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