Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The long awaited catch up!

So, with my coursework having been completed within the last hour, and with only the two exams worth of revision to go, I think it is about time I should start writing again...
So, back to October we go.
Having had such a good time on the last RSPB fieldtrip, it perhaps wasn't too hard of a decision to join them again for their trip over to Titchwell RSPB. Who would complain at that.
On the way over as we drove past Guyhirn, I managed to pick up 2 of the Cranes that had been resident in the area for some time. Another birder beside me saw a further 8 standing in the field, however they were distant and the views weren't great from the moving coach.
Arriving at Titchwell I did exactly as I was hoping to do, and walked straight out to the beach to do some seawatching, and I was greeted with the rather joyous sight of a large numbers of others with the same idea. If a Skua went past today I was going to see it!
Immediately obvious was the large number of Gulls, and among them were a single adult Mediterranean and 8 Kittiwakes. A flock of Common Scoter were bobbing about on the troughs but the first highlight came as I saw a lone Scoter flying in from the east. Head on initially, it moved parallel to the beach revealing bring white secondarys. I was soon shouting a drake Velvet Scoter was going past! Luckily, there were a number of boats of varying colours offshore, so getting the crowd (particularly the ones sitting adjacent to me!) onto the bird was straightforward.
Next up was another self find. A small Grebe popped up in the breakers close inshore to the beach further west than the viewpoint, but being strikingly black and white It was obviously one of the 'rarer' small Grebes. Considering I have little field experience with 'Slav', it was immediately obvious as a winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe due to structure. The entire crowd got onto the bird and it continued to show for much of the afternoon and made for the best bird of the day.
Among the regulars (Gannet, Red-Throated Diver, GC Grebe, and both Guillemot and Razorbill) we also picked out a female Red-breasted Merganser on the water fairly close in, and a further 4 flew past, going west.
With no Skuas I moved back onto the reserve for the Gull roost. The usual assembley of waders was present, and 6 Marsh Harriers were buzzing the reedbed. It was here I also caught up with an old friend, as the same female Stonechat that got me onto the Penduline Tit on my last visit was feeding in the same area of reedmace. Sadly, no Penduline today though. Scrutiny of the increasing gull flock produced 2 Yellow-legged Gulls before I had to head back to the coach.
I had visited Steart Marshes WWT just a week previously in the hope of catching up with the juvenile Pallid Harrier, having dipped, we returned on the first day of November, but again our luck was out. A good showing of Raptors (Buzzard, 1 Sprawk, 7 Kestrel, 3 Peregrine) was highlighted by 2 Merlin, including a great view of a female as we arrived, which barrelled fairly low over our heads.
With the bird having not shown again, we moved around the Huntspill Sluice. As we neared Bridgewater we heard the unthinkable.. The Pallid had just shown again (Insert relevant word of choice). Being stuck in traffic we couldn't go anywhere and carried on in the hope it would be viewable from the opposite side of the Parrett River. It wasn't, and we dipped it again. At least 1 female Red-breasted Merganser was feeding in the shallows, which gave slight compensation for the dip. It was from here while scanning for a ochre coloured bird of prey a superb sight of 3 Merlin chasing each other took place low over the saltmarsh. A good count of Avocets were also viewable form here, with 296 being visible among the huge swirling flocks of other estuarine waders.
Any other day without having dipped a Pallid Harrier and this would have been a good day!
That annoyance from dipping was relieved somewhat where a standard patch thrash led to the chance discovery of a female BLACK REDSTART! Standing scanning the Lapwings and Gulls within the now flooded quarry, I neglected to look on the small patch of ground adjacent to the hedgeline behind me. Having counted the Lapwing (32) and scanned through the Gulls to little avail, I turned around to see a bird flick up onto the top of a hawthorn in the hedgeline.
Getting my bins onto the bird which was only around 50ft away I was slightly perplexed to begin. It was head on, and just a slightly silhouetted greyish brown thing. There just wasn't any marks in this view, but it soon moved slightly, and I saw the quivering red tail!
I span to get my scope on it, aimed it at the bird, and just as I got it into focus it flew up, across the quarry, hesitantly at first, but it kept going.... And going..... And going. I kept on it until it was nothing more than a speck, when it suddenly dived down in the vicinity of Burlish Top. I spent the next 3 hours plodding around Burlish, Burlish Top, Moult Plesent etc, but I failed to refind this incredibly brief first for the patch.
Presumably this was the bird which then was found on the other side of the golf course a week or so after on the WFC Building.
A Uni fieldtrip led us across Wales to Aberystwyth, and we stopped at a number of sites on the way over. One of these was the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Red Kite feeding Centre, where we had excellent views of around 200 Kites. A female Goosander on the pool was also a nice surprise.
Moving onto Aberystwyth for the Starling roost, we stood near the pier and watched the aggregation grow, which despite not being the biggest Starling roost I have ever seen was still fairly spectacular.
As you would expect though, as we stood, I began to notice large numbers of Gulls roosting offshore, and being the fanatic I am, I just had to go through them. My efforts were rewarded when I picked up an adult Mediterranean Gull fly in from the south and drop onto the water in front of us. Nice!
The weather the next day was little short of vile, heavy rain and strong winds. A Rock Pipit pottered along the beach, and I had a flight view of what was probably one of the 5 Black Redstarts in the area as it flicked off the old college building and onto the castle.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

That amazing weekend (Part 2) Patch YBW!


Having found a Penduline Tit in Norfolk the previous day, to say I was on a high is an understatement. I'm barely used to finding unusual birds in my own county, never mind a bird that is a national rarity. But, being tired from the long day that we had just endured I took the decision for a lie in, and as I finally decided to wake up, I walked out of the room and heard what I thought was a rather 'familiar' call. Being in Worcester however, I continued on with my morning routine.

It wasn't much longer and I was out on patch though, and as I was walking up the street I heard the same call again...

Surely not..

Then it went quiet..

Could have been me mishearing a Coal Tit I suppose, which are plentiful in the wood.

I waited around for 15 minutes. Nothing.

I was actually walking away, when I heard it again! "Psweet" and again "Psweet" and again "Psweet".


I literally sprinted to the small line of tree's the call was coming from, but no mistaking it. I had a Yellow-Brow on patch!!

And then there it was! Feeding in the low branches or a sycamore, at eye height, a superb, crisp looking gem of a bird! Yellows and greens, buffs and whites... Such a classy bird! And it was on the patch! If I could feel any more elated I was surely feeling it now! Self finding Penduline Tit and Yellow-Browed Warbler on the patch in the space of less than 18 hours! Phenomenal! 

Gaining permission to allow a few birder into the site,  I grabbed the phone,and sent out the message about the birds presence, and people started arriving..

Vern was the first on site, and our luck was in. We followed the sound of it incessantly calling, and there it was. Sitting in the tree-tops surrounded in bright orange autumnal colours! Absolutely stunning. And even better, it remained motionless there for about 20 seconds as Vern 'papped' it and as I grabbed some ropey record shots!

Birders came and went, and all went away happy.. Eventually.. As the bird became more elusive it got harder to see, and it went quiet, with no sign whatsoever after about 2, but it certainly gave me a perfect ending to a weekend I will never forget!

Oh, and if anyone is wondering that call that first attracted my attention in my groggy 'just woken up' phase during the morning, have a listen to this. The sound of 'The East'.


Friday, 2 January 2015

That amazing weekend (Part 1)- Penduline Tit!


With the weather again looking rather decent for a trip across to the east coast, it wasn't hard to see why we filled the car with 5 birders very quickly!

With the presence of an Isabelline Shrike lingering on the north coast of Norfolk, and copious numbers of other mouthwatering scarcities lingering around it wasn't particularly hard to find where we would be heading either. And for 4 of us in the car it would our 4th day in Norfolk in 2 weeks!

So, wanting to make the most of our time out east, a stupidly early get up time, and 3 hours later, and as the sun started to rise ahead of us, we were only a short distance from our first location. 2 Barn Owls flitted over the car as we drove, which as always, was a great start to the day.

Walking out to the whirligig at Warham Greens, the seeps of migrating Passerines could be heard, with winter Thrushes and Meadow Pipits on the move. As it grew lighter, the vismig grew stronger, and good numbers of Brambling were moving over west with Chaffinches. Singles of both Redpoll and Siskin also went over, but it was quite clear that people were quickly losing hope for the Shrike. We searched though. Small flocks of waders and ducks gave us flypasts, with Common Snipe and Golden Plover going over and large numbers of Little Egret moved out of their roosts. A single Spoonbill flew past distantly before ditching into the Blakeney saltmarsh but it wasn't exactly the dreamed for start of the day.
As I wandered around, the rest of the group saw the first Yellow-Browed Warbler of the day, but I personally missed it.

Cutting our losses, we chose to move over to Cley Beach, where a Grey Phalarope had been residing for a few days. Luckily this one wasn't hard to see, spinning about on a tiny puddle adjacent to the shingle ridge. Needless to say, scope filling views were had, and we all had a large grin on our faces!
Phalaropes are great birds whenever you see them, but there is always quite special when you see one up close. No doubt a result of the birds innocence, the crowd possibly being the first humans it has encountered in its life. The arrival of a party of Brent Goose flushed the bird, giving us great flight views as it flew across to the road, and then back again! What a smart bird!

Further up the shingle ridge, another hoped for target of the day was showing, and we were all treated to superb views of a rather stunning sandy 1st winter male Snow Bunting. Again, another confiding bird, which happily fed down to about 30ft range. Scope views were again first rate, and it added another highlight to our ever increasing day list.

The Bunting gave us a brief flight view down the ridge, where it was joined by a Wheatear, and both fed happily as we chose to move on to Holkham to look for the Rough-legged Buzzard.

Over the course of the last couple of years, this has quickly became one the most aggravating birds I have spent time trying to find. Multiple trips spent looking for them and still they manage to avoid me! As we pulled into Lady Ann's Drive, a quick phone call from Espen (Who was also birding in Norfolk that bad) said he had just seen the Buzzard flying out towards East Hills! As with my luck though, we drew a blank, and we also dipped the Pallas's Warbler, which we walked the wrong direction for. 2 Red Kite,a Peregrine and 10 Common Scoter were little reward, but this was to prove the only low point of the whole weekend...

As with our last day of the Norfolk weekend, we chose to head back west to finish the day, being slightly closer to home, and it became easily the most productive site of the day. We made our way around the Meadow trail behind the visitor centre, and it didn't take long for a Yellow-browed Warbler to start calling as a Tit flock moved through the Willows. At one point it was calling in the tree right above our heads, when another started to call further away, so there was at least 2 birds present. 
As we walked out of the trail, a female type Merlin sped across over our heads as it barreled east.
Huge numbers of dabbling duck were present, with Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon being the most numerous, and among these were smaller numbers Pintail and Gadwall.
Also present across the extensive areas of mud were good numbers of waders, with all the expected species being present, the highlight of which was a Spotted Redshank which dropped into the lagoon. Among the pre-roosting gulls, a rather dapper Mediterranean Gull was swimming around among the Black-heads, but the sea was calling.

But it was rather quiet! Until the long staying Black-throated Diver surfaced in front of us, which proved to be one of very few birds on the sea. Seeing that our time here could well be wasted we started walking back down the track.

A female Stonechat was feeding from some bulrush on the edge of the path, so it aimed the scope at it, and immediately a smaller bird flicked up and instantly started ripping apart a bulrush head. Smaller than the Stonechat, with a rufous back and pale grey head!!


There was a Penduline tit feeding no more than 20 feet away from us!
My initial response I cannot post here due to its rather explicit content, but within seconds, the crew was on the bird, Liz had snapped a couple of record shots as I faffed around and called over a number of people standing on the track around us! 

It was hard to believe we had just found a Penduline Tit, and at one of the most 'populated' and well visited reserves in the UK, my first 'BB' self find, ecstatic! Soon the crowd started to develop, and we all enjoyed crippling views of the star of the show as it continued to rip apart the bulrush heads.

Everyone was on it and news went out about its presence, and soon more birders started to appear. Apparently, it was the first Penduline Tit seen at Titchwell in 13 years, so I was incredibly chuffed to find it!
The bird started to move away as the crowd grew larger, and once it moved along the Parrinder bank towards the hide we headed back to the car as more than anything I needed a reality check! 

We returned to find the crowd we had caused...

But the bird didn't show again (Although it was seen again very briefly the next day), so we spent time scanning the Gulls (A single adult Yellow-legged Gull being the highlight) and talking to a variety of NGB's and other birders who had made the rush to get here. Sadly few of them had seen it, with the bird only having been on view 40 minutes but it was a great way to take in that we had just ended the day by finding a BBRC description species!

Get in!