Long time no see yet again!
Slipping further and further behind as ever, but I still do intend to catch up with myself
The month started with the usual work party and Upton Warren on the 1st, where the standout highlight was 13 Jack Snipe and 18 Commons. A fairly low total for Common Snipe but a half decent count for the Jacks.
A mess of local birding followed, without seeing very much, including regular failed attempts at gulling around the Stubbers area, which returned no reward. So it was gratefully received on 7th when a day out was offered in south Wales, with a whole host of scarcities to keep up occupied. First of was the stunning Little Bunting at Forest farm country park, which showed superbly throughout the visit. Perhaps too well!
Due to the awkward position for digiscoping I often had to go to the furthest point away in the hide, which meant I was looking through a fence for most of the time, but the bird performed admirably!
After our fill, and wanting to avoid the increasing crowds, we moved out from the country right into the center of Cardiff for the regularly returning drake Lesser Scaup, which was located without too much fuss swimming about with a large group of Tufted Duck. Having chosen to reside at the furthest point away from the viewpoint, and with strong and cold winds, we didnt stay around long, moving onto Newport RSPB.
The RSPB site itself was very quiet, a good number of waders on the estuary being the saving grace, featuring Grey Plover, Bar and Black tailed Godwit. A quick tea break led us to see Peregrine and Kestrel from the Cafe, which signalled the start of a bit of a raptorfest!.
Moving around to the Goldcliff Pools, we quickly located the wintering Spotted Redshank, a few Pintail etc. All was quiet untill from over the top of the hide can a raptor. Dropping low over the water in front of us a white rump gleamed. Ringtail Hen Harrier!!
She gave a good show for a couple of minutes, hunting around the pools, before drifting off over the seawall back towards the RSPB center.
While following it in the scope it dropped down, and while trying to pick it up again, another raptor appeared, another Harrier! But this was 4th raptor species in only 15 minutes, a juvenile Marsh Harrier! But no, it wasn't to end there, a male Sparrowhawk bombed past the hide only seconds after. With 5 species of Raptor on show in a matter of 30 seconds (Marsh, Hen, Buzzard, Sprawk and Kestrel) it was pretty good going. With most of the birds having gone into hiding, we left the hide, and while talking to a local birder about the enduring raptorfest, our 7th raptor species in 30 minutes appeared, as a female Merlin zoomed past us!! What a way to spend half an hour!
To finish the raptor extravaganza, we decided to take in some Owls, and an hour or so later, we were watching 4 Short-Eared Owls hunting over a weedy field, often at point blank range! But it didn't end there, a quick scope job of 3 distant raptors proved them to be Red Kites, Raptor species number of for the day, a superb days winter birding!
The very next morning, and I was out again, this time heading north into Cheshire, looking for my 2nd yank in 2 days. Heavy fog shrouded us as we arrived at New Brighton, and visibility was very restricted. We perserveered however, and after an hour or so, decided to try our luck with the Snow Buntings down the road, to return back to the marina later.
The Snow Buntings didn't prove too hard to find, as a pair shuffled about on the Wallsey end of the beach. Not wanting them to bother them too much in the cold weather we moved off, and then we heard that the Laughing Gull had just been refound. Perfect.
A minute drive back down the road, a trudge across the beach out to the lighthouse, and there in the still thick fog was the 1st winter Laughing Gull, standing out like a sore thumb. Good views were had as it ran about on the beach with the Redshanks and Turnstones, but the fog did prove very annoying.
However it was great to watch it flying around etc, showing off extremely well just how dark its plumage was!
A bonus 6 Purple Sandpiper out on the breakwater was a nice addition, but with limited time, and as the previous day, the freezing wind, it was hard to stay out too long.
We retreated to Burton Mere RSPB, almost entirely to see the roosting Long-Eared Owl, which was showing superbly on the track to the IMF hide.
A Spotted Redshank overflew the site when we checked the scrape, but it was otherwhys fairly quiet, particularly when compared to my last visit here!
Checking West Park revealed that Med Gull PNU9 was still present, with its hood becoming increasinfgly prominent on the 9th, with it last been seen on the 17th.
With the Water Pipits having returned to Doxey Marshes, it would have been rude not to visit, hence on a dreary 11th, i was stood scanning Pipits and Wagtails. Once reaching the right location, it didn't take too long to locate a Water Pipit, and by the time I left a few hours later, I was confident that there were at least 2 on show, with probably more.
The 'resident' 2 Barnacle Goose were often flying around and a good variety of wetland birds was present, including 10 Goosanders, 4 Little Egret and at least 6 Water Rail. A number of Stonechats were flicking around near the Water Pipit site, and some great views of Cetti's Warbler were had.
A patch visit on 15th revealed 2 hard to find patch birds, with both Little Grebe and Water Rail being present, both of which went on to stay around for a few weeks. A good flock of 119 Lapwing were also in the quarry.
The 21st saw my annual trip over to Draycote Water. Despite having a good number of good birds, we managed to dip the drake Smew, but a couple of hours getting wet, cold, and hailed upon proved worthwhile with a Black-Necked Grebe, a flock of 25 Tree Sparrows and the Greylag Goose flock containing a pair of White-Fronted Goose and a Pink-Footed Goose.
The last birding trip of the year took me to North Wales, where an early morning drive around the mountains saw us seeing a lekking flock of 22 Black Grouse! Very good, but distant views were hard in the breezy conditions, but it was great to watch them strutting their stuff on the grassy slopes.
2 Red Grouse, and a flyover flock of 3 Crossbill were the only other notable birds present in this very hostile, cold place!
A seawatch from Old Colwyn included the expected masses of Common Scoter, including a partially leucistic bird, but we failed to find any Surfs. We did however find 3 Velvet Scoter, with a nice cast of 7 Red-Throated Diver and 10 Red-Breasted Merganser. A flock of 5 Whooper Swan flew west far our at sea, which proved for a rather awesome, if random sight!
With a showy Iceland Gull being up the road it wasn't a hard decision to go take a look, and from the car as we pulled in you could see the bird, down on the sand, being thrown copious amounts of bread by a couple of photographers. I wasn't going to complain, as within a minute I was getting views like this. Absolutely stunning!
A drake Red-Breasted Merganser was showing well on the same tidal pool, until it and the Iceland Gull was flushed by a rampant Dog, much to everyones annoyance.
A check of the Scoter flock proved difficult, with distance and increasingly strong wind proving a problem. Needless to say, no luck here either.
With a few hours still remaining of daylight, and on the way home, we dropped into Venus Pool, where a Ringtail Hen Harrier had been hanging around. We had seen it briefly just north of the site on the drive down, but it proved elusive once we reached the site, and having given it a really good time, we only saw it once briefly for a matter of 20 seconds. We were however entertained by a large flock of winter Finches/ Buntings, which included around 100 Yellowhammers, 15 Reed Buntings and a flock of 17 Corn Bunting. The latter a very good record for the site!