Thursday, 31 December 2015

Success at the tip

I finally caught up with the juv Glaucous Gull at Cotham Landfill this morning, which Mark Dawson had located first thing. It sparked a mini twitch, with Graham Gamidge and Tom Shields also showing up. A smart adult (or maybe 4th W) Yellow-legged Gull was also present, but no sign of any Caspos, despite there being plenty of gulls being around. 

Juv Glauc

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Bye to Suffolk, and back to Notts

I managed one further, brief, birding trip out in Suffolk, on 27th, in a third bid for Slavonian Grebes on the Stour; I managed to locate 2 off Holbrook Creek in much calmer (albeit rather misty) conditions. Yesterday, a family walk up at North Warren/Thorpeness was largely non-birding, but a quick peer at the geese produced several White-fronts amongst the Greylags and feral Barnies.

And today, it was back to Notts. I decided to ignore the patch and have a look at Cotham Landfill in the afternoon. No Glauc again (one was seen at Kilvington yesterday, and in the Hoveringham roost tonight), but there were 2 Caspian Gulls: a bird I initially aged as an adult, but with dark on at least one tertial this was presumably a 4th winter; and a nice 3rd winter.

3rd winter Caspian Gull
3W Caspo
3W Caspo

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Boxing Day birding

This morning we had a family walk on the Stour, down to Stutton Ness and along to Stutton Mill. There were literally no birds on the river from the ness; ok, there was one apiece of Goldeneye and Great crested Grebe, but that was it. Certainly no Slavs. There was more at Stutton Mill, with loads of Shelduck, a few Brents, roosting waders, and 3 Black Swans.

Black Swans...

After lunch I went over to Alton Water, deciding to check out the dam end first in hope of a diver. There were plenty of Great Crested Grebes, and amongst them, a Red-necked Grebe. Assuming its the same bird, this hasn't been seen/reported/looked for since 9th December. Maybe no-one goes to Alton any more?? A quick check of the Wonder /Larchwood produced nothing of note (with very few wildfowl present). 

Red-necked Grebe with a Great Crest

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

Another Christmas Eve, and another hike along the Stour and Orwell. It was hard going this year, with a strong south-westerly making scoping difficult, and the Stour very choppy. However, I located a Great Northern Diver between Stutton Ness and RHS, drifting upriver; presumably one of the birds that was on the Strand yesterday, given that only 2 were reported from there today. 

Grainy phonescoped GND

I recorded a total of 1305 Brent Geese; the bulk of these, 1050, were on Shotley Marshes. No Black Brants this year, and just 11 juveniles across all thirteen hundred birds - a worryingly low proportion!

Three of eleven juv Brents

Other stuff included a total of 10 Rock Pipits, an adult Med Gull at Shotley Marina, 2 each of Marsh Harrier and Buzzard, 4 Bar-wits in Erwarton Bay, and 29 Pintail in Holbrook Creek. Wader numbers included the usual stuff, but numbers seemed a bit low, and certainly the numbers of seaduck and grebes on the Stour were well down from usual, with just a handful of Goldeneye, two small groups of Mergs (totalling 11 birds) and few Great Crested Grebes (I couldn't see any Slavs, but conditions didn't help). I guess the mild weather hasn't helped on this front.

Med Gulls, the best of all the gulls

So, a bit disappointing when compared to recent years, but still fun. 

Dusk over Felixstowe

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Most of December

So, it's been a fairly quiet month on the patch. Best has been Jack Snipe, an addition for Patchwork Challenge, at Meering; one here on 13th was bettered by two in the same spot on the 22nd. Hopefully they'll stick into the New Year, as it would be good to get them early on in 2016...

Elsewhere, a quick look at Kilvington near the start of the month produced the redhead Smew, and on the same day (the 6th), 2 Short-eared Owls were hunting over rough grassland just south of Balderton, at the eastern end of Staple Lane (where the new Southern Link Road will join the A1).

I've also finally managed a couple of weekday visit to Cotham Landfill, on 21st and 22nd. Despite very low gull numbers for this time of year (only a couple of hundred Herring and GBB Gulls), 2 adult Caspian Gulls were present on the 21st, along with 2 Lesser Black-backs. I could't locate either of these the following day, but had brief views of what was probably a 3rd W Caspo; this promptly walked out of view, and then the whole lot were flushed and didn't return. 

And now I'm back in Suffolk for Christmas. Some leisurely birding on the Orwell with David Walsh produced not two, but three Great Northern Divers - a nice start!

GND no. 1
GND no. 2 and 3

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The GND remains

Saturday, and I had a first look of the winter at Cotham Landfill. No tipping was taking place, which is always a killer; as a result, there were only a couple of hundred large gulls present, all GBBGs and Herrings; certainly no Glauc (which roosted again at Hoveringham, as it had the previous two nights), or any Caspos. A bit frustrating - a mid-week visit will need to be scheduled somehow... I spent the rest of Saturday, before a later afternoon hockey match, at Hawton Works Grassland. No SEO's, but a Woodcock, several Snipe, and 13 Grey Partridge

Today was spent on the patch; the highlight was the juv Great Northern Diver which dropped into Mons Pool from the East; it then cruised the channel to the south of the heronry island, but was typically elusive. This is doubtlessly last Friday/Saturday's bird, which has then gone undetected at the site until today! Unfortunately I failed to get picture today, despite it being nice and close at one point. Other stuff included a drake Pintail also on Mons Pool, but little else of note, at Collingham or Meering. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Marston Greenlands

Somehow, I have never seen a Greenland White-fronted Goose - until today, that is. I had the afternoon off work, so went home via Marston in Lincolnshire to catch up with the three birds that have been hanging out there with the Greylags. They showed nicely through the hedge, before flying a short distance south and appearing to drop into the scrape at the sewage works. Very nice too.

I then had a quick look at Kilvignton, where I couldn't find much, including the Smew that has been present the last couple of days. 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

GND on the patch

Having not visited the patch at all last weekend, I was looking forward to spending plenty of time down there this weekend - and even more so when Roger Bennett tweeted a picture of a Great Northern Diver on Ferry Lane Lake on Friday afternoon. A first for Collingham!

I got down there slightly later than planned (I blame my fourth jagerbomb last night...). When I arrived, I couldn't see the bird, and then found Roger and Mark Dawson also looking; Mark had seen it, but it had gone missing. We eventually tracked it down, but it was extremely elusive, hugging the shore and only surfacing for short periods. 

I then headed off, whilst Mark stayed a bit longer - seeing the diver take flight, head north, and drop into Mons Pool, where he found a group of 11 Whooper Swans (which I went to see later after a visit to Meering - 7 adults and 4 juvs). Other birds at Collingham included 5 Goosander, 6 Pintail, and a Peregrine on the pylons. A Green Sand was the only bird of note at Meering (no swans at all on Meering Fields or Smithy Marsh). I also popped up to Girton - plenty of wildfowl, but nothing of particular note. 

The GND puts me on 138 species for the patch in 2015... Just two more to reach my target! Tawny Owl will be one (I hope), but what else..?


I spent last weekend on the East Yorkshire coast just north of Bridlington, at Reighton with a load of mates. Had the trip been a month or so earlier I probably would have got in trouble for being out birding all the time, but as it was, I had a couple of quick looks at the sea off Reighton Gap, and that was it; best were 3 Great Northern Divers

On the Sunday, a House Martin was feeding along the cliffs in poor weather. It being a late bird (and me being an optimist), I racked my brain for features of 'eastern' House Martin (lagopodum). All I could remember was that the shape of the rump patch was one, but this bird definitely conformed to a regular House Martin - there are some pointers on Birding Frontiers

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Playing it cool

For some reason, I didn't go and seethe Crag Martin at Flamborough a couple of years ago, so have been feeling decidedly twitchy with one just an hour from home, in Chesterfield; I couldn't go on Sunday (news broke when I was out for lunch with my parents), and hadn't really entertained the idea that it would be located again yesterday (and had travelled to work on the bus).

So today, I planned a (necessary) site visit to Silverhill, allowing me to bag the Crag Martin soon after it was first seen this morning. The bird showed well for a period, hawking around the crooked spire, but it was a rapid thing and difficult to follow - hats off to those who have got considerably better pics than I managed. 

The locals were a bit bemused

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Gulls and patching

Earlier in the week I had another two attempts for the Azorean YLG in the roost at Kilvington, neither successful; it could, in fact, have roosted on either day, but as birds roost on both main pits, it's impossible to check both, especially as birds are still coming in at dusk. 

My birding this weekend was very limited as my parents were up to visit; the highlight on a quick look at Collingham yesterday (Saturday) was 10 Curlew on Ferry Lane Lake, whilst this afternoon (having decided not to go to Chesterfield to dip Crag Martin), I spent two hours at Collingham up to dusk, as my effort for Patchwork Challenge 'patch day'; I clocked up 51 species, but missed several that I would have expected to see with a bit more time - I reckon another 10 or so could've been added without too much effort, starting with Great Tit!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No atlantis tonight

I knocked off work a bit early today in order to go look for the Azorean YLG at Kilvington, seen again yesterday. There were a handful of big gulls on the West Lake when I arrived, including an adult YLG, but not the bird in question. There were more big gulls on the East Lake, where I stayed until it was almost dark (the light was pretty bad even by 4.15pm due to the murky conditions). 

More and more gulls dropped in, and there must've been getting on for 800 Lesser Black-backs and Herrings as I left, with birds still dropping in. No atlantis, but a couple more YLGs, and a couple of LBBGs and HGs with neat hoods restricted to their heads. Returning to my car, I was a bit perplexed to see c.400 more big gulls on the West Lake, but by now it was way too dark to check them, so the target gull could have been present...

Aside from gulls, a Short-eared Owl appeared at dusk over the rough grassland west of the disused railway line (a Notts yeartick for me), a redhead Goosander was on the East Lake, and there were 4 Red-crested Pochard (2m, 2f) on West Lake. 

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Egrets, I've had a few.

Earlier in the week (Wednesday I think) I paid two visits to fields next to the A46, just north of Bingham, in search of a Cattle Egret that had been reported there. Unfortunately, this bird wasn't seen after the initial report; I managed a visit over lunch before a site meeting, and another on the way home; during the latter, an egret stalking around in a grass field had me going for a split-second as I drove past, but it was a Little; I see one in this area most days from the bus, fishing in the nearby balancing pond. A shame this bird didn't stick, as I didn't see the 2008 bird, so this would've been a county tick. 

Today, the only birding I could manage (due to hockey) was a look at the gull roost at Collingham this evening, where I met Rich Challands and his mate - Rich was after a Yellow-legegd Gull for his Notts yearlist. We duly located a nice adult, with a second, less straight-forward gull then appearing. I'm fairly sure this was a 4th winter Caspian Gull, but couldn't quite nail it in the field - I was unprepared for a quick wing-flap and missed the wing pattern, which I would like to have seen. I'll have another look tomorrow night. A second YLG appeared just as it got too dark to do much else with the gulls. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Across heath and field

On Thursday I had just over an hour at Budby Heath before a meeting in Edwinstowe, with thoughts of Great Grey Shrikes foremost in my mind. An hour is not long enough to have a proper look at the site, but I did manage to bag 12 Crossbills, which flew in from the NW and appeared to land in Seymour Grove, on the southern boundary of the heath, and a Woodlark which flew North. I had another look at Budby this morning, and with more time, I covered the site more comprehensively, but still no shrike; best were single Stonechat, 2 Ravens, 25 Fieldfare, and 10+ Lesser Redpoll

Yesterday, after a belated WeBS count at Girton (good numbers of wildfowl, but nothing of note), I visited Meering. There was a big flock of Golden Plover on the fields to the north, but having got about halfway through the flock, the 1000+ birds were flushed by dog walkers. They circled round for a good half an hour or so, refusing to resettle, before dispersing. I could only find a smaller flock of 380 birds on Smithy Marsh this afternoon; no AGP. 

I wrapped the weekend up at Collingham Pits, checking the gull roost. This was rather down on numbers, with c.260 LBBGs, plus 2 adult YL Gulls; best though was a drake Red-crested Pochard, my first of the year. This puts me on 137 species for Patchwork Challenge, now my record total, and with 2 months remaining. Tawny Owl is my only remaining 'banker', so I've got to hope for things like Caspian Gull and Jack Snipe to push me up to 140. 

A very 'hooded' LBBG

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Shetland 2015

After three autumn visits to Scilly, this year I instead headed north to Shetland, joining Garry Taylor, Gav Thomas and Bill Aspin for two weeks on Unst, based at the northern end of the island in the Shetland Nature lodge, overlooking Burrafirth. 

Most days involved Garry, Gav and myself birding various locations around the island, with Bill heading off to do his own thing. Weatherwise, we started with bright, calm conditions for the first few days, which then changed to strong westerlies with some rain, eventually switching to two days of very strong south-easterlies in the middle of the second week, before becoming calmer again. These strong winds made it hard going at times, bordering on unbirdable - and resulting in a couple of late starts...

Unst is an exciting place to bird, even on the slow days, and it was good to see places like Skaw and Norwick in the flesh.  But I was surprised by how few other birders there were around on most days - expect, that is, in the back bar at the Baltasound hotel, where multiple members of BBRC, and one of the Western Palearctic's top listers, could be found on occasion during our stay.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable fortnight, despite the fact that the mega failed to materialise, with a couple of quality rarities and a good supporting cast - but best was the freedom of 15 days of solid birding. Oh, and Garry's steak and Guinness pie.

Wild weather for birding

Headline birds

The two star birds, from my perspective, were Pechora Pipit and Swainson's Thrush - both ticks. Having been present for a few days, the pipit  motivated us into heading for mainland Shetland for the only time during our time on Unst (going had been a bit slow, which aided the decision). It was hanging out in a patch of meadowsweet and rushes next to the Loch of Norby over in the far west of Shetland. We quickly located the bird upon arrival, but it took us quite a time to get satisfactory views, not aided by a moron photographer who kept flushing it. Garry had decided to take the approach of sitting motionless on a bank waiting for us to flush the bird in his direction (which we didn't), eventually giving up when the bird finally alighted on a bed of vegetation in the stream and showed beautifully. What stunner - just a shame about the grass between it and my camera lens....

Initial Pipit views
After an hour of this, Garry's fingers went blue...
Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit

The Swainson's Thrush showed up for one lucky birder when he'd popped into the Final Checkout cafe for a cheese toastie; when he came back out of the shop, it was hopping around the cars outside. We were in Baltasound seeing not very much when news broke, and high-tailed it the short distance to the bird. It showed for a few minutes until disappearing for an hour or so, eventually being relocated a short distance away and showing only occasionally. It sparked the only big twitch of our fortnight, with several car- and minibus-loads arriving from the mainland. The bird did a bunk overnight, leaving disappointed groups of birders wondering forlornly around the island the next day. Funnily, we never found our own Catharus when stopping for lunch in cafes...

Swainson's Thrush - initial views
Swainson's Thrush
About to hop back out of view

Other rares

Upon arrival in in Shetland, and having picked up Gav from Sumburgh airport (minus his luggage, which the airline had left in Aberdeen), we twitched an American Golden Plover at Sandwick. In a nice piece of symmetry, on our way back to Lerwick we saw a second AGP on Yell at Cullivoe. 

American Golden Plover

Our first good bird on Unst was the Arctic Warbler which had been hanging out in the garden of the hostel in Uyeasound. It didn't exactly show well, and I hadn't realised that it had lost its tail - allowing an Arctic Warbler on the mainland later in the week to be identified as the same bird. 

Arctic Warbler

Our first day on Unst also allowed us to catch up with one of the two Pallid Harriers that had been doing the rounds - the other seemingly having headed south (with one/it being seen on Yell that day by fellow Notts birders Rob Hoare, Sean Browne and Paul Buxton). It came into its favoured roost site at Northdale, after we'd picked it up flying around nearby. We saw the bird on a couple of other locations, and it was nice to be able to spend some time with this species.  

Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier
The snipe escaped

The only decent bird we managed to find in our fortnight was an Olive-backed Pipit at Norwick on our last day. We'd been watching a Little Bunting, when it landed on a fence post in front of us and showed quite well for a few minutes before flying up the hillside beyond Vaylie. Another OBP located in Baltasound the following morning was perhaps the same bird. This made up for a bird earlier in our stay which me and Gav had seen in flight and heard call a couple of times whilst photographing a YBW near our accommodation; it appeared to be coming onto land, but we couldn't relocate it - and it had sounded a lot like an OBP... 

Olive-backed Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit
OBP heading off

The supporting cast

Yellow-browed Warblers were a real feature of the fortnight, being easily the commonest migrant; my personal tally amounted to at least 31 encounters, although obviously many of these were duplicates. A species you just can't get bored of.

Yellow-browed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler

After seeing Barred Warblers in Uyeasound and in Norwick at Vaylie, me and Gav kicked a third bird out of a nettle patch in the quarry at Hagdale. None wanted to be photographed. 

Having bombed up to Skaw in pursuit of a 'Booted Warbler' (which turned out to be a Garden Warbler - and apparently the guys who put the news out had been told it was a Garden Warbler by some other birders...), a tristis-type Chiffie was feeding around the buildings. Later in out stay, we had closer views of a Siberian Chiffchaff which we found along a burn at Westing, and I had a third at Clibberswick. All looked good plumage-wise, but remained silent. 

Sibe Chiffchaff at Skaw
Sibe Chiffchaff at Westing
Sibe Chiffchaff at Clibberswick

We only saw a handful of Lesser Whitethroats during our two weeks, two on Unst itself (only seen briefly), and two in one of the quarries at Sumburgh on our first day. The photos below are of one of these birds, which had a distinct brown caste on the nape, crown and earcoverts. It didn't call, and I've got no photos showing wing structure or tail pattern, but is it a blythii..?? 

Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat

Having dipped a Bluethroat on the way back from the Pechora Pipit, and somehow missing another at Quendale, Gav kicked one out of the dune grass at Norwick in our second week, before relocating it a bit later in a sheep field nearby, where it gave better views - although it was very mobile and wouldn't allow close approach. 


There were a few of Richard's Pipits around in our second week, including birds at Hardoldswick and Westing, below; the latter was drenched. 

Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit

A nice juv Red-backed Shrike turned up at Burrafirth, showing well the second time we went to see it. 

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike

The second shrike species of the fortnight was a Great Grey in Baltasound, which we pinned down for a while behind the Setters Hill Estate. With a moderately large white secondary patch, this is an 'excubitor' variant rather than a 'melanopterus'?

Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike

After twitching the Pechora Pipit, we went to a garden in Hestingott for a BRW (see below), where a Red-breasted Flycatcher popped up for a short period, despite the wind.


Last year on Unst, Gav found two Little Buntings at a ruin in Baltasound. Checking it out one day with Mark Breaks, who'd come to stay with us for a few nights after some time on Fair Isle, Mark, remarkably, found... a Little Bunting. It was mobile and didn't show particularly 
well for me (a 'Rustic Bunting' in the same location the following day was presumably this bird). Whilst at Hagdale for the Swainson's Thrush, I picked up this, or a second bird, calling as it flew over from the direction of Haroldswick. A few days later, another bird was in Norwick, which showed much better (there were three here together after we'd left). 

Gav papping the first Little Bunting
My best views of the first bird
Much better at Norwick!

And the rest

We only saw generally small numbers of 'common' migrants during our stay; Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, and Goldcrests, were all rather thin on the ground, and we saw only a handful of Tree PipitsRedstarts and Whinchats. Redwings began to appear during our stay, with the first sizeable flocks after the south-easterlies; Robins also increased at this time, with only one having been seen prior to this. 


Other stuff seen during our two weeks included a couple of Short-eared Owls, including a very confiding (and clearly knackered) bird at Sandgarth (Mainland), single Hen and Marsh Harriers on Unst, a few Jack Snipe, and a single Turtle Dove

Short-eared Owl trying to catch some zzzz
Hen Harrier
Garry and Gav papping a Jack Snipe
The Jack Snipe in question
Turtle Dove

We also encountered a few Redpolls on our way back south, including a group of 6 at Sandgarth. They refused to show well, and most intriguing was a very white bird that me and Garry saw briefly - it was fluffed up with white flanks and a big white rump, but we only had a brief views. I managed to photo what was presumably the same bird at range. It sure does look pale (right-hand bird in the pic below). 

Distant redpolls

Aside from passerines and raptors, there were a few waders to look through (Bill had had a Pec at the Houb before we arrived), and on the second day of howling south-easterlies we attempted some seawatching, with single Sooty Shearwater and three Long-tailed Ducks, plus a few blue Fulmars being the highlights. 

And the one that kept getting away

The species which rapidly developed into my bogey bird during our visit was Blyth's Reed Warbler, a species which I have never attempted to twitch before. We dipped a bird shortly after arriving on Shetland, and then another the same day after picking up Gav. We then missed a third in Hestingott after our pipit twitch; very windy conditions that day certainly didn't help (the bird was seen in the same garden the following morning). But I've since seen one, so all's good.

Gav, Garry and Richard Thewlis
Aspin - the lone wolf. Doubtlessly thinking bout Lana del Rey at this moment

I guess the good news is that in the week after we left, Unst didn't produced anything too monster - a Pied Wheatear, but hey, even Collingham has had one of those. Although a White's Thrush in Baltasound today is more like it...

Oh, and one last thing - we saw the aurora borealis - amazing!