Saturday, 20 June 2015

More June butterflies and White-winged Black Tern

Managed to add a few more butterflies to my list recently, mainly due to our butterfly location consultant DK. First off was a trip to Llanymynech Rocks on the English/Welsh border. Its a very impressive limestone quarry but the butterflies were playing hard to get. I didn't find any GRIZZLED SKIPPERS, probably a bit too late for them, and eventually I found four Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillery

Next stop was on 6th June in Warwickshire at Bishop's Itchington. It was a former industrial site which had been changed into a meadow type habitat. There were loads of Small Blue, Common Blue and Small Heaths. We also had a Vulcan fly over twice.

Small Blue


A Vulcan
 Finally, it was to Shropshire and Bury Ditches for a Wood White.

Wood White

It's been rather quiet in Staffs this year so it was a nice surprise when Graham and Max found a full s/pl White-winged Black Tern at Blithfield on 15th June.

White-winged Black Tern

Cretzschmar's Bunting, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd - 13th and 18th June 2015

On Wednesday 10th June, news broke that a male CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING had been photographed on Bardsey Island, but despite the wardens searching, it was only seen briefly again that day. Then on Friday 12th, it was again seen briefly. The first boats went over that evening but again it wasn't seen again all day. 

There was actually quite a lot of decent birds around, and we'd already planned a trip out on Saturday 13th, visiting the HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL and GREATER YELLOWLEGS on the south coast, plus keeping our eye on birds like the BLYTH'S REED WARBLERS in Essex and Norfolk, a PADDYFIELD WARBLER on Blakeney, BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER in Lincs. But for some reason, my attention was focused on Bardsey. 

I spent a whole evening agonising on whether to keep to the plan with two (almost) guaranteed birds, and a tick for CJW, or to take a gamble and go to Bardsey. Following two conversations with colleagues also planning to go, I decided on "he who dares" (having had success with this policy this year) and I changed the plans. 

It was first come first served on the boats, and the first boat was at 08:30hrs. We set off at 02:00hrs and arrived at Porth Meudwy at just after 05:00hrs. Our first gamble had paid off as we were only the third car in the car park. One was empty and the other had a sleeping Paul Flint in it. We got ready and sat and waited, but as soon as the next car arrived (Neil Bostock from Norfolk), we panicked and walked down to the quay. We were 6th, 7th and 8th in the queue and knew we would be on the first boat across.

Colin Evans getting the boat ready
At 07:00hrs, Colin Evans arrived. There were 12 of us by now, and out of the blue he told us he would take us over straight away as the boat would only carry 12. However, he said, we would be the last ones off at 16:00hrs. Another huge stroke of luck and off we sailed, seeing just a few Manxies on the way over.

We were met by Steve the warden who gave us a few ground rules and then told us the exact movements of the CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING over the last few days, pointing to the exact spots. One of my concerns was communication, as there was no phone signal or Internet connection on the island. My idea was for everyone to keep together, but immediately two birders wandered off on their own. We stayed with the majority and headed up towards the lighthouse. There was plenty to see - a few Chough showing very nicely on the cliffs, juvenile Wheatears (not something you see everyday), Grey Seals just offshore. 

It was raining for the first hour or so
The lighthouse

Beyond the lighthouse
Grey Seals

With no initial sign, we headed off towards the observatory, loosely following everyone else. The second and third boats across landed, and from the vantage point of the obs, you could see the 36 birders who had come across well spread out over the whole of the island. A plan was hatched by the warden that if there was any sign, an orange blanket would be draped over the obs walls. Then we'd have to run back to the obs to see where the bird was. All this for a bird that so far had only been seen briefly on most occasions.

The day carried on in the same vein. The second boat, then the third boat left and we carried on plodding around, resigned to the fact that today wasn't to be our day. At about 14:30hrs, myself and CJW headed one last time back up to the lighthouse. The area did look quite good. We stood by the wall and looked into the compound. Amazingly, there sat on the wall was a juvenile Meadow Pipit. It looked like it could barely fly. But it could and it was even rung.

Extremely young Meadow Pipit
And so we'd dipped. The gambled hadn't paid off and even backfired spectacularly when a BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR was found in the New Forest; very close to where we would have been if we'd stuck to our original plans. If it could get any worse then it did on Sunday morning when news came through that the CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING was in fact still present and singing in the lighthouse compound.

Boats ran during Sunday, and the bird was finally successfully twitched from the mainland. I decided as I was starting work early on Monday, that I would try and catch one of the late afternoon boats over. Plans were made only to be scrapped again when at 07:00hrs it was announced that all boats were full for the day. It transpired that there were over 100 birders waiting for 84 seats. Tuesday was even worse with birders queuing from 20:00hrs on Monday evening. By 21:00hrs there were apparently 40 birders already asleep on the jetty waiting. I started to think how on earth was I going to get a boat over on Saturday.

There were no boats on Wednesday due to a bad forecast but on Tuesday afternoon things started to develop on Twitter. I stumbled across a conversation by LGRE about the boat availability. He had taken it upon himself following discussions with Bardsey Island to start taking bookings for Thursday and Fridays boats. I immediately contacted him and booked three seats on a late afternoon boat on Thursday. Hopefully that was there would be time to finish work at 12:00hrs and drive over for the boat. A tense, nervous wait and finally during the evening I had confirmation

Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the boat was leaving at 12:30hrs. That would mean leaving work before 09:00hrs. Just when it was looking good as well. CJW was also finishing work at 12:00hrs too.

In typical Clayhead fashion, everything was sorted and we set off at 07:30hrs on Thursday morning (Again for legal reasons I must point out I wasn't ill on Thursday). We arrived at a fuller car park than on Saturday but a boat had just come in so cars were heading off. We spoke to a few birders who sort of said yes it was showing a bit but...Anyway, we walked down to the quayside and waited for our 12:30hrs boat. The 11:30hrs boat was a non birders boat, but there were only ten on board. Colin the boatman loaded up then shouted mine and pops name. He asked if we wanted to come on an earlier boat. The problem was though leaving CJW behind on his own. It was a difficult decision to make.

Anyway, GAS and myself arrived at 12:00hrs and were met by Steve the warden. The news was the CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING was showing hourly, and on the hour. We'd just missed the 12:00hrs showing, so we ambled up, joined the crowd from the previous boat and waited until 13:00hrs.

My view of the yard
Finally a clear view
As if by magic, at 13:00hrs, the Cretzschmar's Bunting flew in and landed on the concrete pads. After about 30 seconds it flew off. And that was that. I'd managed about ten seconds of video and two photos of its back. It was an odd feeling. Then the 12:30hrs boat arrived and CJW joined us. The previous boat people had gone and we saved him a good space.

CJW amazingly at the front leading the group up the hill.
We stood, I explained what was going on and we waited. The 13:30hrs boat arrived and we waited more. I started to get very anxious because its pattern had changed and it had missed out a feed. The group stood in absolute silence. You could smell the tension and fear. 

Then at 14:30hrs it flew in. The noise of the cameras going off was amazing. It was as though it was being shot in a hail of gunfire. Not surprisingly it flew off after less than a minute.

Then the mix up occurred. We were told originally to catch our booked boat home at 16:45hrs with CJW. But CJW told us that he'd told all of his boat to come back at 16:45hrs, so that meant two too many. Steve radioed Colin the boat man and we were on the 15:45hrs boat. Following these two views, pops and I left CJW and wandered back to the boat. We joined the queue. Then Colin came over to us and said he'd made a cock up (he admitted it was due to exhaustion). He asked if we minded staying another two hours and catch the 17:45hrs boat back. I asked if CJW could stay too, and he said no problem. 

I walked back up the hill and had a few funny looks. Since I'd been away, the Cretz had come back at 15:00hrs and had shown well for longer. I set up again, stood and waited. It was after 16:00hrs when there were only a few of us left that it returned again. It flew in, started feeding then started to sing. It was a surreal experience. As it hopped about it was calling its  head off. Finally following six hours on the island I'd got the views I wanted.
Male Cretzschmar's Bunting, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd

While we stood, Steve the warden was being excellent company to us all, but it was nice to chat with him as he remembered us from Saturday, as did Colin the boatman. He managed to find a Thrift Clearwing for us and a Small Elephant Hawkmoth.
Thrift Clearwing. He said we'd see more Cretzschmar's in GB than these.
The Small Elephant Hawkmoth


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Swainson's Thrush on Skokholm, Sweden

On Tuesday I was working as usual and while glancing through my messages, I noticed one about a SWAINSON'S THRUSH that had been trapped in Stokholm. It also said it was a second record and I remember thinking that it wasn't a bad record for a city. I then texted CJW saying "Swainson's Thrush in Sweden"; a remarkable record considering the British Isles had already seen a VEERY and GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH this spring.

A few texts later I read something odd. Then it dawned on me and I actually started to laugh. Sometimes you read something and instantly you think you know what you've read, and its very difficult to alter what you thought it said. I was convinced it was in Sweden despite it being Skokholm and not Stokholm.

So there was a SWAINSON'S THRUSH on an island off Pembrokeshire and on Wednesday, news was released that it was still present and that boats were being organised for Thursday to go across. During Wednesday afternoon, I suddenly thought that I'd better do something about this bird. So I rang the number to enquire about the boats across on Thursday. There were no seats available for the Thursday sailings, but they were taking down names for Friday and would confirm the sailing on Thursday midday should the bird continue to stay. My head suddenly said that I was working on Friday as per usual. Then my inner chimp butted in and I booked three seats.   

Again the SWAINSON'S THRUSH stayed throughout Thursday and the first boats went over. They had to wait an hour to see it, but by all accounts, a very enjoyable day was had by all. The boat organisers rang me before 12:00hrs on Thursday and confirmed the boat would be sailing. All excellent stuff. There was just one last thing to organise, and that was the day off work. (It remind me of the SOOTY TERN twitch to the Skerries off Anglesey in 2005. RSu had managed to get us on a boat sailing out of Cemaes at 17:00hrs. He would pick me up at 13:00hrs. That was a Friday too. Amazing how quickly you have to think sometimes in this game when you are working). For legal reasons I must point out that I wasn't ill on Friday, I was legitimately granted the day off. I just haven't earned the overtime yet.

Everything was now sorted. We set off at 02:30hrs. The journey was going smoothly until we came to the bottom of the M50. There were signs for a road closure and a diversion but it was not clear and I didn't pay much attention to it and so we carried on down the A40. It was only then that we realised it was the A40 that was shut. We had to drive all the way back up again and it put 45 mins onto the journey. It seems at the moment every early morning trip ends up with a road closed somewhere.

We arrived at Martins Haven at 08:00hrs and the boat was due to sail at 09:45hrs. As we were there in plenty of time, we sat on the beach and waited. Fortunately, we already knew that the SWAINSON'S THRUSH was still present. I spoke to the captain of the Skomer boat who informed us that our boat would be round later and it was a RIB. I grinned and walked back to CJW. I did think about walking back to the car to get my waterproofs, but I thought we would only get slightly damp.

Martins Haven
CJW started sulking when he found out the yellow one was his

The twelve who had booked on the only boat to sail across to Skokholm all assembled and the large dingy sailed into the bay. I immediately decided I was going to sit on one of the middle seats, totally surrounded by everyone else and therefore staying dry. I sat down only to be told to move forward to fill the seats up. I ended up on the front row, left hand side.

We were already informed that the crossing between the mainland and Skokholm was choppy today, due to the tide flowing in between the two. Before we headed off, we were also told that there was a possibility that we might not be able to land at all due to the swell. Out we went. First a bit of spray came over, then as we sped up and went further out the waves started coming over. I pulled my hood up and just bent over. We were soon dripping wet from head to foot. Luckily, from previous wet experiences, my scope and camera were all bagged up safely inside my very wet rucksack. It didn't matter where you sat, all 12 of us were drenched. But we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was one of those experiences that you'll never ever forget. I could have been at work, but instead I was bouncing over the sea, bracing myself for the next soaking, heading for a new island few people have visited.

As we neared the island, we started to relax and laugh about the trip over, compared each others clothing puddles and then we started seeing Puffins. We couldn't believe how many there were. As we sailed in we were surrounded by them, taking off from the surface literally feet away from the boat. It was stunning. We headed for the jetty and the warden was monitoring the swell. We sat offshore for about 15 mins while the tide dropped. But there was so much going on around the boat. Then we attempted to land. First all of the gear was handed over, then with the help of the boat hand and the warden, we had to time our jump ashore perfectly with the heaving sea. Everyone managed it except pops who just decided to try and jump out and ended up on his knees.

Once on the island we headed up to the buildings. It was quite steep and uphill all the way, and so we stayed with pops to make sure he was ok. He's 81, not been well recently, had been in a rubber dingy zipping over the sea and was soaked. And it was drizzling. But he was enjoying himself I think. 

We were soon by the courtyard, standing at the back of the small crowd. It was all carefully marshalled and everyone could see and knew where to look. It carried on drizzling but we'd only been standing for a few moments when the Swainson's Thrush popped out on its favourite branch. It was a brief view, but it was there.

We stood watching the site for about two hours, and every twenty mins or so the Swainson's Thrush popped back into view. Eventually the rain cleared and the sun came out and we were actually drying off. We chatted to the warden, and two volunteers approached me and announced that they were actually from Stoke as well (on a three month stint on Skokholm).
Swainson's Thrush, Skokholm, June 2015

The fortunate few

Imagine painting that every year
The back hedge was where the Swainson's was.
The warden in blue and the two volunteers guarding the mob. The group at the back were wardens from Skomer

We slowly wandered back to the jetty (we weren't allowed anywhere else on the island. The wardens made sure of that when two of our party tried to wander off). We saw a Spotted Flycatcher feeding in a bush but spent most of the time walking, looking at the scenary and thinking about the amazing trip.

Stunning place especially when the sun came out
The landing jetty
Waiting for the return boat
CJW and pops all ready for the return trip
Nice and dry for a few moments again

But it wasn't over yet. We were told the journey back would be better as it was low tide now. We headed off, seeing seals and endless Puffin again, and other than a bit of spray we were motoring along merrily. Then the captain changed direction and headed towards the mainland. And then the waves came crashing over again. I was sat at the front again and within seconds I was completely soaked again. This time, it even ran into my boots. All 12 of us were saturated. But who cared. It was a trip to remember. Awesome place, bird, company, transport. It goes straight into my top five twitches of all time.