Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Penzance Weekend - August 4th and 5th 2017

My birthday usually happens around the same time of year, but for some reason, this year it fell in August. Apparently its due to the alignment of Saturn and the Sun which was unusual for this year. If you want anymore information just Google it.

Anyway, we planned a sea watching weekend this year in Cornwall. It was very touch and go at times, as the Clayheads Chief hotel finder was having great difficulty this year in finding any suitable accommodation. Eventually it all came together following about three weeks of planning. 

Six of us were assembled to head down. The advance party of Shirley, Hilda's nephew and The Stalker set off early on Friday morning heading for Porthgwarra. Sea-watching had been excellent this year from here but towards the end of the week, when we were due to arrive, the winds switched to westerlies and eased off a bit. We thought about going to Pendeen instead, but then I had a brainwave. Why not go across on the Scillonian instead. It gave us two sessions of sea watching and we felt we would stand a better chance of seeing the "Big Three". 

Incredibly, we found out that the boat was full for the return journey, so it was out of the question. We decided on Porthgwarra as we felt there would be more eyes there. We arrived at 08:45 and set out our chairs and settled down. We were told it had been "quiet".

And so we sat there until just before 17:00. Occasionally we each wandered off for a stretch of our legs and a change of scenery. And at the end we realised we had also been baked to a crisp. We were all bright red. The issue was we had no Plan B. The rest of Cornwall was dead with absolutely nothing to go for. So our sea watch produced a Bonxie, a Puffin, we dipped Minke Whale twice but what we did see were about 500+ Manx Shearwaters and a final count of 99 Storm-petrels (I checked my note book as we were walking back to the car and it was exactly 99).

We did see a Clouded Yellow and we were told there were Grayling along the cliff. Sure enough we found them and that's my 50th butterfly species in Britain.

Grayling at Porthgwarra

My birthday present off Hilda's nephew
Hilda's nephew amazingly managed to find some accommodation for us in St Ives, and it took about half an hour to get there. Fortunately there was a chip shop in town and we all restocked our energy levels. We all hobbled around; our legs had seized up. Then we all started laughing as we realised we'd been sat on our arses all day and done no walking.

As it was my birthday, I won the competition for having the single room all to myself. It was fantastic to finally have some peace and quiet.

After an early night, we were up by 5am and drove back down to Penzance. We had booked on the Mermaid for a pelagic off Penzance. Following the poor sea watch the previous day, none of us were really up for it, and we accepted we weren't going to see much at all. At least the forecast was alright and we could enjoy the boat trip.

It was in Penzance that we met up with the other three. Grizzly had driven down through the night with former MI5 secret agent Andy "M" and Grant "Nemo" "Captain Birdseye in his early days without a beard" "Granty" Grant. They had tried unsuccessfully to sleep in the car park, and we found them still in their pyjamas, dragging their sleeping bags and pillows along the pavement. It was a distressing sight.

As we sat there waiting, Grant "Nemo" Granty Grant even then said he started to feel sick. He complained of the chair rocking side to side and he started to go a funny colour. A few moments later and the captain allowed us to get on the boat.

We sailed out. The sea was ok. We managed to muscle our way to the back of the boat. It was a good position. What happened next and for the next six hours was absolutely incredible. But enough of Nemo fumbling around the boat looking for his sea legs that he hadn't even packed.

When you don't expect the trip to produce, and then it does, well we all just stood there grinning. The chumming started and the Storm-petrels came in. At one stage we had thirty dancing over the churning boiling sea. Then the big boys came in. We had up to six Great Shearwaters around the boat - four in view together on one occasion. There were a few Sooty Shearwaters, 100's of Manxies, Gannets overhead, and a few Balearic Shearwaters on show. We had feeding frenzies on occasions when the sea seemed full of birds in every direction. We had Dolphins a few feet away swimming under the boat. We had a sunfish. I was holding Hilda's nephew for dear life just so he could keep RBA off his back for not producing any videos recently. It was a class pelagic. Some of our party had four lifers, some three, even Hilda's nephew scored with one tick. The Stalker and myself just enjoyed the whole experience. As inland birders, its not something you see everyday.

Conditions were tough for videoing, and Hilda's nephew realised that he was actually missing the action and so stopped. Even so, the following video gives you a taster. This video made me feel more sea sick watching it than the actual boat itself. The Great Shearwater video is when I was holding Hilda's nephew still.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Ha! Just when you thought....

Well having been inundated with emails as to what has happened to the blog, I've decided to continue and start again. Also I have a new laptop as you can see and doing a blog doesn't take me a whole week anymore. So what's been happening to the Clayhead's I hear you say. Who has Shirley fallen out with now I wonder?

So what have the Clayheads been up to since the last blog which I think was the QUEEN EIDER trip. Well on 16th July, Hilda's nephew and Shirley decided to pop over to Cambridgeshire for the CASPIAN TERN that had spent a few days frequenting a quarry there. Upon news we left Blithfield where we were waiting and headed off. Unfortunately when we arrived, stood next to the last bloke in the queue and asked "Which island is it on you Cambridgeshire southern softy" he replied it hadn't been seen since the first sighting. Ah we thought, an erroneous sighting then. 

Plan B was quickly formed and we headed over to Cley for the s/pl Long-billed Dowitcher that had been found earlier. We felt this was a decent Norfolk bird and in the end it turned out to be correct. A useful addition to Shirley's Norfolk list, which now stood at 14 species.

We amazingly found a space at the bottom of the East Bank (you must ask Hilda's nephew of the time when he sat on Richie Richardson's lap and listened to his stories of identifying Britain's first Ringed Plover before he went back to his Aunt Nancy for some bread and butter pudding) and walked out to the small crowd gathered further down. We were soon watching a virtual full s/pl Long-billed Dowitcher and the day wasn't a complete failure after all.

Long-billed Dowitcher at Cley by Lord Lichfield

We then went to Titchwell where I pointed out to my accompanying camera crew a few juvenile Bearded Tits feeding on the mud. Fortunately, Lord Lichfield again got all the plaudits for his fine videoing. If only RBA knew who really was behind these videos.

We also saw 5+ Med Gulls, Spotshanks, Pochard with young was a good brief visit.

On Sunday 23rd July, the trio of Shirley, Hilda's nephew and The Stalker headed off to Kilnsea Wetlands again, this time to see the adult WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - another bird beer bottle collectors wouldn't leave their settees for. We were very fortunate as waders were zipping all over the place, flying from the Beacon Pools to the Humber. The small flock of Dunlin that contained the White-rumped Sandpiper decided to stay putt and feed. We also saw a Brent Goose - a July tick for Shirley. Our brief stay at Kilnsea ended with three distant Manx Shearwaters off the Bluebell. You are right, we could have stayed on the sofa but then again a quick dash to Spurn on a summer Sunday morning.....

And that completes July. Next blog will be about the amazing story of Nemo on the Penzance pelagic to celebrate Shirley's birthday.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Why do I effin bother?

That's the question many of you may have asked yourself. I certainly have recently. This morning at 7am I was walking along the beach at Borth Sands, Ynyslas overlooking Cardigan Bay. The sky was blue, the sea was flat calm and there was not a breath of wind. There were c3000 Manx Shearwaters showing offshore. Indeed why do I bother? I could have been sat on my sofa looking at my Old Scrotum.

Anyway the story goes like this. Hilda's nephew was working this weekend and The Stalker was away with the TA on live fire training. The AMUR FALCON had buggered off so I resorted to plan A and that was the QUEEN EIDER at Ynyslas. An early morning journey through central Wales with nothing much on the road was completed in about two and a half hours.

I parked up and walked along the beach towards the mouth of the estuary, marvelling at the thousands of Manxies flying past. They were even on the river itself showing down to a few metres. The scenery was stunning. It was an idyllic scene. But I couldn't find QUEEN EIDER.  I began to panic that this idyllic scene was going to bite me back.

Looking towards Aberdovey
 In the far distance i saw a birder who I'd spoken to earlier watching the Manxies. I walked towards him. It turned out there were two rivers in the estuary and I was looking at the mouth of the wrong one.

It had only taken me an hour and a half to find the Queen Eider but there she sat on a grassy island, preening away, occasionally stretching up and showing her head. This is my first ever Queen Eider and what's more it's a Welsh tick too.

As I stood there waiting for it to swim, the sun was beating down and I was slowly joined by more birders. You can't go far without meeting someone you know, and I was soon joined by the apprentice Clayheads Grant "Granty Grant" Grant and former MI5 agent Andy "M". They stood and watched the Queen Eider sat on the grassy island and more birders joined us and we all stood and watched the Queen Eider on the grassy island. For two hours she never moved!

It was at this point I gave up and we wandered over to the sea with the apprentices and saw a few more Manxies going past. A quick pop into the Dyfi Osprey centre and the day was done. A fantastic easy day in a beautiful part of Wales I don't visit very often. And you wonder why I bother?

As I stood talking to the apprentice Clayheads, Grant "Granty Grant" Grant mentioned he was a massive Barry Manilow fan. I never knew this and it turns out he's got every album he's released and has seen him 24 times in concert. He even showed me his Barry Manilow tattoo covering his entire back. An absolute work of art. Ask him next time you see him. So Grant "Granty Grant" Grant, here's the song you requested.

Sunday, 2 July 2017


Right I'm back. Let's carry on the story...

So Saturday 17th June was a baking hot day. Hilda's nephew was working all weekend so I went out to get a few cheap year ticks just so I could edge forward in the big race. I popped into BGP for some reason or other, I forget now. I've never experienced heat like it in Britain before. I think it was the combination of the grass, high vegetation and no wind and I just stood there with the sweat pouring off me. It was incredible. I soon left and it took me some time, even with air con to get myself back up and running. I did see the Doxey Spoonbill later.

The following weekend, 24th June, well there wasn't much to see, and to be frank, I just couldn't be arsed to go out. I told CJW I was having a weekend in. On Saturday morning I started cutting the hedge, and every so often I'd check my phone. On one occasion, there was a missed call, and a text saying did I want picking up.

Some forty minutes later, we were marching round Belvide. Steve Nuttall had found a quite surreal three SABINE'S GULLS, but two had already left. We reached the hide, and soon we were watching a 1st summer Sabine's Gull at Belvide in June on a flat calm summers day. A bird / occurance like this creates more questions than answers I'm afraid. The whole experience was actually quite entertaining. We shared a hide with two characters we'd never met before. One chap spent the whole time trying to find the bird despite quite a few very useful pointers being given to him. Use your bins first Mr Muppet, not your scope!

So if you remember, this was a weekend without birding. Following a call from someone, we headed out Sunday morning after Westport to another site. A low a behold we bumped into something else....a second for me in fact. An unbelievable weekend when you've planned no birding.

And so to this week. I managed an afternoon trip down to Blithfield during the week, and accidently bumped into none other than "Big" Dave Robinson, our year listing competitors. I pretended to be his friend and chatted away to him, but all the time I was picking his brains, trying to get as much info out of him as possible about future trips. I told him we were planning to go for South Wales on Saturday for the CASPIAN TERN and QUEEN EIDER, knowing all along that both birds would do a Friday bunk. I lulled him into a false sense of security, and he spilled the beans. They were going for HONEY BUZZARD over the weekend.  I'd got him. If only Tony "Big List" Jackson knew what "Big" Dave had done.

Come Saturday morning we headed over into Nottinghamshire, and we were soon enjoying the five Bee-eaters that have appeared to have set up home there. The place was busy.....possibly the largest crowds we've seen this year.    

There was no time to loose. We'd got a busy scheduled to keep to. Kilnsea was the next destination, but unfortunately it was Hilda's nephew's turn to drive this week. He insisted on playing a full 2hr long Genesis album at full blast for the entire trip. I fell asleep during one track, woke up 45 minutes later and it was still the same morose track. By the time we arrived at Kilnsea, both myself and The Stalker were goggled eyed, mumbling to ourselves, rocking with saliva dribbling out the corner of our mouths. You are right, the music didn't affect us one bit. And thanks to Hilda's nephew's for playing the entire Duke album by Genesis for two whole hours.

We were a bit worried about our next target bird, as the sun was out, the sky was blue and it had become quite mobile. We screeched into the car park, grabbed our stuff and ran hell for leather down to the gate at the corner of the car park, and we walked the rest of the way. The full summer plumaged WWBT was an absolutely fantastic bird. It performed very well for us. I do like WWBT and its always a pleasure to see them. For you "seen one once wonders" sat on your sofas, well this is my 13th WWBT and 6th full summer plumage bird. And I know you are wondering, yes, it's my 3rd in Yorkshire.

Lord Lichfield at his best - watch this in HD

Videograbs by myself
 It was baking hot, the grass was green, my eyes were running and I wanted the sneeze. Oh the joys of summer birding. One last target bird. One last site. It was another two hours journey. Lord Lichfield put some music on this time, and even he had to skip over the crap tracks. Unbelievable. At least its another three weeks before we ride in his juke box again.

Our final destination was the Wykeham Raptor Watchpoint, and CJW did another sterling drive. Just as we arrived we received news that three Honey-buzzards had just been seen, but by the time we were in place they had gone. In fact we had to wait probably an hour and a half before we had one bird wing clapping directly overhead. We also had three Goshawk.

Well with another five year ticks added today, it was a useful but extremely long day. Over 16hrs in the saddle, but we saw some decent stuff.

But where were Tony "Big List" Jackson and "Big" Dave Robinson and even Gladwyn "The third member" Bould? Nowhere to be seen. I'd fooled them with my fake South Wales trip, and they were in fact playing crown green bowls. When they saw our day tally, they hastily organised a trip on Sunday, starting off at Wykeham and then down to Kilnsea. They even resorted to Twitter, but it was obvious we had won the weekend, and they are getting very worried now. The gap now is less than 50. The Clayheads are marching on and they are too scared to turn around now, because they know we are coming.  


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.