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


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Clayheads on Tour - 6th to 20th September NEW YORK & NEW ENGLAND

Myself & Mrs PJ recently spent a very enjoyable 2 weeks across the pond with 5 days in New York followed by a road trip into New England visiting Massachucetts & New Hampshire. My birding was mainly centred around 4 sites, Central Park in NY, The White Mountains in NH, Plum Island in Mass & Cape Cod also in Mass.

First morning I was up at first light and off to my new temporary local patch - Central Park. Our hotel on Madison Ave had been chosen specially, due to its   close proximity to the Park so I was birding within minutes ' Coffee ' still in hand. 
There were 2 things I noticed straight away that were different from my local patch at home, No 1 was that nobody had ever told me to ''have a nice day'' up the Void & No 2 was that there were birds here, lots and lots of birds and my initial impression was that most of them were American Robins !!
I'm not joking, there were 100's of them, everywhere you looked there were literally 'flocks' of them. Catbirds were also common with Mourning Doves and a few Grackles thrown in but it was the migrants I was after so I started to check a few likely looking areas. The first area I checked didn't disappoint, as I walked through I disturbed 2 birds that had been feeding on the grass underneath some over hanging vegetation. They didn't fly far so I located them quite quickly - 2 Oven birds !! what a start and they looked a fair bit healthier than the last one I saw on the Scilly Isles back in 2004. These were closely followed by a Warbling Vireo which was a new bird for me. Other highlights from my first morning were - 3 Common Yellowthroats, 1 American Redstart, 1 Red Breasted Nuthatch, 1 Carolina Wren, 1 Downy Woodpecker & a Rose Breasted Grosbeak. 
Walking back to the hotel I bumped into Joan Rivers' funeral, Oven bird and Sarah Jessica Parker all before breakfast - only in New York !!

 American Robin
 American Robin flock
 Warbling Vireo

My second morning and I decided to tag along with the 'famous' Bob's birding tours of Central Park, mainly to suss out out where the best migrant hotspots were. The man himself was away but his replacement, Deb, knew her stuff and a very enjoyable 2 - 3 hours were spent wandering around the 'Rambles' which is near 'Strawberry Fields'  the John Lennon memorial opposite the Dakota building where the great man was shot. 
By the end of the morning my notebook was crammed full of quality birds including - 3 Baltimore Orioles, 1 Yellow Warbler, 1 Northern Parula, 1 Black & White Warbler, 1 American Redstart, loads of Yellowthroats, 2 Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, 3 Red Eyed Vireos, 1 Cedar Waxwing, 1 Swainsons Thrush and best of all 1 Wood Thrush. 
The Birding during the remainder of my stay in NY didn't quite live up to my first 2 mornings but I did add Song Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Wood duck, Cardinal plus loads more Yellowthroats to the list.
 Baltimore Orioles
 Blue Jay
 Red-eyed Vireo
 Wood Duck
Early on the final morning in NY we took a cab back to JFK and picked up the hire car. Once again the American Sat Nav I had bought on a previous trip saved our marriage, those things really are indispensable as Important as your bins and a fresh pair of underpants. 
It was nice to leave the intensity of the city behind and get out into the countryside. The drive up to the mountains took a little longer than expected, about 6 hours in total but by mid afternoon we were pulling up outside our lodge in Jackson. What a fantastic location it was, set in the hills with a river running through it and surrounded by forest. A quick stroll around the garden produced 1 Ruby throated Hummer, Black capped Chickadees, Blue Jays and a Turkey Vulture overhead. 
The following morning I was up & out at first light. The first bird I saw was a Merlin which perched briefly in a tree top, nearby there seemed to be a lot of activity in a stand of Pines so I headed that way, here I found a flock of BC Chickadee’s, a Pine Warbler, 2 Chipping Sparrows hopping along the roadside and best of all a singing Philadelphia Vireo. After some breakfast myself & Mrs PJ had a walk along the River & up into the hills here I had American Goldfinches, Song Sparrow and brilliant views of a Black throated green warbler, these proved to be the commonest warbler during our holiday.
 Black-throated Green Warbler
 Chipping Sparrows

During the remaining three days the birding was fantastic particularly in the trees that bordered Jackson Golf course, in 1 hour on the morning of the 13th I saw the following –
1 Coopers Hawk,1 Yellow bellied Sapsucker, 1 Hairy Woodpecker, 1 Pileated Woodpecker, White breasted Nuthatches, numerous Yellowthroats & Black throated green Warblers, 2 Magnolia Warblers, Pine Warbler, Yellow Warbler & Blackpoll Warbler, Blue headed Vireo, Red eyed Vireo, Eastern Phoebes, Eastern wood Peewees, Alder/Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Ruby throated Hummer, 8 Cedar Waxwings numerous Purple Finches & American Goldfinches plus all the usual suspects – Chipping & Song Sparrows, Chickadees, Catbirds, Robins & Jays etc...
The only downside was that I never saw a Black Bear, I lost count of the times I was told ‘’ You should of been here yesterday there was one in my fruit tree or there was one crossing the Gas station forecourt or there was one in my kitchen eating my Porridge.
 Eastern Phoebe
 Hairy Woodpecker
 White-breasted Nuthatch
 Purple Finch
From our base in Newburyport this 11 mile long island was accessible by bridge and was only a 15min drive away. It reminded me of Spurn in some respects and was an excellent spot to add a few Shorebirds & Water birds to the list with a chance of a few migrants thrown in.
Whist Mrs PJ topped up her tan on the beach I attempted some Wader photography which isn’t difficult when they are running around your feet. The Semi P Sands & White rumped Sands were ridiculously tame as were the Sanderling. More usual views were had of Short billed Dowitcher, Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs on the pools inland along with Black Ducks & Blue winged Teal, Marsh Hawk, Herons & Egrets.
Passerines included Belted Kingfisher, Brown Thrasher, Red eyed Vireos, Marsh Wren, Field Sparrow & large numbers of hirundines, mainly Tree Swallows with smaller numbers of Bank & Barn Swallows.

 Black Ducks
 Field Sparrow
 Northern Mockingbird
 Tree Swallows
White-rumped Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper

Situated right at the end of Cape Cod and reminiscent of the town in ‘Jaws’ this is great place to book onto a Whale watching trip which is what we did on our first morning.
This obviously also had the added attraction of seeing a few seabirds, I knew it was too late in the season to see Wilsons Petrel but there were plenty of Great, Corys & Sooty Shearwaters still around the Humpback Whales however were something else. We had incredible views of up to 14 individuals in fact at one point when one surfaced next to the boat I could smell its breath - the breath of a thousand chum buckets !!
On the final 2 mornings I birded in the Beech woods and the seashore. In the woods the pick of the bunch was Wild Turkey, 8 Eastern Towhees, Cedar Waxwings, American Redstart, Black throated green Warbler, 5 Baltimore Orioles and loads of Chipmunks. On the beach Forsters & Roseate Terns plus Semi Palmated Sand and the usual peeps.
 Wild Turkey
 American Herring Gull
 Forster's Tern with Laughing Gulls and Common Terns
 Great Shearwaters
 Humpbacked Whale