Saturday, 17 June 2017

Rudi, a message to you

Till next time...

Monday, 12 June 2017

He who dares....

The first week in June is when the not only do the megas strike, but it's the time when the giga's strike - yes they come big this time of year. The birds I've ticked in the first ten days of June trip off the tongue like a mouth watering list of good birds.This year however was slow going. Westport had slipped into summer mode week's ago. There wasn't much to see. 

Last Sunday, 4th June, we popped up to the small village of Davekelsall in Cheshire to see the Iberian Chiffchaff. We weren't disappointed and it sang for us. Nice song.

Iberian Chiffchaff at Davekelsall, Cheshire. By CJW
And so to Saturday 10th. We discussed a few birds to go for and year tick but there was nothing much else nearby for us to create a decent day. So we decided to play safe, stay local and see what happened. The day started off at Westport. And then we went back to the car. To put summer patch working in context, we were quite pleased to see the Greylag Geese had risen from six to eight birds. That was the highlight.

We then headed to the "Chase" to do our survey on our selected area. Sir Roger, for some reason chose Patch 1 for us (for obvious reasons really that I don't really need to go into. Actually Sir Roger has an amazing sense of humour because originally I was paired up with one of the Snake twins!). Patch One has proved tricky this year with only a few highlights. Today, however we struck gold with a pair of Mandarin flying over the bracken. Fantastic sight/site.

As we were walking back to the car following our survey of the area, we received news of an interesting wader species at an RSPB reserve in the SE of the county. Just what we had hoped for. Quick drive down and a nice early finish we thought.

We managed to get down to Middleton Lakes without using the sat nav; quite an incredible feat don't you think. We walked past the Jubilee Wetlands to the next small area of water and sharp eyed CJW found the spinning female Red-necked Phalarope. We stood and watched it until Lord Lichfield decided to go into the "hide" so the he could stand with his photographer mates and discuss light, ISO and shutter noises.

Red-necked Phalarope at Middleton Lakes by NJS

As I stood all alone with no one to chat to cos I've only got one friend now, I received a message. The ELEGANT TERN had been seen again. It was one we'd considered but it was a long way for a bird that had not settled down and had only shown briefly so far.

It was 1200. I ummed, CJW arghed. We pulled faces and then I played the Clayhead motto card. It's not one we use often. But we have on occasions. "He who dares" I said.

We headed off midday on Saturday to the south coast. News was scratchy and infrequent and we went long periods without any updates. We had the bird flying out to sea, lost behind the island and no further signs but we plodded on. CJW exhibited the full range of moods during a tense frantic drive. I just cruised at 85-90mph. Yes it was one of those drives.

As we were only about 20 mins away there was still no further sign in Pagham Harbour. We made a decision to head to Hayling Island instead. We crossed the causeway only for me to spot a message. It was back in Pagham Harbour. We screamed onto the nearest petrol station. Pasties and sausage rolls went flying. We were left with several ice creams on our windscreen. But we didn't care. It was back.

It was only about 20 mins drive away but we knew the car park was full and it was s 10 mile walk from the RSPB car park. We just couldn't risk it. I hurtled through the lanes. It was now CJW's turn to get scared and tell me to slow down. We just kept going. Down the lane, straight past several potential spaces. But we kept going to the full car park.

As we drove in, a car was coming out. Unfortunately someone else dived in. But there was just one more space. A white faced CJW fell out of the car. I gathered my stuff together and hurtled down the path to see a vast crowd stood on the edge. I managed to find the adult Elegant Tern sat on the breakwater and slow CJW ambled along. Bingo. A hand shake. A slap on the back. Grins. Another lifer for CJW and a fine year tick for me. Sorry, didn't I say I've already seen an Elegant Tern in Britain. Oops sorry.

Despite showing rather well on  the breakwater, within seconds it flew back to the island and dropped down into deep vegetation. And that was the pattern for the next two hours or so. A few flight views, a few beak shots and one final fly past for us.

The gambled paid off this time. It's hard to keep going on negative news but we just kept on going.

Never tire of seeing these pictures from Blackdog, Porthmadog in July 2002. In fact, I laminated the sand bank of the above photo and its been my book mark ever since. In the top three of birds I saw in the 00's.

Now then.  As we started to wander away, our leader LGRE shouted me. "What's all this about you supressing loads of stuff and falling out with everyone". They were his words. We explained the one time recently that SBN (of which now I am no longer involved in at all. I've just had enough) did suppress something as part of a group decision with the finders but that was all. So if you have the balls to talk about me to LGRE why not come and talk to me or ring me and I will put my side if the story. You know my number.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

3rd June 2017 - WMBC outing to Somerset

We decided we wanted to close the gap in the big year listing competition with Tony "Big List" Jackson and "Big" Dave Robinson, as the gap was nearly up to 70. We planned a trip down to Somerset, where we hoped we would add a few to our list and catch the retired boys on the hop.

CJW agreed to drive and I was stood outside my house waiting for him to arrive. Another car came down the street. It was driving quite slowly and was looking at all houses, as though he was looking for someone. Then I saw his face and instantly recognised him. It was The Stalker! He stopped and sat there. I carefully gathered my gear together and managed to sit in the back without him noticing. Then CJW drove down. I attracted his attention and we were both sat in The Stalkers car without him even knowing. Finally, we were stalking The Stalker!

We were hoping he was going out birding and not to work, and we were quite pleased when his first stop was at a secret site. We followed him down a path of some sort, through some sort of habitat and there was the target bird. A good start to the day. The sky was blue, and it was warming up nicely.  

We managed to get back in the car, and waited for the next location. It was Alvecote Pools and we stood behind The Stalker as the Corncrake started rasping away. It was all going too well.

The Stalker then headed down the M5. Just as he entered the fast lane and hit 70mph we decided to jump up, shout, and announce our presence.

We managed to get the car off the embankment and back onto the motorway and carried on down to Somerset and a return visit to Ham Wall. Our forward party of Phil, Phil and Ged were already on site, staking the birds out so we didn't have to do any work ourselves. We parked up, marched down to the far end and following a lengthy session of barking, the male Little Bittern came to the top of the reeds and showed well.

Lord Lichfield at his best

First year tick in the bag, and as usual, the birding at Ham Wall was fabulous. We saw a fly over Cattle Egret, a Bittern in flight and a Bearded Tit. It really is up there on par with Westport. We headed back towards the car and disaster struck. We already knew from our drone cam that "Big List" Jackson and err Big Dave had been to Gloucestershire to see the Hoopoe. We didn't know where they were heading next. Imagine our horror when we saw the pair, along with third member Gladwyn walking along the path. We stopped and spoke briefly. They had already seen the Red-footed Falcon from the car, but we just blurted out we didn't need that as we were already on 310 for the year. The look on their faces was a treat. Off they ran, squabbling amongst themselves.

Following a call from Martyn Yapp, we met up on the car park with Mrs Yapp, Jules and "Tame" Tom Perrins and started looking for the distant RFF. We did have two Hobby and a glimpse of the RFF, but it wasn't until Jules rang us to say it was showing from the bridge that we had corking full frame views. Second year tick in the bag.

The immature female Red footed Falcon sat on the branch on the right

We had a quick check on the Meare Heath pool, dipping the Glossy Ibis but seeing two crisp drake Garganey. Finally tally was eight GWE, a Little Bittern, a Bittern, a Cattle Egret, two Garganey and a Red-footed Falcon. Not bad at all.

We headed back up the M5 towards Gloucestershire. We got stuck in a bit of traffic as it was the end of half term, but we were soon on site at Cranham Common. It looked like a classic butterfly site like ones we'd visited before, but there were none to be seen. We did see a few orchids, but as we were looking, someone whistled from up the slope, and the Hoopoe had been refound. Five target birds - five birds seen. But more importantly, we'd reduced the gap on "Big List" Jackson by one.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Sandpipers, Spooners, Suppression and Suffolk

Oh fallen behind a bit with the blog. The reason being I'm fallen out of love with birding and have just been staying at home reading romantic novels on Saturday's now.

Actually that's a lie. My computer is poorly, and it usually takes a night to open one web page. Heaven knows how long it will take to write this. So here we are on Tuesday March 14th 1978. Lets see when I manage to post!

There's a dirty year listing competition going on between the St Helen's kid, myself, the dastardly Stalker and we are all trying to catch the Mr Big of year listing again, Tony "Big List" Jackson, with his side kick "Big" Dave. These two are cheating again this year after retiring from work. Unbelievable. Still, its almost half way through the year and we are only 50 behind them.  

Anyway, CJW decided to pop up on Friday 19th May for the Burton Mere Wetlands BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER. He saw it, so where else to go on Saturday than back to BMW so we could see it. My second in Cheshire, and didn't it show well. We even saw one of the Woolston WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW stringers and I was able to mumble something under my breath. The cheating stringers. The now known breeding Cattle Egrets were also visible.

Then it was on to Anglesey for a Welsh tick for two of the party (The St Helen's kid didn't need it because he hasn't got a Welsh list). We headed to the Inland Sea for a SPOONBILL. We searched everywhere for it, but the tide was out, and it was nowhere to be seen. We headed up to Cemlyn for our second attempt at ROSEATE TERN, and again failed, seeing three Meds, Black Guillemots etc. We were rapidly running out of time, and one of the party had to be back early. With a QUAIL calling at Alaw Est, we were drawn back to the Inland Sea again. And there was the Spoonbill spooning away. Fantastic! 

Sunday 21st May we went somewhere and saw something. Someone took the huff. Others didn't. You can't win them all. We'll post the video in December when its all forgotten about.

Westport news for the period - its summer and so I've eight weeks of walking round noting which dog walkers I see and who is missing. Some of those we see do really brighten up your day.

Anyway, Saturday 27th May and a Bank Holiday Saturday. We headed to Suffolk/Norfolk. First stop was Lakenheath. We made the 10km walk out to the small group and there was the Marsh Warbler singing away in the reed bed. It wasn't too windy, and the camera's liked it.

Marsh Warbler at Lakenheath

We carried on along the path for another 10km, all the while looking at the ever darkening skies. We found another group camped out on the path as it was just too far for them to walk in one day. We stood, and the Stalker heard it first. The Savi's Warbler was reeling occasionally, but not too far out into the reed bed. With both warblers in the bag, it was a race back to the visitor centre before the thunder storm came. Strangely, we were the only ones walking back. We passed many walking out along the path, and we wished them good luck, but we knew their fete. We just made it back to the car before the heavens opened. We did see other stuff at Lakenheath as well. There were the obvious loads of Cuckoos and Marsh Harriers, Cetti's and Water Rail, excellent views of Bearded Tits but the next best bird down the list was Bittern. We had four booooming birds and saw two in flight. We seem to be blessed by Bittern sightings this year. We also had two Dragonfly ticks (our third hobby) with a Hairy Dragonfly and a Scarce Chaser. The Hairy Drag didn't seem too hairy, but we're told the Scarce isn't very common.

The rain soon stopped and we saw a Hobby and two Stone-curlew at a secret sight somewhere in Britain. If you want directions, then just send all three of us £50 in cash please.

Final stop was at Strumpshaw Fen. The sun was beating down, but we were told it was too early for us to see our target bird here. We obtained directions from the centre and off we we walked. It was quite a way, and apart from a Hobby and Marsh Harrier it was relatively birdless. Eventually after four hours walking through the reed bed, we reached our target. And they were showing incredibly well. We'd been meaning to see one of these for quite some time, and we were led to believe they weren't easy to see, but when you watched them flying inches in front of you, it was quite something.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The tale of two Citrines - 6th and 13th May 2017

CJW was working on the weekend of the 6th May, and I had one or two things to see to, so I didn't venture out until late morning. I was hoping for a BLACK TERN as a patch tick at one of the gravel pits I visit, but I received news that there was no sign of it. So I sat and thought and decided to head off to North Wales where a CITRINE WAGTAIL had been found earlier on.

I was there two hours later and walked to the hide where two birders were already sat there. Unfortunately they had only just arrived, and there had been no reports of the Wagtail for a couple of hours. Indeed one of them proceeded to tell me it had in fact been reported as flying off over on to the saltmarsh.

Following a short scan from the hide, I decided to head off and look for the bird on the saltmarsh. I was a little surprised by the number of  cars parked in the lane compared with the number of birders I'd seen, so I hoped I would bump into a crowd somewhere.

I walked round the saltmarsh just down the coast, seeing a few Wheatears and a couple of White Wagtails but not much else. I returned to the hide where the two birders were stood outside. As I walked up to them another birder came from round the corner. "It's still there" he said, "showing from the mound".

We walked down to where at least ten birders were stood. Mystery solved! It took a little while before the female Citrine Wagtail gave itself up as it fed in the vegetation.

So roll on Saturday 13th May. Unfortunately, CJW travelled up to North Wales on Monday but the Conwy CITRINE WAGTAIL had done a bunk. We looked at various trip possibilities, but come Saturday morning and not a lot was happening. CJW came up with a master plan - lets head to Belvide or Doxey. We slowly headed off down the D road. Then a message came on the pager (been in the news recently - we can name two who still have one). The CITRINE WAGTAIL had been seen in Northumberland again. We were literally yards off the A50 turning. I told CJW he had 30 seconds to make up his mind.

The 1st summer female Citrine Wagtail performed incredibly well, showing down to a few metres at times. We also heard it call as well. Several of us commented how very similar it was to a Yellow Wagtail, perhaps containing a few more zzz's but nothing more.

Photo to show how close the Citrine Wagtail was (just right of wooden post)



On Monday 15th May, Steve Nuttall found a SPOTTED SANDPIPER at Belvide. I wasn't starting work until 2pm so I shot down. The bird was showing from the furthest hide, and I just managed too see it above the heads of the chatting OAP's who always fill the hides there. Its a good job Steve is there for them isn't it!
I've been fortunate enough to see four Spotted Sandpipers in Staffordshire.

Friday, 5 May 2017

A mesmerising Pallid Harrier in Lancashire 29th April 2017

We were promised a change in the weather for the weekend and big things were predicted. We were hoping for some clear cut decisions / bird on the Friday but nothing really happened. I made a few suggestions to CJW. And he made a decision.

CJW arranged to pick me up at 430am and told me we were going birding and we would see a few year ticks. The destination was only known to himself and The Stalker. I consulted my lawyers. We agreed to go with the decision.

As arranged, CJW picked me up at 430am. I immediately looked at his satnav. Arrival at 730am. That meant a journey of three hours so I was able to discount a few places already. As we drove down the D road, he said he had an issue with today's trip. An issue with the trip he had planned! I smirked. We picked up The Stalker and the discussion began. The issue lay with a photo of the adult male PALLID HARRIER at Dunsop Bridge and they had been both blown away by the bird. I had already suggested this as a possible trip, as I knew what the bird looked like. The satnav was changed to Lancashire.

The journey was relatively straightforward and we arrived in Dunsop Bridge at 06:30hrs. We had a pleasant stroll up the valley, and we then sprinted up the last slope to the small viewing area where three blokes were already standing.

For the next two hours, we were mesmerised by the adult male Pallid Harrier as it flew by over the hillside or as it climbed high overhead, calling away, with its silhouette looking more like a large falcon or tern. It was a truly unforgettable sight, and it was hard to drag yourself away from. No one spoke as it flew by. I've never witnessed a bird before that totally captured everyones attention like this before.

Three photo's by Lord Lichfield

And two from me

With news reaching us of a SAVI'S WARBLER singing on Spurn, we decided to head over that way, with the possibility of the female MONTAGU'S HARRIER at Blacktoft as well. It was quite a long journey, and we knew when we arrived that the SAVI'S had not been heard singing for nearly three hours, and the MONTY'S had been seen once at 1030. We hung around the Canal zone area, but it was quite windy by now. We did a bit of sea watching, and we walked the triangle before heading off to the Kilnsea Wetlands and Beacon Pools. It was quiet; we only saw a few bits and bobs and we felt the day may have peaked. In the back of our minds though, we thought there was a slim chance the SAVI'S would sing again in the evening and so there was a reluctance to head off.

In the end we headed back to the car to set off for home. Just a bit further up the road, two cars were parked up and they were looking across a field. Then another car turrned up. Another car paused, spoke to them and headed our way. Using all my two years twitching experience, I sensed they were watching something. I kindly volunteered to walk up the road to see, while the other two waited. Half way up the road, another birder had joined The Stalker and CJW and they were all marching furiously up towards me, grinning and putting their thumbs, punching the air. One of them was even shaking a bottle of champagne and de-corking it. I knew then they were watching a bird.

I arrived, and one of the regulars kindly put me onto a female DOTTEREL that was feeding at the back of the field. It was a nice way to end the day, and at least we'd seen something on Spurn.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Meet the Clayheads

One of the most frequent questions asked on the 1000's of emails is "Who are the Clayheads?". It's about time I introduced my band of brothers. As a one off, here goes. I must say, you have to be rather special to be consider a Clayhead - the elite birders in North Staffordshire.

First of all meet the Artist, Phil Jones

Phil "Jonesy" Jones - I remember Jonesy on an RSPB trip in the mid 80's and the lucky git managed to continue throughout the 90's so despite me seeing my first rare before him, he didn't get distracted by girls and family (he's not a sausage jockey though, please don't think so) and he's birded ever since. Approaching  mid 490's (BOU), he likes to remind us its a Snickers and not a sprint so he's more into world birding now (he'd rather see a Blue-crested Finch Thrush than a Ring-necked Duck for his Yorkshire list now) but he can still be tempted out for a big twitch. You've seen it, he's drawn it. His work has appeared in county reports and LGRE's books, a very underestimated artist, his best drawings are simply superb. It depends now if he can be arsed or not. You ask him for a drawing though, and he can produce one. 
Phil "Jonesy" Jones
Phil "Red Bull" Locker - Shit at numbers, he can't add up to save his life. Always adds to his life list and has never taken a tick off yet, "Mr I'm having an Oatcake first" has been birding since the early 90's. My first memory of him was at Westport when he turned up with his scope (please, only "The Builder" is allowed that priviledge), and he was mithering our leader and Clayhead founder WJL about a THAYER'S GULL at a tip in Cheshire. I remember asking WJL who the hell was that. And the Locker legend was born. Only birds after 16 cans of Red Bull, 4 bags of haribo and 16 bacon and cheese oatcakes, PLo is approaching the magical 500 (BOU) but needs a trip to Bedfordshire desparately please. 

Chris "The St Helen's Kid" Waring - Been birding since the 1930's when for some reason he was taken the the Scillies for his holidays in October. What's that all about the f**king cheat? Personal friend of every famous 1960's birder, his Aunty was Hilda Quick-Hide, who the Hilda Quick Hide is named after. He's been tiger hunting with David "James" Hunt, he's played cricket and sat on the East Bank Cley with Richie Richardson and he's discussed gull identification with Peter "Gull" Grant. Met him first at Westport in the late 80's when he was repping and he used to pull up on the car park in his black jaguar, Armarny (Armani?) suit and barbour wellies and talk to me and WJL. He later went into pop star management and actually attended Kylie's birthday party (most of the stuff on this blog is utter crap, but some of it is true!). If you want to hear about when Chris's girlfriend fell out with Robbie Williams, then just ask him. We've heard them all before. Had a few years out then we found him wandering around Westport in 2010 and we decided he needed his British list increasing. Been try to do that since then. Co-pilot and occasional driver, also is quite sensible and keeps the group under control.

Ian "The Stalker" Burgess - got the reputation of being a stalker as wherever the Clayheads went, he was there. In the end we just invited him along. Now a regular member of the group and not scary at all. Coming up to 450 (BOU) so he's getting a big one slowly. For the purposes of the blog, he is still a scary man and sneaks his way into the car.]

The Stalker
Pops - One of the original members. Took me to my first YOC group. Constantly alongside me through all my early birding and then when we started again in 2000. Always came along with us on every trip until he stopped coming with us in June 2016. Since then he's looked after us from above. Seat permanently saved and thats why we only have three members in the car. Hated sat navs with a passion. Gutted when sacked as map reader. Couldn't believe the anger directed towards the satnav at times. Still, he was pops and we all miss him dearly.  

Karl "The Builder" Stockton - late developer and has accompanied us on occasional trips. The classic 90's birder. Set off fast,woooompf thru the 90's to get up to the magical 500. Now, only wakes up when there's a tick and in spring when he's year listing, and if there's a tick then he's off. Also if you need any big jobs doing, he's a fantanstic DIY person. I can personally recommend him.

Me - the Captain. Been birding since 1982 and an original teeny ticker - saw my first rare in 1986 at the age of 16.Sat out the 90's cos of girls and family and came back in 2000. A complete tosser who you don't want to cross, but once accepted I will look after you for life. The driver, none better, a complete professional, you are safe in my hands. Also trip organiser and I try to dominate you until Chris steps in.

Substitutes"Grizzly" Adams. Has been on a few trips and now is doing a bit more birding than previously. Has to remember you don't have to see a bird just once, you can see it twice in fact.

Grant "Granty" Grant Price - new boy. Spent a whole journey trying to think of a nick name for him. Shows potential and appetite for the future. Just needs to add another 100 to his list and he might get a seat.


Friday, 28 April 2017

Serious accident marrs decent birding day to the South West

A decent day was planned to the west country on Saturday April 22nd. We had a decent list of target species with TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL, BLACK-WINGED STILT and GLOSSY IBIS. Hopefully it could be a decent day. The weather was forecast was good and the crew was assembled. Today it was CJW as navigator and The Stalker as the quiet one who watches us.

First stop was at Slimbridge. We decided to arrive early and sneak in via the secret gate. Unfortunately, our well rehearsed plans were thwarted by a lady standing by the secret gate. She took all our details, checked all three of our genuine WWT membership cards, had a small laugh and joke with her and off we walked towards the South Lake following her directions. (Sneaking into a WWT reserve indeed - what do you think we are? ). 

We arrived at the South Lake and before I even lifted my bins and sat down in the comfy armchair I could see the pair of BLACK-WINGED STILTS feeding away just in front of us. Amazingly, these are my first Black-winged Stilts seen at Slimbridge and in fact, the first I've ever seen in the whole county of Gloucestershire. Who would have thought that! (This is actually my 6th county for BWS for the record)

Then an announcement was made in the hide that there was a SPOONBILL viewable from the Zeiss Hide. I felt the urge to sprint out of the hide there and then, clambering over the chairs and knocking old women flying, but for some reason, I decided to show restraint. We made the long walk to the top of the reserve, only on entering the hide to be met with the dreadful news that the SPOONBILL had flown to the other end of  the reserve. CJW was crestfallen to say the least and did well to hold back the tears. We sat in the hide, pulled ourselves together and started to scan the pools beneath us. Then The Stalker picked up a large white bird flying up along the riverbank. It soon disappeared behind the trees, but we felt it maybe wasn't a LITTLE EGRET.It then started to turn, a neck became visible and we realised it was the Spoonbill! Elation swept through the hide.

With the possibility of another year with hopefully a blingless CRANE, we headed down to the other end of the reserve. We sat in the Holden Tower and amazingly the SPOONBILL flew down to our end of the reserve and gave us excellent views from the tower on its fly past. There were two CRANES present but they were blinged up. The Spoonbill showed well from one of the flat low hides that you have to duck under a piece of carpet to get in.

With no news from the TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL site in North Somerset, we headed down to Ham Wall instead. We parked up on the car park, the sun was beating down but things started to go wrong. We were getting our stuff together as normal, and I swung my scope on my back. I didn't realise CJW was stood directly behind me checking my collar size, and with one swing of my tripod I smacked it into his head. The crack was deafening and he went down like a ton of bricks. After a few moments on the floor, the stars stopped floating around his head and the tweeeting birds flew off. He stood up as though nothing had happened.

I looked at The Stalker and we just shrugged our shoulders and carried on. But we knew CJW wasn't quite right but what could we do. The birding on the reserve was fantastic, and poor old CJW just jabbered along grinning and singing old sea shanties to himself. We saw three Hobby, five Swift, three Bittern in flight, four drake Garganey, a Glossy Ibis, nine Great White Egret, two Whimbrel and eleven Cattle Egret. The list was just like one you get sent in from Berryhill or Trentham Gardens.

Poor old CJW after his bang on his head. You can see his odd shaped egg head

Just managed all eleven Cattle Egret at Meare NR


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Endless Arguments and Spoonbills

Easter was largely forgettable due to the endless NW air stream that resulted in migrants being held up. A tantalising and teasing ROCK THRUSH was almost in our grasps twice but there were endless issues with boat times, seat availabilities on planes, inter island boats etc. We nearly managed to get over on Good Friday and Easter Monday but on both occasions we missed out on booking suitable flights. For the Easter Monday flight, we were waiting for news all day on Easter Sunday (and CJW checking flight availability almost constantly) before we booked and it never came. Experience showing, luck or just experience showing? I like to think it was experience showing and remembering not to make any rash hasty decisions when it comes to twitching / trip organisation.

Anyway. On to birds then on to the arguments you all want to hear about!
Good Friday and Easter Saturday was spent trawling round various sites in Staffs looking for migrants, self found rarities and megas and firsts for Britain etc. Unfortunately, I failed on all accounts. But its better to have failed than to have stayed sitting on your settee tweeting all day. I managed to bump into Grant "Granty" Grant at Belvide where I managed to fail to add REDSTART to my Belvide list for the second year running.

Just noticed a distinct lack of pictures so far. So here's one from the achives.

The Hay Wain by Constable
Anyway, following the failed attempt at the Scilly ROCK THRUSH, we cobbled together a trip to Yorkshire on Easter Monday, and again, that dastardly fellow, The Stalker, managed to get into our car. First stop was our first visit to Spurn this year. We headed straight down to the Canal Scrape / Triangle area and tried to get our first bird of the day, and our target bird for the day. Unfortunately, the Spurn regulars informed us that it had gone to ground. We wandered around, and twice, we heard an unfamiliar scratchy sub song coming from the bushes.

I noticed a photographer walked hastily towards the hide. Then, The Stalker rapidly followed him. I've pointed out many times to all you younger twitchers out there, it pays at twitches not only to watch the bushes, but also to watch the crowd. It pays off I'm telling you.

I walked down the path to the Canal Scrape hide, only for The Stalker to come rushing out. "It's showing" he said. I offered to go to fetch CJW (I knew I couldn't ring him due to signal issues) but The Stalker said he would.

I sat in the hide and soon re-relocated the male Western Subalpine Warbler feeding in the bushes to the right of the hide. I sat there and marvelled at the lovely red front, the moustache stripe, how it actively fed. I was able to get two ladies onto it as well, and I sat and followed it as it fed, sometimes in view, other times not, on occasions with a Blackcap, and all this time I was sat there, I was thinking to myself, where the f##k is The Stalker and CJW!

Anyway, some 40 mins later, The Stalker returned to the hide shaking and covered in sweat. CJW followed in behind grinning. I didn't ask what went on. All I heard was something about someone doing a bit of skinny dipping in the Humber and someone had become a naturist. We all had excellent views of the Western Subalpine before it disappeared. Unfortunately Lord Lichfield didn't managed any video as he was busy towelling himself off.

We had a walk around the triangle but there was absolutely nothing around. The bushes were dead. It was odd to go into the Crown & Anchor car park, and Kilnsea churchyard and not see a single bird. We did a bit of seawatching. And didn't see a bird.

We headed off to Fairburn Ings, but by the time we arrived, the RED-RUMPED SWALLOW hadn't been seen for a few hours, and the hirundine flock was by now very high up in the sky. We did find the adult Little Gull, but despite a long walk around the reserve, we failed to locate the SPOONBILL. The reserve was actually packed as it was a Bank Holiday Monday. As a birder, we were very much in the minority, and I felt odd at walking round with my scope on my back. People kept looking at me and laughing.....Sorry I'll rewrite that...CJW and The Stalker kept looking at me and laughing.

We did hear a Bittern booming, and when we met one of those RSPB volunteers walking round the reserve, those that pretend to know a bit about birds (he did actually point to four Little Egrets nesting in a tree and said "Is that the Spoonbill") he said it was the first Spring that a Bittern had been heard booming on the reserve. You never know, in 2045 when Staffs Wildlife finally do something to Chucklesholme, we might possibly get a BITTERN reported there (but as its Staffs Wildlife I wouldn't bank on it!)

Anyway. Onto the arguments you all want to hear about. As you know (or don't know), we do have quite a few long journeys, and one great way of keeping awake is by conversation. Recently we've had discussions on Bowie could write crap songs, does Philip Schofield sit alongside Wogan and Forsyth as a TV great and was Willie Carson all that (I started that one on the way back from Scotland and I'm proud of that - he did actually win quite a few races). But the biggest discussions come when CJW is driving and his music is playing. His playlist is exactly like a Now That's What I call music album, some good tracks then a few padders no one had heard of to fill the album. Now when one of these "padders" comes on, he always says the same thing "you've heard of this Shirley". Firstly, my name isn't Shirley and most of the time no I haven't. Anyway, in Shropshire, this track below came on. CJW said it was a fantastic track. I disagreed. Here it is by the group M83. See what you think. Finally, I must thank Famous Red Grouse for this blog, as they helped me write most of it!! Love to you all (except the tossers out there and you know who you are and to the Talke Tiny Teeny Ticker - enjoy your retirement. We knew you wouldn't last five minutes)

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Quiet times in early April

Now its spring, you feel like getting up and going on some exciting trips again. Unfortunately, the airflow has been predominantly northernly recently, and birding has been fairly quiet. Its a case of trying your best to cobble together a decent days birding with a few target species thrown in.

Biggest recent news was the recent finding of a Cetti's Warbler at some site in Stoke-on-Trent; a long awaited and much predicted site first and it was succesfully twitched by all of the current active listers of the infamous site. Incredibly, its the third site first in three years - gives you the incentive to keep plodding around on a daily basis. At least we don't have to make sightings up and pretend at this site like they do at other inner city sites.

So to get the blog up to date. 

Saturday 1st April was a day where we struggled to construct a day out so we stayed in Staffordshire and gathered together a few county year ticks. We headed back down to the deepest SE corner of the county and saw the Whittington SW over wintering Yellow-browed Warbler again. This is my first ever sighting in April (you don't have an April list - oh no!). We then headed to Himley Hall for the feral/tame/ill Whooper Swan that allows people to get very close to so they can post pictures on twitter saying "showing well" but decided not to go and look for it as there was news breaking about a WHITE STORK in Derbys. As I was driving, CJW thought maybe it was from a German ringing scheme and so it was possibly worth a punt. 

As we headed over, it became clear that it was just another escaped bird. We headed into Branston instead where we walked around using the paths and made a note of birds we saw. We then headed off into the north of the county, and as I was driving, I noted a sign saying three-quarters of a mile to Sudbury Hall. Well it would have been rude not to have popped in!

This is the Polish White Stork that hit wires and was flown over to Britain to be mended, and was seen at Welney WWT last year.

Saturday 8th April - We hoped again that something would turn up, but with another week of NW (literally no new migrants in at the Stoke-on-Trent site this week), there wasn't much to go for. We started off at our usual local patch, but when news came that the NIGHT HERON was still in Shropshire, we walked faster and headed off into Shropshire, a county we don't visit too often. (for the record, my Shropshire list stands at five birds - Lesser Scaup, Marsh Warbler, Spoonbill, Crane and Iberian Chiffchaff).

It was my first ever visit to Venus Pools, and we managed to walked from the car park to the bird without being directed or spoken too. The Night Heron was showing ok ish for a roosting bird, and we spoke too Young Billy and Grizzly who were already on site.
Night Heron at Venus Pools by NJS

We soon found out there had been no sign yet this morning of the possible returning IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF, but we headed over to the nearby Yellow-browed Warbler on the NW side of Telford. We parked up and entered the wood and joined up with Stoke lads Grant "Granty" Price and Andy "M". Luckily, as soon as we entered the wood, the YBW started calling, and CJW soon located it high up in the trees above us. It also did a small bit of sub-songing. This now becomes my latest ever YBW in Britain, and, although its only April, it is my 3rd YBW of the year. Hopefully we'll still see a few in Autumn as well.

A quick drive up to Whixall Moss saw the Wood Sandpiper still present. I have a feeling that this may be the Blithfield bird that was seen briefly at Radford Meadows. 

We were a bit stuck now having seen three out of the four target birds. But when news reached us that a SHORE LARK was on Clee Hill, we just could resist a bit more birding in Shropshire.CJW did a sterling job by chauffeuring me around, and within an hour we were parked up on Clee Hill. The sky was blue, we could see all 14 counties and three countries visible from up here and there was the Shore Lark sat on top of a ridge. A Shropshire mega tick firmly in the bag!

Shore Lark, Clee Hill, Shropshire NJS

Monday, 27 March 2017

Late March wanderings around Staffordshire

Not too much around at the moment so we've been doing a bit of county birding. We chose Staffordshire for some reason. An Avocet at Doxey sent us hurtling down for the second day running on the 25th, when we also had good views of as many as three Water Pipits, including a summer plumaged one.

We couldn't find the Brent Goose at Chasewater, but a pair of Garganey were showing well at Middleton Lakes.We also saw a bizarre sight of a drake Tufted Duck walking round in a field with a pair of Mallard.

Photos by Lord Lichfield

Finally, the Great Grey Shrike was seen at Swallow Moss on the 27th March, and we were in the right place at the right time when it popped up. Good views were had.

GGS at Swallow Moss by NJS

Thursday, 23 March 2017

20th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 3

Final day of our short break, and the forecast was wet. CJW decided not to set his alarm as he didn't fancy getting up at 05:00hrs to walk around a wood in the rain for some odd reason. I woke up early as per usual and stuck my head out of the window to find it wasn't actually raining. Unfortunately, I woke CJW up and told him the good news. We were soon running down the stairs of the hotel and out into the Scottish morning darkness. What I couldn't see from the hotel window though, was an extremely black sky approaching, and by the time we reach our destination, it was pouring down. We sat in the car and waited, checking the rain app which showed it just as a narrow ribbon. And sure enough, it stopped. We walked round the wood for the next hour or so, and then we returned to the car. We'd failed on our third target bird, which was of course the CAPERCAILLIE (but thanks to those who provided the site details, and don't worry, we have more sites now for our next trip).

Following our second and last full English, we returned to the room. We had several options. Firstly, there were two SNOW GEESE in Inverness, discovered only yesterday. The issue I had with this was the 55 minute drive to the site in the opposite direction that we were heading. There was also an ALPINE SWIFT in Clyde that was seen yesterday afternoon. This site was only just off the motorway and so if there was positive news we could easily pop in. 

By the time we were ready to head off, there was no news on either targets. CJW came up with a cunning plan. We could head to a whisky shop in Tomintoul, only a few miles up the road. So we did.

We arrived in Tomintoul at 0930 following a drive over some very bleak, barren, birdless moors. The Whisky Castle was shut, it was sleet/raining and the wind was gale force. As we sat in the car park waiting for the shop to open at 10 (or 0930 according to the website), we were entertained by watching full bins being blown over in the high street and their contents distributed around the town, and then watched two locals pick up a few items and pop them back in the bin. It kept us amused. 

At 10:00, after ringing the shop, we finally went in. It was a fantastic little shop, full of whisky, most that we hadn't heard of, but we had a very nice chat to the proprietor. And then we set off for home. 

The route home was simply amazing. The sat nav took us straight through the mountains. We stopped at Lecht Ski resort which had a very small bit of snow, then through Glenshee, past Balmoral and eventually on to the A9 at Perth. We had certainly driven through some of the finest scenery possible during our weekend.

View from Lecht

Red Grouse en route (CJW)
As we travelled south, we received news that the ALPINE SWIFT was again present in Clyde. It was about two hours away. We carried on, but only received one more piece of positive news. We didn't know whether it was present all the time, or whether it was coming and going.

We arrived at Baron's Haugh RSPB just after 14:00hrs. We walked down towards the Marsh hide but saw someone standing at the bottom of the paddocks. As we were approaching, the Alpine Swift was flying overhead. We stood watching it for nearly an hour, sometimes it came quite low. All the disappointment of the birds we'd missed evaporated. It had been a fantastic trip!

Watching the Alpine Swift

My photo's taken with my phone

CJW's photo's with his fancy posh camera




19th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 2

The aim for today was to nail the final two target birds on our list of three. CJW set the alarm for 05:20, and at 05:00 the alarm went off. We were up and out in the dark, arriving at our first destination in the dark. For the next two hours before breakfast, we walked and searched but our target wasn't to be found. 

We returned to the hotel and enjoyed our full English breakfast. And then we set off two site number two. Again, we searched and walked. By 11:30, we had seen two Crested Tits, a few Crossbills over and that was all. The difference from yesterday success to today's was amazing. We'd hit the proverbial wall. 

It was make or break time. We decided to head over to the Findhorn Valley and try and rescue the day. Unfortunately, despite a good forecast, the wind had whipped up and we were now driving through very heavy showers. Our spirits were lifted by seeing just two birds. As we left Nethybridge (dipping the Waxwings for the 2nd time that day), we saw a few flocks of geese flying over. We pulled over and eventually counted c500 Pink-footed Geese, all flying over to the south for some reason. The second bird was a Red Kite just up the road - the first time I'd seen one in the area.

PFG flying over Nethybridge
So having actually seen a few birds, we made the drive down to the Findhorn Valley. The scenery was incredible, and the area was very quiet. We knew we could just stop in the middle of the road and take photo's as there was just no one else around.

Views in the Findhorn Valley
It was dry most of the way down, but when we reached the car park at the end, the rain came again, and the wind was so strong, you could hardly open your car door. Things weren't looking good. eventually the sun came out and we headed off, scouring the ridges as we walked. I spent most of the time looking at the ridges behind me as it was easier with my back to the wind. Apart from a Buzzard and a few Ravens, there wasn't much to see.

We walked down to the bridge and stopped by where a path forks off to the right. We could see another shower approaching so we tried to find shelter. CJW then spotted a large bird above the far ridge in the distance. Three times it appeared and we knew straight away we were dealing with quite a large bird due to the distance we were looking from. Although a little distant, trip target bird number two, Golden Eagle, was in the bag. 

With a few hours daylight left, we headed down to two different lochs to look for SLAVONIAN GREBE, but drew a blank at both sites. Then we went looking for BLACK GROUSE, and again failed at two sites. In the end, as we drove across some moorland in the fading light, we admitted defeat. It had been a very tough day in the Highlands.

Red Deer Findhorn (CJW)

Following our tea from the chip shop in Grantown, we returned to the room and finally enjoyed the one species of grouse that hadn't eluded us that day, a nice drop of Red Grouse. All was well again.