Friday, 18 December 2015

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A splash of colour to brighten up a dull Staffordshire winter

Staffordshire has suddenly sprung into life now its winter, and the last few weekends have been happily spent birding in the county. Its times like this when you realise the importance of having more than one list to concentrate on. I myself keep 48 different lists so I have plenty of opportunities to keep the ticks rolling in. 

It all started on 21st November when I popped into Chasewater to see the drake Red-crested Pochard. I only realised when I returned home that it was infact my first ever one at Chasewater. 


Red-crested Pochard at Chasewater
The following weekend following Storm Brenda, we returned to Chasewater for a Shag. CJW had never had one in Staffs before so he was over the moon when we finally had it on the dam. It was also my first at Chasewater, although I'd managed one at Blithfield and two at Gailey before.

Shag at Chasewater
On Saturday 28th November, the day was almost ruined again by another storm, this time Storm Colin. A wet day was forecast, but we decided to head down to deepest south west Staffordshire where a HOOPOE had been found. On the way down the M6, we received information that it had flown off strongly to the east. We hastily made up plan B and carried on down to Farmoor Resv. Of course the HOOPOE reappeared, but we were already well on our way to Oxfordshire. Despite the wind and rain, we managed excellent views of the Grey Phalarope as it swam just a few feet offshore. We also saw the Red-necked Grebe from the comfort of the hide on the causeway. This was a nice surprise as we assumed (incorrectly) that all the hides would be locked. 

We headed back north, driving through continuous heavy rain and arrived at Wall Heath at 14:45hrs. It was nearly dark, and we were told that the HOOPOE had just flown into a tree, possibly to roost. We grabbed just our bins and headed up the hill, not really expecting to see anything. We'd waited about half an hour when the Hoopoe suddenly reappeared, and showed very well on the grassy slope. No photos though of either bird today as it was raining most of the day, and I didn't want to get my optics wet.

And into December. I decided to return to the Hoopoe again on Saturday 5th to try and get some photos. I arrived at 11:00hrs only to find there had been no sign yet today. Hardly surprising as this week it was the turn of Storm Derek to ruin another Saturday. This time it was dry, but there were 80mph winds. My hair was a complete mess. I stuck it out for an hour, and then headed back to the car, passing Grizzly Adams on the way in. I gave him the low down, told him it was windy and off I headed.

We'd only travelled ten minutes down the road when Grizzly rang to say it had just flown back in. We screeched to a halt, slammed the car in reverse and just kept reversing all the way back to Wall Heath. I ran up the hill and there was the Hoopoe feeding away. The wind from Storm Douglas was too strong, so I had to lower the scope and (peter) crouch down. I did manage a few shots though.

And look what it's found to eat here

and another one. Wonder where that came from?
Then it was onto Chasewater and bird of the day. A RING-NECKED PARAKEET had been coming into roost for nearly two weeks now. There was a good turn out, with Messrs Jones and Richards, Chaz Mason and Clayheads No1 Stalker himself, stalking us as he always does. At just after c15:00hrs ish, I heard the call of the Ring-necked Parakeet, and like clockwork it had flown in to roost as per usual. Eventually, it settled down and sat in a bush along the main path, but it was still flying over the main lake at nearly 16:00hrs. A fine county tick, and my last easy tick has fallen. It's all down to waiting for the 90's rares to make a return visit to the county now.

PJ took this fine photo tonight.
 In the roost, "Caspo" Richards managed to find a quite perfect adult Caspian Gull, plus I saw a brief 2w Mediterranean Gull.  

Adult Caspian Gull with the 2w Mediterranean Gull to the right

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Crag Martin in Chesterfield November 2015

At 12:30hrs on Sunday 8th November, news started filtering out that a CRAG MARTIN was circling around the crooked spire at Chesterfield. It was less than an hour and a half away, but Sunday dinner was already being prepared. I contacted CJW and he said he would wait for me until after dinner. It’s always a tricky day for me, and I wasn’t really sure that I could escape during the afternoon anyway. PJ got in touch, and eventually I persuaded them to set off straight away without waiting for me. It flew around until 12:40hrs and then flew off, returning again from 13:30hrs to 13:50hrs. CJW and PJ arrived and they waited all afternoon for it to return again, but it didn’t. 

It was a bit of a surprise that it was again present on Monday morning. I was travelling in between work locations when the news broke, and I was actually parked up at Westport. The situation at work was perfect, and I decided to go for it there and then. I was prepared anyway, and all my equipment was in the trailer behind the car. It was a very easy journey considering the time of day, and I arrived in Chesterfield at 09:40hrs. I drove straight up to the church, and as I drove past I could see the Crag Martin flying around. I managed to find my way into the town centre, and found a large turning area right by the church. It was covered in double yellow lines but I just stood by the car and managed a few more views, including once when it almost came overhead. It was still raining, and so I drove back round the front of the church, pulled up in the lay by there and waited for a further sighting, but it had drifted off again. I decided not to push my luck any further (I was after all only a phone call away from being in deep trouble!) and headed back to Stoke.   

Despite being on a late shift, CJW went on news on Tuesday morning and was succesful this time, and incredibly, the Crag Martin lingered all afternoon at the site allowing GAS to finally arrive. An unusual occasion where we all travelled separately for a tick.

Following a few days with no sign, it suddenly reappeared on Friday. I was off and so I decided to pop back to Chesterfield for seconds and try to get a photo. The sky was blue and the Crag Martin was again zipping all over the place, especially as the wind was quite strong. But I managed to get these full framers. I'm almost certain I would have had some of these shots published in Birding World, but instead I will send one off to British Birds for the front cover of the 2015 Rarity report. Magic!


Monday, 2 November 2015

American Golden Plover at Eyebrook Resv

On Sunday 25th October, we made our way over to Norfolk again for the second weekend running. Our target birds for this trip were the week long staying SIBERIAN STONECHAT at Caister on Sea plus any ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDS in the area and the recently arrived juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER at Breydon Water. For CJW, it was his second trip over to East Norfolk in three days. He had successfully seen the SIBERIAN STONECHAT on Friday, along with a nice sprinkling of other scarcities. But he agreed to come with us again as there was just nowhere else better to go. Credit to him, he didn't sulk or moan once all day, nor did he say the phrases "I've not had a single year tick all day", "I've been here before" or "On Friday, I ... " many times.

We headed straight for Caister-on-Sea on the East Norfolk coast, arriving at 08:00hrs. Just outside the village, CJW had expertly spotted two Cranes feeding in a field near Billockby. We walked through the dunes and were soon watching the male Siberian Stonechat showing rather closely on the fences surrounding the golf course. The only other bird of note was a fly over Snow Bunting.  

  Caister on Sea dunes with our new friend "Dog" playing with his ball. He was actually a guide dog on his morning off!

News was a little bit slow in coming through, so we headed up to Waxham where a SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF and DARTFORD WARBLER had been seen. We wandered around a bit, walked through the dunes but there wasn't a lot of birds or birders in the area. We felt that maybe we'd peaked already, and a lot of the previous days birds had departed. A decision was made and we headed down to Breydon Water to start looking for the juv AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER. We were virtually on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth when we received news that there were two GREAT GREY SHRIKES at Horsey. We'd only just driven past here. With negative news from Breydon, we handbrake turned in the carriageway and screamed our way back up to Horsey and the Nelson Head track. 

It was now late morning and the sun was out. We were amazed at what we saw next. The track down to the dunes at Horsey was packed with walkers. I know I occasionally exaggerate on this blog, but it was so busy, if you stopped to look through your bins, someone would have bumped into the back of you. We had to step aside and stand on the edge of the path or end up being swept away on the tide of Sunday walkers. 

We finally found a group of birders in the distance sitting on the dunes watching something, and with careful scanning, we found the Great Grey Shrike flying backwards and forwards in front of them. On the way back to the car, we stood and watched a ringtail Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl duelling and sparring. It was all quite pleasant.  

With no more news forthcoming, we headed up towards Leicestershire and our last stop of the day at Eyebrook. As we parked up, the moulting adult American Golden Plover had just been refound. Amazingly for CJW, it was his second American Golden Plover in three days, and even more amazinger, both were at Eyebrook, and both were moulting adults! What are the odds of that happening?

American Golden Plover on the Leicestershire / Rutlandshire border 
And so to the final week of October. I'd resigned myself to not getting a tick in October this year, but we always hoped that the magic of Teachers Week and October 31st would work again. I've had three quite decent ticks on this date in the past, and we dared to dream the same would happen this year. But in the end, it became the first time I hadn't had a tick in either September or October. With only November left, could I finally be joining the "I've had no ticks this Autumn" club?

Both myself and CJW had been off all week, but we didn't manage a single trip out at all. We decided to go out year listing again on Saturday 31st October. We were both on 249 for the year, and so we headed off for the nearest year tick to Staffordshire. We headed to Rutland Water, where all five grebes had been reported. We parked up at Barnsdale overlooking the North Arm. The two Black-necked Grebes were spotted first, along with many GCG and LG. The Red-necked Grebe took longer and was more distant, but for over an hour the SLAVONIAN GREBE eluded us. None of the birders around us had seen it either except for one gentleman who had been watching it while we were stood there, close in to the shore......indeed. 

And so thats 250 (BOU) up for the year and onto November. 

(And in case you were wondering, the October 31st ticks were MASKED SHRIKE in 2004, AMERICAN BITTERN in 2010 and HERMIT THRUSH in 2013).   

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Wilson's Warbler on Lewis!

Ah if only.....thats why I'm not a fan of autumn. When stuff turns up its usually mid week on a far flung island and only those very fortunate ones can make it. We did consider going to Lewis but one or two things didn't quite fit in place. But at least putting a title like that to my latest blog will boost up the numbers reading it....thanks for tuning in. 

Well it's October and one of the main months of the year for birders. And the wait goes on for the next tick. On 3rd October, CJW was working, Staffs was lifeless so we headed off to North Wales. Not a bad trip in the end with Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and Lapland Bunting on the Great Orme and a brief Pectoral Sandpiper at Burton Mere Wetlands.

The following weekend we did bird in Staffs, with my latest ever Osprey in the county being the highlight. And so on to this weekend, October 17th. 

With the WILSON'S WARBLER sat performing and laughing at us, we needed a good day out to raise our spirits. With a week of NE winds, the east coast was full of goodies. I left the decision to CJW, as there were two ticks for him on Flamborough Head, and one in Norfolk. In the end, he went for the better supporting cast, as North Norfolk was having a decent spell.

We headed off at 05:00hrs and picked PLo, parking up in Wells car park at 08:30hrs. This area holds fond memories for me, as on my first ever trip to Norfolk in 1982, we camped at Wells.CJW decided to go for his tick first. We met DPo and he guided us to the Blyth's Reed Warbler site. Fortunately, the birders on site were quite active, and we tagged on behind two very active searchers. This move paid off, and we were soon watching the Blyth's Reed Warbler sat in a bramble bush. There was no time to stop, and we were soon stood by the drinking pool in the middle of Wells Wood watching a Red-blue Flankedtail. There were birders everywhere and we were receiving reports of stuff virtually every minute. We walked down to the main track, stood with a crowd and soon had 20+ Goldcrest feet away from us. I spotted a Firecrest which attracted quite a bit of attention before the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler started calling away. It appeared that this was a new call to quite a few around us, but the views were only as it flew over head. With reports of PALLAS'S WARBLERS as well, we continued down the track, eventually arriving at Lady Ann's Drive. Whilst walking down, it was nice to meet up again with the RSPB's area manager for North Norfolk and Lincs (impressive hey...but we did start twitching together!).  

It then went a bit quiet. No one had seen any PALLAS'S WARBLERS and we didn't really feel like walking all the way to the end of the Holkham track to see our second BLUE-FLANKED REDTAIL of the day. So we headed back, meeting up with PJ and NDP, seeing the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler again before finally arriving back at the car in Wells. 

A quick visit to the Co-op in Wells and we headed down Lady Ann's Drive to join the many "bake-off" fans taking in the Norfolk air. We walked back up the track towards Wells first and finally caught it with an excellent Pallas's Warbler feeding in one of the sycamores off the path. It was then back down the track to the hide overlooking Holkham freshmarsh and the Isabelline Shrike next. At first, we were watching a dot on the furthest hedge in the distance. We stood and discussed about going to Beeston Common to see the other ISABELLINE SHRIKE but slowly it started making its way towards us. Eventually, it flew to the hedgerow bordering the path, giving us excellent views. 

Isabelline Shrike Holkham Freshmarsh

It had been an amazing spell of birding in such a small area. I'd managed two seconds for Britain and five Norfolk ticks in a few hours. Next stop was Titchwell. The reserve itself was full of the usual Titchwell regulars. Amazingly, we were spotted as intruders straight away by the car park greeter, who immediately labelled us as "those dirty unwashed twitchers type from Wells Wood". Just as he was about to shout "we don't like your types here" we hastily ran off towards the visitors centre. We were visibly shaken by this, but then the man in the shop also recognised us and again accused us of  "coming from Wells Wood". We soon started looking at the sightings book and asked him the best place to see Chaffinches and we seemed to get away with it and the situation calmed down. We stood watching the feeders with a few visitors, shouting out when a Chaffinch landed on the feeders. Then a Goldfinch landed but CJW dragged me away. 

There wasn't a lot to see on the main part of the reserve. One amusing incident happened in one of the hides. I was sat with CJW at one end, and PLo was at the other. I shoued over to him that there was a Teal out of my window (amusing due to the fact there were c300 in front of us). PLo managed to keep a straight face, and carried on doing so when a nice lady pointed out a Wigeon to him. Bless them all.

We started walking back to the car park, bumping into the Clayheads No1 stalker with two of his henchmen (we'd managed to avoid him all day) when CJW spotted a Bittern in flight over the reeds. Always nice to see, as were the twelve Red-crested Pochard on Patsy's Marsh, a bit of Titchwell we'd never seen before. Tea at Macdonalds on the way back....we'd had a decent day.  

Friday, 25 September 2015

A mega at Dungeness, Kent - September 2015

September started off with a bang at Westport, with Spotted Flycatcher, Barnacle Goose, Little Egret and Lesser Whitethroat all seen in the first seven days.

digibinned shot of the Westport Spotted Flycatcher

Our first trip of the month was to Kilnsea on Saturday 5th. We had good views again of the juv Black Stork at Sunk Island and a Red-backed Shrike was by the Blue Bell. The wind was a strong NW and conditions for sea watching weren't ideal. We did manage a few distant Sooty Shearwaters, Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skua. The MigFest was in full swing, and we were shown a huge Convolvulus Hawk Moth sat in a sandwich box. Finally, we managed a few flight views of a Barred Warbler

Convolvulus Hawk Moth

Black Stork at Sunk Island

juvenile Red-backed Shrike
Saturday 12th September was spent in Staffordshire; the highlight being two Great White Egrets at Branston GP and the Common Crane again at Blithfield, this time in Tad Bay. 

Great White Egret at Branston GP

Common Crane at Blithfield
Saturday 19th September saw a quick dash up to Flamborough Head, where the probable Eastern Subalpine Warbler reappeared for the first time since the 1st. We only just arrived in time to see it before it disappeared for the afternoon. We also saw a Swift (my latest ever in Britain) and a quick sea watching spell saw three Arctic Skua, a Red-throated Diver and a Black Tern past. The following video should sort out any identification issues the bird has.

We then headed across Yorkshire to Nosterfield, where an obliging juvenile Woodchat Shrike showed well.

juv Woodchat Shrike at Nosterfield

And so on to the mega at Dungeness. On Tuesday 22nd, a flycatcher sp at Dungeness was thought to be an Arcadian Fly, obviously a British first. There was no way of going down on Tuesday, but I eventually managed to get Wednesday off. CJW did likewise and we were fairly hopeful that following a day of rain, the bird wouldn't have built its strength up yet and would stay another day (stay now stay now). Unfortunately as we drove through Kent and the sun started to rise there was a deafly silence from Dungeness. We parked up and we were surprised by how few birders were actually on site. We spent about four hours looking around, but eventually at 11:00hrs, and with a count of just six birders left on site, we headed off. On the reserve at Dungeness we saw a Great White Egret and Cattle Egret.

On the way home, we called in at Vange Marshes in Essex. A strange reserve in several ways. Firstly, you walked underneath a road then cross a railway line. The reserve itself had various viewing mounds, but the pools were very distant. We did though have stunning views of the Wilson's Phalarope. The full frame photos below show how close it came to us.

This makes Ham Wall look a picturesque place

These two pictures are actually the way in to Vange Marshes

CJW suggests to Russ one possible direction that the trains could come from

CJW and Russ hastliy walk across the main line to London

The Vange Wilson's Phalarope - crippling views

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Early start to Autumn - August 2015

Saturday 15th August
Following a quick visit to Westport, we headed off to Norfolk where an ICTERINE WARBLER had spent a few days at Burnham Overy Dunes. We headed off from Staffs as soon as we received positive news, something that works on occasions and we may try it again. Following the long walk out on the boardwalk, we were soon having excellent views of the Icterine Warbler feeding in an apple tree. The sun was out and it was a very pleasant location to enjoy the start of autumn. It was also a tick for GAS.

Icterine Wrb in Norfolk. Picture taken in strong sunlight

Saturday 22nd August
The end of August was largely spent birding in Staffordshire, and it turned out to be quite enjoyable. Blithfield started to be a hive of activity. On 22nd August we managed to see one of the Osprey plus Redstart below the dam

Osprey in Tad Bay

Monday 31st August
Following another Saturday spent at Belvide, Branston and Blithfield, I was allowed out due to technical reasons on Bank Holiday Monday. Unfortunately, it was forecast to rain all morning. I arrived at Westport at 0700hrs and did a quick check to see if any waders were along the shore line. I decided to head off while the rain was at its heaviest, and made the short journey to Croxden Quarry - my first ever visit to this site. The previous night's Spoonbill was still present, but looked a bit miserable in the rain and just stood there.

Spoonbill at Croxden Quarry
I then returned to Westport and managed to do one lap. News was coming through from Blithfield and Belvide of waders dropping in, so eventually I headed to Blithfield and the nice dry hide in Tad Bay. I managed to get a seat next to the legend that is Mr Georgie Brain with one of his groups of birdwatchers. The partial s/pl Knot and one Sanderling were still present plus a count of 53 Ringed Plovers (unlike Mr Mant's total of 115)

Knot in Tad Bay

Whilst talking to ESC, I received a phone call from PJ. He announced there was a Staffs tick for me at Berryhill. Finally I thought, RING-NECKED PARAKEET on my list. Alas it wasn't to be. But it was my other huge bogie bird,  WRYNECK. I've only dipped on three in the county, so I quickly packed my scope up and headed off out of the hide. I hurtled back up to Stoke, parked in my secret Berryhill parking space and headed out to this small grassland area lying in the shadow of Westport.

I walked to the Lapland Bunting paddock but there was no one in sight. I rang PJ and he said Nick Pom was walking towards me waving. I couldn't see him either. Panic set in as I envisaged a double dip of WRYNECK and a waving NICK POM. Then following further directions, I found the correct area and there, finally, was a waving Nick Pom (He'd been waving at another birder lost in the grass). 

I stood in the small group with PJ and Rich Powell, and soon joined by the Tony Jackson crew and The Clayheads No.1 Stalker. The Wryneck eventually popped up in view and continued to show on and off for the next two to three hours. The area was full of birds, and reminded me of the hedge at Westport on a good day. There were 2-3 Spotted Fly, a Pied Fly plus loads of Chiffs, Willow Wrbs etc. I finally headed for home, soaked from my knees down due to walking in the long, wet, grass guiding birders in, and with my scope, bins and camera all rather damp. It was a fine Bank Holiday Monday in Staffs though.

So I finally get to see a Wryneck in the county. And in the month of August, I've managed to see a Red-footed Falcon, Black Tern with white wings and now a Wryneck all in the fine City of Stoke-on-Trent. 

Respect the badge!

The Berryhill Wryneck - 3rd record in the city since 1970
Pied Fly at Berryhill. The weather was slightly inclement