Tuesday, 30 July 2013


At Kilvington Lakes this evening there were at least 4 Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the Lesser Black-backs in the field immediately north of the West Lake. No waders though. 

A lister's progress

My first ever bird notebook entry is from the 13th of April 1991. I was 10 and a half years old, and the first species noted was House Sparrow in my garden in Suffolk. My notebooks quickly evolved into a record of every single bird species I saw, every day of the week. There are few comments, although some notable birds sometimes appear in capitals, and later on, new species are underlined. 

The first 'milestone' I can remember in my birding exploits was to reach my 300th species whilst on a pelagic off Penzance on 20th August 2000. My notebook makes no comment on this, but I can remember the feeling of achievement. The species in question was either Sabine's Gull, Great Shearwater or Wilson's Petrel - not bad, whichever it was. Some lean years whilst I was at university then didn't help in terms of my list being where it should be, so in my late twenties, I set myself the target of getting to 400 before turning 30. 

Although 2008 was a good year (9 ticks, including White-crowned Sparrow, Green Heron and Two-barred Crossbill), 2009 (5 ticks, including Crested Lark, Black-winged Pratincole and Eastern Crowned Warbler) and 2010 (also 5 ticks, including Pallid Swift, Oriental Pratincole and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler) were well off the pace, and on my 30th birthday I was on 379, so I had fallen well short - other things got in the way

Having missed my target, 2011 was also a slow year (5 ticks, including White-throated Robin, Sandhill Crane and Western Sandpiper), but with 400 finally seeming in reach, I picked up the pace in 2012 (8 ticks, including Spanish Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Common Yellowthroat), and after a slow start, have maintained a high (for me) tick rate in 2013 with 8 ticks so far, all in a 3 month period (including Rock Thrush, Dusky Thrush and Pacific Swift). 

So 22 years, 3 months and 16 days after my first notebook entry, I finally notched up my 400th British species - Caspian Tern. And how long before I reach 500? Projecting out from the period 2008 to 2012, averaging 6.4 ticks a year, means it will take me nearly 16 years, which doesn't sound that long - although I will approaching 50 by then! 

Notebook entry from May 1991

Monday, 29 July 2013

Reaching a milestone

For a couple of hours this afternoon it looked like I was going to suffer my second tern-related dip in four days. I'd got into work early (1st in for the 2nd time ever), had done what I needed to do, and then headed for Rudyard Lake in Staffs to see the Caspian Tern - something I couldn't face doing on saturday after my big dip on friday. I was almost there, when news came through that the bird had flown north some time earlier. I continued on and had a look at the mud at the northern end of the lake, but no tern. And it wasn't being reported from its roost site in Cheshire.

After a bit of faffing I decided to continue on to Acre Nook Sand Quarry, only 30 minutes away, despite the lack of news. I arrived, and was shown where to view from by a nice father and son (both birders). I scanned through the gulls once, twice, and a third time, but no tern, no matter how hard I tried. I started scanning some of the gulls in flight with my bins, and quickly locked onto something clearly different, and which looked rather heavy-billed... And through the scope, it was the Caspian Tern! It dropped onto the sand bar and showed off its orange bill, preening and eventually going to sleep. I left the site a very happy boy, having just notched up my 400th British tick (BOU of course).  

Caspian Tern

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Local pottering

At Girton this morning, several broods of Tufted Ducks, and also an unseasonal Goldeneye on the Sailing Lake; this looked a bit odd, but was in heavy moult (lacking all flight feathers) and seemed to be an eclipse drake. To continue my recent dipping form, I then failed to find any Purple Hairstreaks at a spot where I found them for the first time last year.


All was quiet at Collingham Pits - no waders other than some invisible (calling) LRPs on Ferry Lane Lake, but there was an adult Yellow-legged Gull there. 

Big dip

To cut a long story short, I decided to go for the Bridled Tern on the Farnes yesterday. Quite why I left it so long I don't know, and quite why I chose to go after a day it hadn't been seen, I don't know either. I had a sense that it was a bad idea on the whole drive up, and so it proved to be; but hindsight is a wonderful thing. And the reason I didn't see the bird? It had relocated to the Isle of May in Scotland. Oh well, can't win 'em all. In fact, I can't remember the last time I dipped a big bird like this. With the benefit of hindsight, I should've gone to see the Caspian Tern in Staffs instead!

Inner Farne

I'd like to say I had a lovely day out nonetheless; the Farnes are, of course, a great experience, but being stood on the pier on Inner Farne for nearly 3 hours meant I didn't get the whole experience, and really, it's the sort of thing to do as part of a long weekend or week-long trip to Northumberland, not as part of an eight-hour round trip in a single day. 

Juvenile Arctic Tern
Adult Arctic Tern

I did have one tick though; John Craven filming for Countryfile (Puffins being the subject, I believe). 

John Craven

Thursday, 25 July 2013


I had a look at Collingham Pits last night, without seeing much, so had another go tonight. I'd literally just arrived when Andrew Hindmarsh pulled up to say he'd met a couple who said they'd seen 3 Whimbrel on the Silt Lagoon - a species I missed in the spring, and needed for my Patchwork Challenge list.

To be honest I was expecting them to be Curlew, and the first bird I looked at was indeed a Curlew, but next to it where 3 Whimbrel - a good grip-back. Hopefully Spotted Redshank and Little Stint to follow soon! They seemed fairly settled, but were calling frequently.

3 Whimbrel

Back to Ferry Lane Lake, and the only wader was a Common Sandpiper - not even any LRPs (11 last night). I do wonder if quarrying (which has recommenced recently) is causing too much disturbance during the day to encourage any passing waders to stick. Non-bird interest was provided by 21 Green-veined Whites and a couple of Large Whites roosting on bramble along the base of a hedge; do they chose to roost together? 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A first for Notts!

No, not a White-rumped Sandpiper at Collingham Pits, but my local patch has scored a first for Nottinghamshire - breeding Little Egrets! Some of my loyal readers (there are a couple - you know who you are!) correctly guessed this after my recent teasing post, but news is now officially out after an NWT press release, the BTO tweeted the news, and the story even featured on East Midlands Today.

I first became aware of the good news on 19th May; I was stood next to Mons Pool, and could hear the sound of ladders being extended, and guessed straight away North Notts Ringing Group were in the heronry. The activity was clearly disturbing the Grey Herons, which were circling around overhead in some numbers. Curiously, I could see at least 5 Little Egrets doing the same, and settling up on the top of the ash trees. If they were only roosting I would've expected them to fly straight off... surely this was evidence of breeding?!

I was joined in a little while by John Ellis, who'd seen no fewer than 9 Little Egrets circling the heronry, and he too knew that something was up. We parted company after lots of speculation, and I headed round to the carpark at Mons Pool, just as the ringers were coming off the island. I think they were a bit taken aback by my opening greeting - "how many Little Egret nests have you found then?". But Jim Lennon and Adrian Blackburn soon volunteered that they had indeed found 6 or 7 Little Egret nests and these contained eggs - breeding confirmed! But I was sworn to secrecy, which was entirely reasonable given the sensitivity of the record.

I was invited to NNRG's return visit to the heronry at the start of June, but this coincided with my trip to Scotland so unfortunately I couldn't make it, but 16 young were ringed (from, I believe, a total of 9 nests). The young are colour-ringed, and I saw my first ringed birds on 14th July - Robin Brace had seen a couple a few days earlier when I was in France. The colour-ring code that is used on these birds is an orange darvic ring on the left leg with the letter 'L' in black text, and a green darvic ring on the right leg with a variable letter in white text - I myself have seen 'S', 'C', 'K' and 'T'. If you spot any, make a note of when, where, how many, and which other colour-ringed birds they were with, and send your record in!

Sunday, 21 July 2013


We were at a wedding in Lancashire yesterday, which (as luck would have it) happened to be less than an hour away from a tick, so after breakfast this morning we headed up there. We had the adult Bonaparte's Gull almost as soon as we arrived at Heysham, sat on the sea adjacent to the power station, where it remained for maybe 40 minutes before flying north to the outfall. My 399th British tick...what will be number 400?!

Bonaparte's Gull

Gull-covered rocks at Heysham

We then headed a short distance north to Warton Crags in Silverdale, a site I've not been to before. Our quarry was High Brown Fritillary, but the weather wasn't ideal - relatively cool (only 20), overcast, and with a fair breeze from the east. I had flight views of a couple of fritillaries, but they weren't ID'able and wouldn't settle, which was a shame. Still, it means another visit another time, maybe a long weekend next year - it's a lovely area and there's plenty of other places to visit.

Looking west from Warton Crags

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Big news soon

Some big news from the patch is due soon - unfortunately this is under wraps at the moment, but more as soon as I get the go-ahead!

In the pink

One of the tasks I do each year at work is to count the Deptford Pinks at a private site near Widmerpool in the south of the county. The site is on a section of active railway and there is no public access, so it is a privilege to be able to see this plant at what is it's only Nottinghamshire site (and indeed, one of only about 30 sites country-wide). 

This year's total was 431 flowering plants, a very slight increase on last year (when there were 420). The non-flowering plants (i.e. those not yet flowering) are very difficult to spot, so this is probably a slight underestimate, as we'd hit them a bit early this year and there were clearly lots still to flower. There's more o on this species in a Notts context on the Notts BAG website, in a 'Species Action Plan' (which I wrote a while back).

Deptford Pink

Back to birds, Ferry Lane Lake at Collingham Pits is still looking good for waders, but held only single Greenshank and Common Sandpiper tonight, and there was no sign of the Red-crested Pochard which Carl had there two nights ago, which is a shame. No Yellow-legged Gulls either tonight. 

Collingham wader scrape

Monday, 15 July 2013

Pacific Golden Plover at Rutland

Casually checking my twitter feed on the way home on the bus, I found out there'd been a Pacific Golden Plover at Rutland Water since lunchtime - a 'needed' species! So it was straight down to Egleton as soon as I got home, where the bird was showing from Heron Hide - a bit of a yomp round. 

The bird was a little distant even for digiscoping, but showed well, sat on a stone bund and also flying to the nearby muddy shoreline to feed. It was nice and leggy and most of the other key ID features could be seen - or just about! A cracker.

Pacific Golden Plover

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Where are the waders?

I'd been expecting that Collingham Pits would've been awash with scarce waders during my week away, but it appears this has not been the case (fortunately), despite some excellent looking habitat currently present. Indeed, this morning I couldn't even find a Green Sandpiper, making do with 16 LRPs and 9 Ringed Plovers, although amongst the latter was a bird with an orange leg flag - worth following up. The only other thing of note was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

I'm sure the Wood Sands and Temminck's Stints will starting pouring in soon.

France 2013

What with the Needletail, Frigatebird and Bridled Tern, I was feeling quite twitchy over the last couple of weeks; realistically, I would never have twitched the two former species, but the Tern was looking quite attractive (and still is...). It was therefore actually a bit of a relief to jump in my parent's campervan and head to France for a week!

We headed to an area just south of Orleans, called the Sologne, via Rouen, and then returned north via Tours, Sees and Dieppe. Quite a lot of driving (1106.2 miles to be exact), and it would've been nice (from my perspective) to have more time in the Sologne - this is a fantastic area of woodland,  lakes, heathy areas, meadows and farmland, stuffed full of wildlife and bounded to the north by the Loire. 

The Loire - river wild
Woodland in the Sologne
L'Etang de Beaumont

My one and only avian target was Grey-headed Woodpecker. Unfortunately, I was relying on trip reports that were 10 (and in one case 15!) years old, and failed to find this species at the Canal de la Sauldre (and adjacent areas), despite plenty of suitable habitat. I guess looking for this species in the middle July isn't ideal, and it remains one of my biggest bogey birds in western Europe! 

The Canal de la Sauldre

Despite this disappointment, the birding was pretty good (given the time of year, and the fact that this wasn't a birding holiday). Best was an unexpected tick (albeit a Category C species) in the form of a female Reeve's Pheasant

An out-of-focus female Reeve's Pheasant

Other highlights in the Sologne included Black-necked Grebe, Purple Heron, Night-heron, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, Whiskered Tern, frequent Turtle Dove, Black Woodpecker (heard only), Middle Spotted Woodpecker (frequent), Melodious Warbler, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper (common), Red-backed Shrike and Golden Oriole. Elsewhere, additional species included Montagu's Harrier and White Stork (one at Jumiege, near Rouen).

Black-necked Grebe
Honey Buzzard
Honey Buzzard
Whiskered Tern
Little Egret
Middle Spotted Woodpecker

The butterflies were a little disappointing, although I clocked up 21 species including two ticks for me - Lesser Purple Emperor (despite one landing on me I couldn't get a photo), and Map. Mammals included Otter and Coypu (not Beaver!), and a probable Aesculapian Snake was the reptile highlight. Orchids were also few in number and diversity (again time of year being the problem), with only four species located - but Lizard Orchids were found growing in several places.

Lizard Orchid
Marbled Fritillary

Finally, we also watched the Tour de France. Several hours of build up for about 20 seconds of action, but quite amazing nevertheless. Go Chris Froome!

Team Sky front left!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Two Greenshank more

A meeting at Langford Lowfields this morning allowed a quick check of Collingham Pits, where 2 Greenshank dropped in at 10:10. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

July off to a good start

At Collingham Pits tonight, 20 Black-tailed Godwits were on Ferry Lane Lake, happily feeding in a pool on the exposed gravel, along with a Greenshank (a patch yeartick), 14 LRPs (including 3 full grown juvs), and a pair of Common Terns, possibly nesting. Two Yellow-legged Gulls also appeared amongst the black-backs - an adult and a 2nd summer.

Most of the 20 Black-wits
Lots of wader habitat
Adult Yellow-legged Gull

Mons Pool was busy with birds too, nothing unusual, but the two Great Crested Grebe nests are still occupied, and it was great to see 2 small Lapwing chicks - a species which looked like it wasn't breeding this year until now.