Wednesday, 31 December 2014

No last gasp

Ok, so when I thought I'd have one last crack at the patch this year, well that didn't happen. Instead, I did some reccying for our Jan 1st bird race tomorrow. Starting at Kilvington Lakes, decent birds were single Goosander, Shelduck and Red-crested Pochard - all potentially useful. 

I then decided to have a quick look at Cotham Landfill, where I bumped into Alex Lees - a nice chap who I've corresponded with in the past. However, the gulls were not performing, with only a small number on view from our position. We spied Edmund Staunton across the other side in his hi-vis jacket (a requirement of privileged access to the site), and it was presumably he who had the juv Iceland Gull on the main tipping area, sadly out of view of our position. 

After failing to find any LEO's with Alex, I returned home for lunch and domestic duties, before a stroll round Langford. We bumped into Michael C there, the site manager, who gave us a guided tour. Highlights were a pair of Pintail, plus single Stonechat and Snipe; no Bitterns for us this evening.

So, we'll see what tomorrow brings. I'll be happy with anything around the 90 mark. That, or a Little Bustard... And on the patch front, I finished the year on 135 species and 162 points - 1 species and 5 points less than 2013. So onwards to 2015 - 140 species must be possible!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Penultimate patching

Yesterday I paid my second visit of the year to Cotham Landfill. Whilst there were plenty of gulls present, I couldn't find any Glaucs or Icelands, nor indeed any Yellow-legs or Caspo's. However, it didn't help that lots of the gulls were loafing in fields to the south of Cotham Flash, and couldn't be easily checked. 

And more gulls

Today, I made what will be my penultimate visit of the year to the patch. Highlights were 2 Whooper Swans on the Silt Lagoon (which then relocated to the field south of Meering) along with 2 Curlew and a Redshank; there were also 3 Tree Sparrows in the western hedge here, and a Merlin flew through heading south. Ferry Lane Lake produced a Green Sand and a pair of Stonechats along the western shore - hopefully the latter will stick into the new year!

Crunchy snow crystals

A check of Meering again failed to produce any Siskin in the alders there; it looks like this is going to be my big patch dip of the year. Onwards to Besthorpe Warren, were there was pretty much nowt, although the conifers there have now been completely felled; bad news for Crossbills. but maybe some Woodlark habitat...?

Besthorpe Warren

I finished up with a quick check of Spalford Pit and North Pit at Girton; the former held a pair of Shelduck, the latter an injured Common Gull with a badly bust wing. Unfortunately I couldn't catch it...

Saturday, 27 December 2014

A tale of two rivers

This morning I had a look at the upper reaches of the Orwell; first from Stoke Sailing Club, then Foxes Marina, and then Bath Lane. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but the Peregrine was sat on its box on the bridge, and there were good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, with 22 in view from Stoke Sailing Club.

This afternoon, after going out for lunch to celebrate my grandma's 101st birthday (impressive) in Stutton, we had a family stroll, and I suggested we go down to Stutton Ness. From the Ness, the Surf Scoter was a couple of hundred yards upriver, along with the Red-throated Diver, whilst just down river, at the western end of Holbrook Bay, I located the juv/female Velvet Scoter (which I somehow missed on Christmas Eve), and 2 Slavonian Grebes. A good little haul.

Velvet Scoter
A slightly better shot of its head pattern

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve

It's good to be back in Suffolk. As has become customary for me on Christmas Eve, I hiked along the estuaries near my family home to see what I could see. I began some way further up the Stour than usual, at Stutton Mill - I rarely visit this area, and had forgotten how birdy it is - loads of Shelduck, good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, and 6 Avocets, plus a juvenile Red-throated Diver off Mistley.

Surf Scoter
Developing its white nape patch

Onwards to Stutton Ness, and I bagged the 1st winter drake Surf Scoter; never close enough for a decent photo, I think my pictures are even worse than those I took of the Holkham bird in the autumn... still, it was nice to see, and it's beginning to get its white nape patch, but the bill is still subdued; and of course a Suffolk tick. Also off Stutton Ness was a Slavonian Grebe, feeding just yards offshore - which makes a change as they're usually miles away when viewed from Holbrook Creek!

Slavonian Grebe

By the time I reached Holbrook Bay, it was pretty much high tide, the sun was out (I had to strip down to my thin jumper and roll up my sleeves, it was so warm), and the wind had picked up, making the river rather choppy. Two more Slavonian Grebes were in evidence, but I failed to find much else, including the Velvet Scoter which had been seen earlier. A Kingfisher in the creek was the first of three seen during the day.

Holbrook Bay

Erwarton Bay produced the first sizeable group of Brents of the day, with maybe 400 feeding in the Spartina - no Black Brants though. A Peregrine scattered the roosting waders, which included a good sized flock of Bar-wits, and a fine male Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarshes, scattering the Teal and Wigeon each time it passed. 

Reaching Shotley Gate, there were, unusually, no Med Gulls to be found, and the remainder of the walk up the Crane's Hill was uneventful. I reached Shotley Church at half four, after 8 hours and 20 kilometers. My legs are feeling it now... 

Felixstowe docks

All in all, and enjoyable day, although not quite up to 2013's standards. Still, there's always next year!

Christmas Eve eve

One final check of the patch before Christmas, between running some final errands, produced 2 Merlins at Besthorpe NWT over the access track to Meering Marsh, with 2 Whooper Swans and 2 Egyptian Geese with 22 Mute Swans in the adjacent field. A quick check of Ferry Lane Lake failed to produce anything of note...

Monday, 22 December 2014

A day of disappointments

I made my first visit of the winter to Cotham Landfull this morning. Whilst there were plenty of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls present, there were no white-wingers to be had. The best I could muster was a 1cy Yellow-legged Gull and 2 adult Lesser Black-backs


Collingham proved equally disappointing this afternoon, with dull, windy conditions and few birds of note. Best were the Little Owl in his usual tree, 3 Redshank on the Silt Lagoon, and a redhead Goosander on Ferry Lane Lake. The gull roost has shrunk to less than 100 Black-headed Gulls now, and wasn't worth the wait until dusk. 

The bright lights

Whilst singing Christmas carols in the Albert Hall actually proved to be a lot of fun, I didn't expect London on the weekend before be a bird filled experience. However, a walk along the Thames near Kew Bridge proved to be quite interesting, with plenty of Ring-necked Parakeets and Egyptian Geese, a Grey Wag, and a low-flying Peregrine.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Running out of time...

My first birding today in 8 days. Unfortunately, the patch was pretty quiet with little of note - 2 each of Curlew and Redshank, plus a Grey Wag, but low numbers of wildfowl and few passerines. And it was rather spoilt by seeing a Black-headed Gull on the silt lagoon, with blood covering its head and breast and a fishing lure stuck in its bill which it evidently couldn't shift. 

So I remain stuck on 135 species for the year - still one behind last year. Will I see a Siskin before the year is out..?!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Cetti's challenge met

After 2 months of it being present, I finally bagged the Cetti's Warbler at Collingham Pits this morning; having had another unsuccessful listen/look for it from the hide at Mons Pool, I went to the viewing screens a couple of hundred yards further along the south side of the lake. A squealing Water Rail and 2 Kingfishers were nice, but there wasn't much else, so I checked my Twitter feed to see what was going on elsewhere. Lucky I did, as a few minutes later I heard the Cetti's calling from the edge of the water. Clambering up onto the side of the viewing screen (don't tell anyone), I had decent views of the bird. A patch tick, and two points for Patchwork Challenge!

Other bits and pieces around the patch included 1 Merlin, 1 Little Owl, 5 Snipe, 4 Redshank, 2 Curlew, 1 Little Egret, 40 Golden Plover (over), c.10 Tree Sparrows, at least 7 Bullfinches, and moderate numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings. Just off-site, 2 Whooper Swans were with 14 Mutes to the west of the River Trent at Cromwell, viewed from the conveyor outfall on the river next to the Silt Lagoon. The only thing of note at Meering was a Redshank.

It just wouldn't be winter without some awful photos of Whooper Swans...

Onwards to Girton, to do my WeBS count (a day early, rather than a week late, for a change). Best were 40 Pink-feet which flew over west; otherwise, the more notable totals included 248 Tufted Duck, 261 Coot, 353 Wigeon and a whopping 144 Gadwall, as well as 28 Pochard, 29 Goldeneye, 5 Shoveler and 42 Teal, plus a single Redshank. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Cetti's challenge

No Patchwork Challenge yearticks this weekend; two stakeouts for the Cetti's Warbler (which is still apparently present in the small reedbed in front of the hide at Mons Pool) were both fruitless, and there are still no Siskin anywhere to be found!

I did manage to see a nice little selection of waders on Saturday, with c.780 Golden Plover, 2 Dunlin and 2 Curlew on the Silt Lagoon, 3 Redshank on Mons Pool and a Green Sand heard on Ferry Lane Lake (seen today). The Kingfisher at Mons Pool has been performing well recently, and a smart Goosander put in a brief appearance there yesterday. 

The gull roost last night was disappointing - plenty of Black-headed and Common Gulls, but just 5 Lesser Black-backs and a single adult Yellow-leg. On the wildfowl front,16 Goldeneye yesterday had fallen to 6 today, whilst a little party of 40 Pink-feet flew low over the site today, heading north. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Izzy gonna stay?

I decided last night that if the Isabelline Wheatear was still in Cleveland this morning, I would cash in some of my flexi-leave and take the afternoon off to go and see it. It was reported first thing, so I headed off to Seaton Snook at midday, getting there at about 3pm. There was just one other birder present when I arrived, who had the wheatear in his sights - which was a bit of a relief as I had feared I might be looking for it on my own, with time against me. 

The other birder left after a while, leaving the wheatear all to me. It showed very well, down to a matter of metres at times, dashing between bits of seaweed on the strandline, and also visiting a patch of meal worms several times that someone had put down for it (nowt wrong with that in my book). Unfortunately, having been grey and damp all day the light was pretty bad, so my photos don't come up to scratch... high ISO, slow shutter, etc.. 

My only tick of the autumn, and in fact first tick since the Short-toed Eagle at the end of June!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A bit of all Twite

The Twite that Carl found in the Spalford pig fields last Sunday continued to be seen during the week (with up to 4 reported at one point), and given that I've not seen this species in Notts before, I decided to go and see them this morning. Finding the correct spot - some mugwort along a track near a disused tanker, next to Wigsley Road, I quickly located one, and then two birds, with a couple each of Linnet and Goldfinch. Nice. In addition, a Green Sand called from the middle of the site.

Twite above, Linnet below
2 Linnet (left) and 2 Twite (right)
Here be Twite

A look at Spalford Pit was then in order, but there was no sign of the female Ring-necked Duck that Carl also found last Sunday. I also checked out North Pit (1 Redshank), the A1133 Pit and the Sailing Lake at Girton Pits, but again no sign; there was a marked reduction in the number of wildfowl present Tufties especially) compared to last week. 

Collingham Pits were fairly quiet, not helped by the fact that I spent an hour in the hide at Mons Pool failing to hear the Cetti's Warbler which was heard again from the reedbed earlier in the week by Ken Lomas - this bird was first found at the start of October, so I need to get my finger out and get it on my Patchwork Challenge list soon! Also present were 2 Green Sands (Ferry Lane Lake), 2 Curlew and 3 Redshank (Silt Lagoon), and 1 Dunlin (heard in flight over Mons Pool). The Tree Sparrow flock in the wild bird strip on the far side of the field west of Mons Pool numbered around 35 today, which was great to see. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Black Red at Newstead Village

I spent all day today in Newstead Village at a Sherwood Habitats Forum event; fortuitously, this coincided with the discovery by Paul Naylor of a smart male Black Redstart in the Northfield Construction compound, next to Annesley Pit Top. As this was just 2 minutes walk away, I snuck out during the afternoon tea brake to go see it, making use of the emergency binoculars I keep in my car... hence the awful digi-binned shot.

Black Red

This is actually the second I've seen in Notts this year (having never seen one in the county before), after one I found on a neighbours roof in Newark earlier in the year. It also appears to be the seventh in Notts in 2014, which is a pretty good total. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wildfowl wonders of the Trent Valley

Having missed my WeBS count last week because of the BTO/Notts Birders conference, I headed out to Girton Pits this morning to do it. There were plenty of Tufties (421, mainly on the A1133 Pit), plus 114 Gadwall (a good total for this site) and 19 Goldeneye, as well as unspectacular numbers of other wildfowl and a single Green Sand

I knew things were bad when I started scrutinising a Canada Goose on North Pit; marginally smaller than the other 5 Canada's it was with (and perhaps also proportionately shorter necked?), it had a darker, buffish breast (contrasting with the bright off-white breasts of the other 5) and an apparently slightly narrower and duskier cheek patch. It lacked any other notable features such as white at the base of the neck sock or black throat line. I'm under no illusions that it was anything other than a feral Canada, but it was quite interesting (in a slightly desperate kind of a way); having done some googling tonight though, I'm not much clearer about what it actually was in terms of its racial origins. 

Canada Goose of interest - front right
Showing differences in breast colour and cheek patch shape/colour
Smaller, and perhaps shorter necked on the water

I finished my WeBS count as always at Spalford Pit where I bumped into Carl C, who was just packing up and heading off to check out the pig fields at Spalford village. I decided instead to go to Collingham, having not been for a week. This was probably a mistake, as Carl had an adult Med Gull and 1, if not 2 Twite at the pig fields; the best I could muster at Collingham was 2 Redshank on the Silt Lagoon and at least 15 (maybe up to 30) Tree Sparrows in a wild bird strip (no Brambling/Little Bunting/Pine Bunting). 

This afternoon, we then had a walk at Budby Heath - we'd just arrived when Carl called to say he was back at Spalford Pit and had what looked like a female/immature Ring-necked Duck! I made do with 40-50 Lesser Redpolls and a few Brambling

Carl's pics above; the bird was apparently browner in real life. I'd like to see the head shape better, and there is always the spectre of a hybrid to consider, but on balance I think it looks good as a RND. Unfortunately, Carl was beaten by poor light and wont be able to look for it again until Tuesday at the earliest, and I'm going to struggle to get out there before next Saturday, so if you're passing, go have a look. 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Birds like buses

A wet morning on the patch this morning didn't produce much; I went actively searching for a Stonechat in various places, and with four at Langford earlier in the week I thought I had a good chance, but no. There were decent numbers of Fieldfare around, at least 300 but it was difficult to be precise as they moved around the area in several flocks. The only waders were single Green Sand and Redshank, and 6 Golden Plover. I finished the morning at Meering, were there was little of note.

After a frustrating hockey match (awful does not even begin to describe the quality of the umpiring...), I headed back to Collingham to do the gull roost, and was very pleased that the first bird I saw at Ferry Lane Lake was a Stonechat - success! My first Patchwork Challenge addition since 13 September, and my first patch Stonechat since 31 January 2012 - they have become very scarce in Notts in the last few years. This was quickly followed by 6 fly-over Tree Sparrows - another PWC addition for 2014; sometimes PWC ticks are like buses. 

The gulls themselves were disappointing, with few big gulls, and of those, there were just 2 Yellow-legs (an adult and a 1cy). 


Sunday, 2 November 2014

A weekend in Norfolk

We're just back from Norfolk having spent a 'non-birding' weekend there; despite that, we had several walks that I managed to combine with seeing birds. And fortunately, I'd already seen Eastern Crowned Warbler... 

Beginning at Titchwell on our first day, there wasn't much of note in the reserve itself, but the sea held a male Goosander (briefly) and a female Long-tailed Duck, amongst a few other things. Onwards to Lady Anne's Drive, and a dash out view the sea before the light got too bad quickly produced a Great Northern Diver and then the drake Surf Scoter with a few Velvet and Common Scoter (cue awful picture #1). Only my second ever. 

Surf Scoter...  on the right... with the white nape

The following day I got up early and birded the area around Stiffkey Campsite Wood, despite the unfavourable wind direction (from the south-west). Most interesting were lots of Chaffinches (probably 1000+ overall) moving west in almost constant waves; amongst them were at least 9 calling Brambling as ones or twos. The only winter thrushes were 3 Redwings and a single Fieldfare, and the only warbler was a (non-tristis) Chiffchaff. After breakfast, we then walked from Stiffkey to Blakeney, encountering a large flock of Chaffinches and a Merlin, but little else.

Looking towards Blakeney Point

Our final day saw us head to Cley for a circuit of the reserve (getting caught in a downpour halfway round); best were the 3 Grey Phalaropes on North Scrape (cue awful picture #2), whilst the sea hosted two each of Razorbill and Red-throated Diver, and a few Gannets. After an early lunch we cut our losses and headed home, making a brief stop to view the Rough-legged Buzzard from the A149 at the western end of Holkham Pines on the grazing marsh (fortunately there is no awful picture #3 of this as I didn't even bother to try...). 

Back-lit Grey Phalaropes

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Scilly 2014

4th-11th of October 2014 saw the Stu Crew reunited for its third outing of birding, beer and pasties on the Isles of Scilly. After a fairly quiet 2013, hopes were high that this year would deliver... it didn’t, and overall our week was again quiet, both in terms of rarities/scarcities, and also for other migrants. The good news (for us) was that the following week was pretty quiet too (if not even quieter); there’s always that fear that something good will turn up the day after you’ve left. 

Carl and Stu feeling optimistic on the boat out

But here is what we did see:

Blyth’s Pipit

On 6th October news came over the radio of a ‘Richard’s or Blyth’s Pipit’ on the airfield. Later, this was ‘confirmed’ as a Richard’s Pipit. Being as we were at the opposite end of St Mary’s, we didn’t rush across to see it. But that night at the log, there seemed to be some doubt about the bird’s identity, and the following morning, it was reported as a Blyth’s Pipit, now in a bulb field at Old Town. This time we decided to check it out, but by the time we arrived, it had done a bunk. It later transpired that both Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits had, apparently, been present the previous day, which had caused the confusion.

We thought that was that, but the Blyth’s was relocated a few days later, on the 9th, behind Old Town Bay. After missing the bird fly on a flush of Standing Stones Field (we weren’t the only ones), we eventually had flight-only views of it on a flush of the small fields behind the bay, when it gave a quiet ‘chip-chip’ call; probably not tickable views if this was a new species for anyone, but luckily all three of us had seen one before (me, the Languard bird in the ‘90s, the other two the Gringley bird).

Blyth's Pipit twitch

Our only BB rarity of the weekend; and it wasn’t seen again.

Barred Warbler

Things actually got off to a good start on our first full day, when, strolling towards Old Town from Hugh Town with Stu, I noticed a pale Sylvia warbler on the edge of a Pittosporum hedge near the health centre. It was a bit distant for bins, but looked interesting. Getting the scope on it, it proved to be a Barred Warbler. It actually showed pretty well, and we managed to get plenty of people onto it, including Carl who’d had to go to the Co-op to buy a toothbrush.

Barred Warbler

Still present after we left, this bird was presumably the one that was seen previously in the allotments, just a few hundred metres away as the warbler flies. However, on the basis that it hadn’t been seen for six days, it counts as a self-found bird under Punkbirder rules. Boom.

Rose-coloured Starling

A juvenile had been hanging out at Green Farm, Pelistry for a while, and after a failed attempt on the 6th, we tracked it down on the 7th (after a bit of stringing on my part). Only my second British bird, it showed well as it fed around some cattle.

Rose-coloured Starling
With its buddy
Carl searching hard for the Starling... or is he picking blackberries?

Red-breasted Flycatcher

A birthday treat on the 8th, this elusive bird showed along the bath between Porth Hellick and the Tremelethen Trail - although the other two almost gripped me off; I had wondered off to look for the bird elsewhere (after it hadn’t shown for a good 40 minutes), and when I came back, I thought they were joking when they said it had shown 20 minutes previously. Luckily I picked it up again a few minutes later...

Looking down onto Porth Hellick 

Short-toed Lark

Having dipped this bird on the airfield on the 10th, we went back for a second try on our final morning on 11th. Initially there was no sign, but Carl picked it out in flight, and we then had pretty good views of it on the deck, along with 4 Skylarks.

Short-toed Lark

Balearic Shearwater

Due to pretty choppy conditions on the sailing out of Penzance, seawatching wasn’t exactly easy, and despite spending most of the sailing looking for seabirds, we failed to see a definite Balearic Shearwater – although did have c.10 Manxies and 6 Bonxies. On the sailing back, however, conditions were much better, and we bagged two nice Balearic Shears, as well as another 4 Bonxies. No Grey Phals unfortunately though - some had been seen on the morning sailing from Penzance.

Balearic Shearwater 1
Balearic Shearwater 2

Other birds

The supporting cast included a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers (in fact, apart from a regular bird at Newford Duck Pond, the only other one our group encountered was a bird I had briefly in a hedge near Borough Farm), quite a few Firecrests (we seemed to stumble on these wherever we went), 3 Snow Buntings (2 on Peninnis, one on the airfield), up to 3 Whinchats at Higher Moors, the odd Spotted Flycatcher, and a single Redstart. Other warblers etc. were in very short supply.

Stu and a Wheatear
Song Thrush - marvelously common on Scilly

The ones that got away

On the 9th, a Rustic Bunting turned up on St Agnes. Carl decided to go and look for this the following day, whilst me and Stu stayed put on St Mary’s. Unfortunately it wasn’t relocated, although an Ortolan Bunting was; a would-be tick for Carl, and for me! I’d like to say that I felt bad for Carl that he didn’t see it...  A Tawny Pipit (or was it a Richard’s..?!) also put in a brief appearance whilst Carl was on Aggie, but he only had brief tail-end views of it as it flew off.

Non-birding highlights...

Less snoozing – there was a lot of snoozing last year. This year, Carl didn’t go back to the flat once for an afternoon snooze, and Stu only did once. That said, there was a bit of snoozing whilst out and about, and definately lots in the evening...

Snoozing in Old Town churchyard
Meeting some birders from the West Midlands, especially Richard and Kay - some kindred inland-birder spirits; Kay was the first person we got onto the Barred Warbler, and Richard relocated the Blyth’s Pipit.

Snoozing in Holy Vale

Winning the quiz in the Atlantic - after a traditional birthday lasagne (can something be traditional when you’ve only done it twice?), we took part in the quiz, bolstered by a couple from South Yorkshire who we had met last year. And our team, ‘Happy Birthday Nick Crouch’ (I had no part in choosing that name, I would like to point out), won, quite comfortably! And beat the West Midlands birder’s team, ‘Peregrines on Toast’ in the process. But we promised not to mention that again... Our team of five won... four pints of beer. Hmm.

Snoozing on the boat

Hustling some Irish navvies - one night in the Mermaid, we were playing pool, and got challenged to a game of doubles by some Irish lads working at the airport (which is currently being redeveloped); having seen us play a couple of unconvincing games, they obviously thought they could take us, but they hadn’t banked on Stu pulling off an amazing shot to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They looked a bit deflated at the end...

Snoozing in the flat - when we're meant to be going out!

... and lowlights

Arriving at the wrong Travelodge in Okehampton - we began to check in, only to find that we were needed to be at the other Travelodge in Okehampton, 10 minutes back the way we had just come. Not a big deal perhaps, but not great when it’s nearly midnight and you’ve got to get up before 6. I blame Carl.

Next October?

During my three visits to Scilly in the last three autumns, I have had just two ticks – and one of those was Rose-coloured Starling; and in the last two years, there have been just single BB rarities during our week stay. In fact, this must be one of the worst autumns on record for Scilly. So the question is, is this a good enough return, or should I be casting my eyes north next year...? Scilly is lovely and I have a great time there, so it will be a big decision to make! 

Scilly looking lovely - Old Town Bay from Peninnis