on February 3rd. It had proved a popular bird to go and see, but CJW still hadn’t found time to go down and see it. During the early stages, I felt I hadn’t the energy to do the walk, but as time progressed, I thought I would give it a go, especially as I was able to walk round Westport now. We planned to visit Slimbridge afterwards. Despite another night of high winds and heavy rain, the roads to the south were clear.  CJW picked GAS and myself up, and following a quick visit to Westport, we headed down the M5. There were frequent heavy showers, but we hoped we would get to Marshfield before the forecasted showers at 12:00hrs. We arrived on site at 10:30hrs, and decided to park in the layby at the start of the path, thus saving a long walk from the designated parking area. I set off first, and it was fairly hard work walking along the water logged path and deep puddles. The stream in the valley was also very full. We eventually arrived at the farm and started to look around. There were just a few birders in the area, including Tiffer and Ged. Unfortunately, the searches were always short as there were frequent rain showers, and we just stood beneath a holly tree and sheltered. For over an hour, the showers persisted, and no one present had seen the bird. We didn’t really know where to look.

Eventually, the sun came out and we had received information from PLo. More birders arrived on site, and it wasn’t long before the 1st winter male Red-flanked Bluetail was found, feeding in its favourite hawthorn bushes on the slope. We walked up the slope, but walking along it towards the bird was quite tricky, due to it being extremely waterlogged. I saw the bird with CJW, but GAS was struggling behind. I went to rescue him, but it was too late. He’d got himself stuck in a bush, and a branch had knocked his glasses off. Eventually, we all made it to the scope, and we never moved again. One birder nearby managed to fall over three times. We also saw a Grey Wagtail, Green Woodpecker and a Raven.

The Red-flanked Bluetail.

That slippery slope.

My very first RFBT seen on Gibraltar Point in Nov 2002.

Aberavon, Glamorgan – We had always planned to head to Slimbridge next. Seeing the RFBT had taken a lot longer than we’d expected. Standing around for over two hours plus the long walk back had tired me a little and I was glad for the sit down. There was only one other bird in the area than interested us, the ROSS’S GULL near Port Talbot, but there had been no sign for a few days. However, as we had stood waiting at Marshfield, the ROSS’S GULL had been seen again and had been sitting on a beach all morning. We were very close to the M4 and CJW decided to head that way; the journey only taking just over an hour. There was an update at 14:00hrs, but we didn’t arrived until just before 15:00hrs. At first we parked on the wrong side by Riverside Road, but we soon found our way round to Jackson’s Pier, at the mouth of the River Afon. CJW confirmed a small party of birders were stood at the end. Again I made the walk out, seeing a Rock Pipit on the way. When I reached CJW, he told me the news that there had been no sign since the 14:00hrs report. We stood on the end of the pier, with the tide coming in and large waves were crashing over the top, covering us all in spray. There were three Little Gulls feeding, plus three Kittiwake, Turnstone and Oystercatcher but time had run out.

On Tuesday 18th, we headed up to the North Welsh coast with the family for a day out. A few stops were made for birding. First stop was at Pensarn by the cafe where we managed to see two drake Surf Scoters, showing not too badly at the front of the flock. There were also a few Red-throated Divers in the area. 

At Beddmanarch Bay, there were a few Pale-bellied Brent Geese still present, plus four Slavonian Grebes and four Great Northern DiversA quick check in the harbour at Holyhead saw a few Black Guillemots in various plumages showing quite well. 

With no trip out on Saturday this week, we headed out on Thursday instead. First stop after a brief visit to Westport was at Alrewas GP, a site that has managed to change its name this winter. It was always the A38 pit when I visited it. Along the hedge by the sewage works, we were amazed by the number of Chiffchaffs present. We counted at least eight birds, plus a very showy Siberian Chiffchaff. At least three birds were in full song, and it was good to watch them fly catching in the sun. We saw the Long-tailed Duck as we first entered the pit, but despite searching extensively, we never saw it again. There was also no sign of the Smew but the female Scaup was still there.

I think I did a bit too much walking and clambering about at Alrewas, but fortunately, the walk at our next stop, Hams Hall was quite short. It was another catch up bird for me, as the Hume's Warbler had been present for quite sometime now. There was only one other birder on site, and he'd heard it call once in two hours. I had a quick walk around and then I heard something calling from near the road bridge. Sure enough, the Hume's Warbler was flitting away in the bush. It was 2006 when I saw my last one, so it was nice to see one again.

Hams Hall - So nice to spend time in such beautiful Warwickshire countryside

I thought it was going to take longer to see the Hume's at Hams Hall, but we were lucky and so we headed off to the gull roost at Chasewater, arriving at 14:30hrs! We sat in the car till 16:00hrs, sheltering from the frequent squally showers. The roost was very slow in forming tonight, but eventually the juvenile Glaucous Gull and juvenile Iceland Gull came in, plus the Great Northern Diver was still present. 

The Glaucous Gull showed well tonight

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Monday 10th February 2014 - Lightening does really strike twice

Its been a different start to the year.

The year started on January 1st, as it usually does every year. We headed off to Burton Marsh hoping to see the BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT. Amazingly, the very first bird we saw as we got out of the car was a Siberian Chiffchaff feeding in the hedge a few inches away from the car door, and later we had the bizarre sight of a Wheatear. Unfortunately, the forecast was against us and by 09:00hrs it was pouring down. We headed back to the RSPB centre at Burton Mere Wetlands for some shelter. Highlights were a Little Stint and three species of swan. 

The rain continued so we headed back to Staffordshire. Gailey was the first stop for the wintering Great Northern Diver. Then onto Belvide where we saw the immature Long-tailed Duck and four Scaup. With fading light, we headed home, calling in at Westport. A decent first visit for the year saw a Gadwall, Peregrine and Lapwing.

The first Saturday of the year saw us stay in Staffordshire again. At Gailey, a Great White Egret had joined the Great Northern Diver. At Aqualate, we saw the female Velvet Scoter but couldn't find the LONG-TAILED DUCK or SMEW. Then we were called away to Hanchurch Hills where there was a report of a possible PARROT CROSSBILL. We did find a flock of 50+ Crossbill but it was impossible to find anything different amongst them. 

And then the year came to a sudden halt. I had chest pains again and headed off to A&E. It was to be the start of two weeks in hospital, culmulating with a seven hour open heart operation and three days spent in intensive care. It was puzzling as to why I'd had my first heart attack in 2012, but to have a second 14 months later was a bit of a bummer. It all became clear when it was discovered one of my arteries was coming off the heart in the wrong place. It was going between two other arteries and it was being squashed. Both heart attacks were caused by a birth defect and not by eating too much cake and getting stressed over the Staffordshire county boundary changes of 1974. Originally I was going to have a heart bypass operation, but at the last minute (as I lay in theatre) they decided they were simply going to move my artery and put it back in the right place. This re-positioning of the artery was described by the surgeon as a "once in a life time operation" to perform, and it was the first time the operation had taken place at the hospital. Quite simply, I'm one of a very small number of people in the world to have this type of operation!

I was soon back home, but it was clearly going to take a while to get back on my feet. My first walk to the top of the street was a complete struggle. But each day you get stronger, and regular walks at Westport built my strength up. Finally, 23 days after my operation, I managed a complete lap.

Apart from my visits to Westport, I haven't done much birding. My first trip was five days after coming out of hospital when PJ very kindly took me up to Tittesworth to see the drake Lesser Scaup

On Sunday 9th February, details came out of the location of a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER in County Durham. It was on an housing estate and viewable without going into peoples houses. GAS was unavailable to go on Sunday (and I'm unable to drive for six weeks from my operation).

Having already practised by walking all the way round Westport, I knew the walking on the estate would not be an issue. We decided to go on Monday, setting off at 07:00hrs. It wasn't a very good journey as for some reason, we headed up the M6 and across the M62 - a Monday morning rush hour - what a mistake. We arrived at the village of High Shincliffe in County Durham at 10:15hrs. The place was heaving and there were cars everywhere. As we were walking down towards the main feeding station, a large crowd were running up towards us. We followed them and eventually had brief views of the Yellow-rumped Warbler high up in one of the fir trees. We were able to follow it around the gardens until it flew off and headed away from us.

We headed back down towards the coconut shells and stood and waited. Eventually, it completed its circuit and returned, giving good views in the silver birch and by the feeding station. I didn't realise it would be as mobile as this, but the birds every move was carefully followed. After about two hours of standing around, I realised my legs were starting to tell me I'd been on them for too long. It was worth it though.

Interesting fact - between the 10th and 18th February, I've now seen three American wood warblers - the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Gwent Common Yellowthroat and the Kent Golden-winged Warbler.