Thursday, 31 July 2014

Marloes and the Gann

Following on from a brilliant time on Skomer island, we then decided to check out some of the other birding sites on the peninsular around Marloes and Dale. This area is one of my favourite in Pembrokeshire, and it is always worthwhile for a check.

Marloes Mere was fairly hard going, and other than a few ducks, that being 4 Gadwall (which I believe may have been my first in Pembs!) and 3 Shoveler it was all a little 'samey'. No surprises here like I had last year! After giving the south end of the Mere a good grilling, we thought best to head off to a location that I always get exited about!
The Gann

And luckily, it proved much more interesting! After walking along the shingle ridge and reaching the far end, the first bird I saw was a Grey Plover, again, a first for Pembs for me, and not something I would expect to see here at the end of May!
A Little Egret and and Shelduck were also in attendance.

It was hard to believe the amount of 'damage' that had happened over the winter since my last visit. I think the extremely high tide made it look much worse than it was, but it was obvious that large areas of the shingle had been displaced, and the old 'exit stream' of the Pools had infact become an inflow! The shingle ridge was also much steeper than the gentle incline it was before, and it was clear that much of the shape of the wider bay had changed! The power of the sea!

Even during previous high tides spent here, I have never seen the saltmarsh covered adjacent to the Gann river, but with the tide and displaced shingle it was easily inundated even before the water reached its peak. In a way that was a blessing, as the rising tides pushed 3 Whimbrel and 5 Curlew out of the Channels, which then went on to pose for us on the dryer ground.

 With the family now calling, it was time to head back, and as we turned to walk away, a pair of Ringed Plover dropped in on the tideline a short distance away, before these too moved over onto the saltmarsh to roost.


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Skomer Island! Puffins, Owls and Seabirds!

Many of you will know my relationship with this small offshore island off the Pembrokeshire coast is dire!

And I truly mean DIRE!

I have been visiting Pembrokeshire, once, maybe twice every year for almost all of my recollectable life, and still, despite attempting almost every year, I have been unable to tread on the hallowed tuft that is the Island of Skomer. Many reasons across the years have prevented me, illness, weather, the boat being fully booked. But that changed this year! Despite arriving well before even the first boat, a long queue had already assembled, and a long wait followed, but eventually, despite arriving around 8:30, finally had our place secured on the 11am boat!

Now rather than one of my usual wordy posts, I think I'm going to spare you the waffle for the simple reason that every one of you who would read this knows the reason for my visit, ridiculous close views of Puffin, day flying Short-eared Owls and huge colonies of seabirds!

Having climbed the steps onto the island, and having walked slightly into the interior, you quickly notice a number of Bluebells lining the paths (And just about everything else if I'm honest), and following a short walk, a stunning Short-eared Owl was sitting up on a fence post among the carpet of blue.

In the distance, the huge Gannet colony on Grassholm could be viewed, with almost half of the island covered in shining Gannets and countless tons of guano.

After completing a circuit of the perimeter of the island, we made our way to the most famous breeding cliff on the island at 'The Wick', where, even despite my best efforts, I too became infactuated with some small, pied clownish birds bobbling their way along the clifftops.
The Puffins!
Now I've seen loads already on my walk around the island, and infact any sort of glance at the sea, even from the mainland revealed a huge number of thousands of Puffins.

The ones in the Wick though are rather special in that you can get within a few feet of them.....

Having had my fill, it was time to continue on, past the crowds, but via one of the best views on the island (in my opinion) where you look down into the Wick upon thousands of Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake etc, and right out into the Irish sea! Rather a stunning view!
Needless to say, this Puffin was rather happy he'd snagged this awesome piece of real-estate before the rest of the colony! 

We stopped in one of the small hides overlooking a tiny puddle of a pool, and it was covered with a good number of Gulls, Herring and LBBG were predominate, but Kittiwakes were dropping in very regularly to preen, and to collect mud for their nests on the cliff ledges.
This led to some rather stunning views!

A quick stop in the hide overlooking the larger pool near the farmhouse revealed a few waterbirds to add further interest, with a Shelduck family with 9 humbug chicks, a Shoveler and a Curlew, one of the only breeding pairs in Pembrokeshire!

Soon though, our time was up, and we returned to North Haven to be picked up on our boat, sailing out among the rafts of seabirds to return to the real world!
What a place!

Monday, 28 July 2014

The annual pilgrimage! Pembrokeshire 2014

Perhaps didn't get as much birding time in as I was hoping on this holiday, but some good days non the less!
I headed out early to be on the clifftops behind our accommodation, and although it was late May, the brisk and cool morning winds was still harbouring a slight whiff of migration, and a few Lesser Whitethroats, Whitethroats and 'Phyloscs' certainly added to that feeling.
My main intention though was to get out to a nice high point and have a couple of hours seawatching.
With Oystercatchers calling from the rocks below, and Gannets and Fulmar fishing and gliding close in to the cliff, it was a rather relaxing affair, as actually rather little was moving on the sea!
However, a party of 7 waders flying in from the west quickly attracted my full attention, with long necks and bill shining a vivid orange as they moved further east, with their huge white wing bars and black and white tail it was obvious I was watching my first Pembrokeshire BLACK-TAILED GODWITS of the year, they continued east, fast across the horizon, before dropping out of sight behind the headland.
A further 2 hours passed and 3 Mallard was all I had to show for it (Mallards!!), but quickly two large seabirds came in from the east, hugging the coast so they were maybe only 100ft out. Immediately obvious was the fact that two divers were flying towards me! They got closer and closer, and it was about when level with me it stuck that both of these birds were huge! They're huge pale grey bills could be seen as could a dark half collar and large, projecting feet, they were winter plumaged GREAT-NORTHERN DIVERS! Being so close I thought they would drop onto the sea off Freshwater east, but rather than doing this they jutted out into the sea, heading for St Govans head in the distance, but this allowed for prolonged viewing as they flew away from me. A small party of 10 Razorbill flew past from the direction of a nearby breeding colony.
With no Tern movement, despite an onshore breeze, I took a few snaps of a few of the resident seabirds of the shores around Pembrokeshire and went off searching for landbirds!
Soon, in one of the steep 'gullys' that had been eroded by the sea a juvenile Raven was found, hopping from rock to rock and showing that juvenile interest in anything that only a chick recently out of the nest could have!
It's parents were in close attendance, searching for food on the cliff edges, and giving absolutely stunning views, showing off their glossy plumage to full effect in the sun, shimmering blue, green and purple in the light!
Rock and Meadow Pipit's were ubiquitous, as were Stonechats, with 16 counted including many 'first broods'. As always though, these active firecrackers of a bird always made me stop for a little while I had a quick watch. It was quite interesting to watch their feeding methods as they worked the gorse and heather in pairs, with the male keeping vigil as the female gathered food for the chicks.
As you would expect, I managed to locate a number of a west coast of wales speciality, and once the walk had been completed, a total of 8 CHOUGH had been seen tumbling through the air, filling the air with their distinctive crys. Sadly, non were co-operative enough to perch up for a photo, but a number of nice flypasts were enough to keep me happy!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Summer in the Wyre Forest! Woodland birds and butterflies

The Wyre forest in spring is one of my favourite birding destinations. Despite the hoards of ramblers, 'extreme' cyclists and marauding dogs, I always find that a walk in the Wyre is a great way to 'get away' from everything, just looking for birds and butterflies.

Today was no exception, and I went in hopeful to snag the entire plethora of our regular summer migrants.
First on the list, although I had seen two already was a singing male SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, already a good start, as a few years ago I truthfully struggled to find any throughout the summer. Luckily, the last couple of years has been more productive for them, and they seem to have also had much better breeding success! I found another singing male in another area of the Wyre also.

As always, WOOD WARBLERS were easy to pick up, with their very distinctive, and rather appealing 'spinning coin' song, and this could be heard almost constantly throughout the walk! Although many remained as 'heard only' I did eventually track down a few birds, including a pair which gave stunning views, showing off the rather beautiful mix of moss greens, bright yellows and dazzling whites on their plumage!
A total of 4 Tree Pipits were singing at various points in our circular walk, including a few which were showing nicely and parachuting from the tops of tree. Weirdly, one of the located singing birds was well away from one of the usual areas, and rather than being in a clearing as usual, had instead chosen to hold territory in the middle of a deep woodland, below the forest canopy, obviously resulting in an inability to 'parachute' display flight, rather choosing to sing from a perch.

As the more acutely trained of you may hear in the previous video, there was also a stunning male PIED FLYCATCER singing close to where the Pipit was, which was actively defending a nest box adjacent to the track. 
In previous years I have seen male Pied Flycatchers with small amounts of grey on the back and upperwings, however this bird really was a very extreme 'grey' bird, which at times resembled a Shrike from behind! I can't say that I have ever seen a Pied Fly like this before!

(Sorry about the Dog panting all over the camera in this video, as previously stated, the number of marauding dogs was extremely high on this fine summers day!)
I managed to find 3 male Pied Flys, and reports from others seem to suggest they have had a much greater presence in the forest this year, which is great news, as for the last few years, numbers have been dwindling!
A single juvenile DIPPER, in fact my first of the year, was located along the brook, and a pair of Mandarin did their best to try to avoid being detected!
As well as its birdlife, the Wyre is famed for it's Butterflies, but being fairly early in the season, other than decent numbers of Pearl-Bordered Fritilary it was rather quiet!
All in all a very successful visit, and one that would be repeated throughout the summer!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

NORFOLK! Monty's, Dott's and summer migrants

With many of our summer migrants arriving en mass now, and a few scarcer birds appearing, we, that is Mike, Jarad, Neil and me, made plans to head east in the hope of some great birding, and Norfolk, as always, lived up to its usual standards!
Our first port of call was right on the county boundary, as it is renowned for a strange and somewhat range restricted wading bird which finds the short grass of the Norfolk and Suffolk Brecklands to its liking!
We walked through one of the many Pine woodlands in the area to the hide, where we added a few birds to our day list that we may struggle with elsewhere, and a high pitched song from high up a Pine revealed itself to be a male Spotted Flycatcher.
The hide was not much further so I carried on, and it was only a short time scanning before a STONE CURLEW was in the scope. Also since the last time I was at this location, the birds were being far more co-operative, they were very mobile, running around, chasing, displaying to each other and calling. Much more enjoyable than watching a snoozy brown blob in a ditch.

For a few minutes, 3 of the birds, a pair and a single intruder started displaying and posing to each other, which was amusing to watch, but it was all talk (or should that be posturing) and no action, and after a while, the single bird crept off after being kicked off by the other birds.

One of the birds however was doing its usual sitting in a ditch, but it was still giving decent views.
 Having completed a single lap of the Wolferton Triangle, to the usual failure of seeing nothing, we carried on, with our next location being Choelsley Barns as we wanted to catch up with some farmland birds. We stopped next to a likely looking field, and it didn't take long to pick up a Grey Partridge working its way along the set aside margin. Also present were larger numbers of Red-legged Partridge.
A long staying party of DOTTEREL were still also in residence, and we made a stop at the crowd, and we had nice views of the birds as they fed in fields adjacent to the road. Varying numbers have been present during their time of residence, but we managed to count 8, including a few smart looking females. Having life ticked them earlier in the spring, it felt somewhat surreal to be watching my 2nd flock in just over as many weeks, totalling 20 birds.

We failed to find our Dove targets, but a distant singing Corn Bunting perched on overhead wires briefly, and a Yellowhammer was also singing its heart out.
It was next onto the Mecca, and a very short car journey led us to Titchwell RSPB, where we quickly made our way out onto the marshes. We had barely left the woodland before we were treated to views of 3 RED-CRESTED POCHARD as they flew past us across the track. They picked down on the pool to the west of the track where in total 6 of these stunning flame headed ducks were feeding, 4 of which were actually 'flame headed' males.
It was just before making a move to head to the beach, two small ducks flew up off of the reeds, and pitched down on the small reeded pool adjacent to the track, a pair of GARGANEY! They gave excellent views but were almost always obscured, but I managed by far the best views of Garganey I have ever managed, and the drake in particular was a rather stunning example of these delectable chocolate coloured and cream striped migrant dabblers. 

A Little Tern was feeding over the brackish marsh, and a few more were out over the sea, but otherwhys our attempt at a seawatch was quite an uncomfortable affair. Strong winds from the southwest were whipping up the sand making focusing on flying seabirds almost impossible. However, we did pick up a Fulmar and a Gannet among a variety of Tern species. 2 female Common Scoter were showing on the water. We quickly gave up, knowing our luck would be better tried elsewhere. Although I managed to avoid any scratches on the lenses of both my bins and scope, my phone screen is now in quite a state due to the 'sandstorm'.

We moved back to the Parrinder hide, where we picked up a number of decent birds. A sleepy Spoonbill was showing distantly in the SE corner of the marsh and a number of waders and ducks were dotted around. A Greenshank was feeding in the shallows, and a number of Yellow Wagtails were on the move!

We moved off from Titchwell, and parked in an area of extensive arable farmland. A Grey Partridge was calling, 3 Marsh Harriers quartering and 2 Yellow Wagtails were flying.
However, what we were looking for couldn't be found, and we spent some time scanning, but with a seemingly vicious looking thunderstorm heading our way, we were contemplating leaving, and infact, were putting our scopes in the car when we were shouted over, and on the adjacent hillside, an absolutely ridiculously stunning male MONTAGU'S HARRIER was quartering! A friggin MONTYS!!
As many people will know, I have a fondness to Birds of Prey, and for many years I have wanted to catch up with one of these gorgeous elegant Harriers, so to have finally got one in the scope was such an immense buzz!
As the UK's rarest breeding raptor, we really had a stroke of luck to see it, and for the next 10 minutes, we were treated to great views as it hunted low over an area of set aside, showing off its pale grey upperwing, black primarys and secondary bar.

It was really a moment to savour! But, with the arrival of the thunderstorm, which as we had guessed really was fairly violent, the Harrier flew off low over the hedgeline, and with that we decided to head off to hopefully dodge the rain. We had driven only a few hundred meters before our escape was realised and it poured it down!

From the massive high of the harrier, we moved onwards to Cley NWT, where it had again reverted back to bright sunshine!
Our main targets here sadly had been flushed by a Hobby not long before, and were not seen for the remainder of the day, which was unfortunate, and many of the birds were 'repeats' from Titchwell. The main highlight probably goes to decent flight views of 3 Bearded Tits along the boardwalk, which often flew up and 'pinged' across the top of the reed's before dropping back down!

A colour ringed Spoonbill dropped in, but ran off into long grass before I could judge the ring colours.
Other than 2 Greenshank, the pools were quiet so we moved up onto the shingle bank, where large numbers of Sandwich Tern were moving, including a single Little Tern. Further out at sea 5 Gannet we diving and around 30 Common Scoter were moving around, but any further interest was limited.
A Whimbrel flew past calling, which added to the day list, and a Wheatear in the Eye field was also new for the day!
With our day now at an end, and on the homeward journey, we totted up our daylist, and between the 4 of us, we managed 112 species, and I personally managed 107, a couple of birds behind my own personal day list record, but honestly I can say it was an awesome day!
As I opened the post with! Norfolk came up with the goods again!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The first 'official' NGB meetup- Spurn 2014

The first weekend in May was the proposed data for the first meetup on the Next Generation Birders, a 350 strong member group (and growing) of young birders, each of which have a common interest. birds and wildlife.
Luckily, I hooked up with local birder James from Shropshire, Justin from Carmarthenshire and Sam from Nottinghamshire, and these became my companions for most of the weekend.
As I'm sure many can guess, Spurn was chosen because of it very enviable track record when it comes to migrants, and despite being a little 'early' in the spring for passage at Spurn I remained hopeful, I was going to see birds I don't usually see in my Worcester homeland anyhow.

After a fairly uncomfortable and cold night camping, I was awoken very early on before the first few sheds of light started to appear to the sound of a Cuckoo'ing Cuckoo, my first of the year, and with the sound of 'Klupping' Avocets and piping Oystercatchers, I took that as my alarm to wake up! A couple of other NGB's, Dan and Sam, had took that as their wake up call also, so we decided to walk to the Beacon Pools via Kilnsea wetlands in the early morning gloom. We had barely got past the last house on the road before ahead of us we spotted a silhouetted SHORT-EARED OWL quartering the long grass and rape fields around us. It flew off fairly quickly though, and flew off towards Beacon lane.

Nearing the Wetlands hide, a stunning male Whinchat perched up on the adjacent rape field, giving stunning views, even despite their still being almost no light.
The pools were quiet, but we kept finding decent birds, a Marsh Harrier flew over, Lesser Whitethroats were singing everywhere and both 'Flava' and 'Alba' Wagtails were piling over in numbers.

One of the outstanding highlights of the trip on the first day however, the great numbers of both Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel on the move, with decent numbers of both moving through the wetlands throughout the day, among these migrating wader flocks were smaller numbers of Curlew and a partially summer plumaged SPOTTED REDSHANK dropped onto the Kilnsea wetlands over high tide with a decent flock of Barwit and Whimbrel.

Throughout the day more birds dropped in, a Common Scoter and 4 Red-breasted Merganser dropped onto the Beacon pools in the afternoon, and the male Whinchat from the morning found a 2nd bird.
 A female Redstart was found, and that was duly located and seen, as was good numbers of Wheatear along the road between Kilnsea and the Warren.
High tide here was full of activity, with a large wader and Brent Goose flock showing on the adjacent Humber mudflats. Among the numerous Dunlin and Grey Plover were smaller numbers of Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone and a single Knot, most of which were in stunning summer plumage!
Terns were constantly moving around along the sea, and throughout the day 30+ Little Tern and 4 Arctic Tern were seen.

The rarest bird of the weekend was found in the afternoon, but was sadly not at Spurn, but a few miles up the road. However, despite the short time they saw it we decided to drive over there, we couldn't find it, but a lucky piece of mis-direction led us to find a stunningly plumaged male Pied Flycatcher.
We refound the location where the Wryneck had been, and instead head another Cuckoo and found a singing male Tree Sparrow, a fairly rare bird in my home county so I was very happy!
We returned to Spurn and saw the Spotted Flycatcher that had been found, which had drew quite a crowd!
For the sake of completeness, I walked out onto the point in the hope of relocating the Black Redstart seen earlier in the day. This drew a blank and food started to take over our minds, so we hotfooted it back to the Joly Sailers for food and drinks with the other 20 NGB's, via a very showy male Kestrel.
 As you can see, a full days birding left some very tired NGB'S strewn about on the raised track between Kilnsea Wetlands and the Beacon Pools.
As you can imagine, having had a good reward from getting up early the previous day, I chose to repeat that. A much better nights sleep left me feeling in a better mood, and I head out to find some birds! The wetlands held a flock of 4 Pintail, and the Pools had 2 Shoveler, a Common Sandpiper, and the female Common Scoter from the previous day remained. A number of Little Tern were feeding in the pools, giving stunning views from the raised track. A single Snipe was showing in fields adjacent to the road
Yellow Wagtails were moving en mass throughout the day, even from very early in the morning, and it is possibly the first time I have ever said "Just another Yellow Wagtail". 2 Marsh Harrier passed through during the day, one even hunting in the field, as view from our tent! A Greenshank flew in off the sea mid-afternoon. Migration in action!
While walking up the beach side of the Beacon Pools, I met up with Sam again, and we walked up Beacon Lane, and soon after, we were treated to great views of a male Lesser Whitethroat, and then a male RING OUZEL started 'chacking' in the hawthorns next to us, showing briefly in the grounds of the caravan site and in flight!
There really did seem to be Lesser Whitethroat everywhere, and while watching ANOTHER 2 near the Bluebell, a Tree Pipit flew low over our heads calling.
Just up the road, a late BRAMBLING was showing around the grounds of Kew gardens.
Down at the Warren, a repeat of yesterdays wader flocks was again a great sight, and it was spent scanning with Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers fame. The large Dark-belled Brent Goose flock had been joined by two Pale Bellied Brents (One shown in photo).
Wader numbers were higher than the previous day, and we enjoyed larger numbers of almost the full range of Arctic breeding waders in summer plumage. With news having emerged of a couple of migrant passerines out on the point, we dragged ourselves on the long walk across the sand out to the concrete track. The recent storm tides of winter 2013/14 had washed a significant part of the road out, making access difficult.
We managed to locate a male Redstart, and after texting Justin (who was already on the point) he came to have a look. While waiting for the bird to re-appear, we heard a 'Crest' calling from an area behind us, and immediately knew this was the FIRECREST we had been wanting to re-locate. Eventually, we all had great views as it came to the edge of its favoured bushes a few times.
With time now coming to a close on the NGB trip, we made our way back to the Warren, where we were told we had just missed a flypast Spoonbill, but a hunting Short-eared Owl gave us some compensation as we rested before starting our journey.
Despite no real rarities, (being from a midland county) I had a great time seeing decent numbers of passage migrants, and certainly saw more than I would in my home counties.
Thanks to James G for driving, and for providing the tent, I would have been a little stuck if it wasn't for you! Also, thanks to all NGB's that turned up, for the banter, and for sharing news on birds that were being found, it certainly made a great break to endless revision!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


It was early morning when news of a West midlands mega filtered out, as a stunning summer plumaged BONAPARTE'S GULL was found at Marsh Lane NR near Meriden.
With college in the afternoon, it was with luck that Mike said he would go for it, and that evening we started on the cross county journey. My only previous experience with this reserve was dipping a Dusky Warbler, so I was hoping the site could redeem itself on this visit.
As many readers of this blog will know, I have a certain fascination with Gulls, and summer plumaged Bonaparte's has been high on the agenda for some time, it really is a smart looking bird! To think I was considering trying to head down to Cardiff to see a 1st winter during the winter (I didn't) this made a much better alternative.
While driving over, I was informed by Neil that the bird wasn't present, but not much longer after, he text again saying it had just dropped in!
It wasn't much longer and we were pulling into the carpark, and walking towards the railway pool.
And sitting on one of the islands in the pool was a stunning, velvety headed BONAPARTE'S GULL!
We all had brilliant views, as it strutted around in the short grass and taking a short flight. When landed, it's fleshy pink legs were also dramatically different from adjacent Black-headed Gulls.
I managed to take a few snaps before the unthinkable happened, and after no more than a few minutes viewing, the bird took flight, flying over the railway line to the south and dropping out of sight behind a row of Hawthorns, and the bird was never seen again, by anyone! (Well, not in the midlands anyway)
So a brief stroke of luck there!
As you would expect, this luck was quickly countered by the exact opposite, and while driving towards the M6, we broke down on the side of a busy A-road and our journey back took much longer than expected!
(For those of you wanting to check out Neils post of the evening, and to see a better photo, see here)