Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Gull's and Crossbill's!

A journey out to Sheepwash was rewarded with a LITTLE EGRET which was feeding along the river. Just before dark however, the bird flew over onto Pumphouse pool to roost with the ever present Grey Herons,

A trip up to Cannock with Neil Duggan was very productive for winter Gulls. Our first stop was at Kingswood lakeside. my favorite gulling spot in the midlands, where i quickly located a stunning giant of a 1st winter CASPIAN GULL on the roof of the ARC building. It was fairly distant from our viewpoint, but on 60x through Neils scope i managed a few shots before it flew off.

With the light now rapidly fading, we decided to head off to Chaseater to look for the white wingers that have been present. The first of the white wingers i picked up was a 1st winter GLAUCOUS GULL, which was showing distantly. As if by coincidence though, having just guided the crowd onto the bird, another white winger swam through the scope view! The 2nd winter ICELAND GULL. Awesome!

The Iceland eventually moved far closer and we had some very nice views as it swam around
 off the powerboat club. 

Not a surprise at all.

When i heard news of a small flock of TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL just down the road from my weekend residence at Postmeplain i can't say it came as a shock.

Needless to say, the next morning i was staking out the area, and having seemingly taken the long walk around we reached the crowd in the distance, and immediately the 'trumpeting' call of the Two-Bars!
Within seconds, a flock of around 15 Common Crossbill flew over my head and landed in the top of a larch, scanning through them and a male on the top left hand side of the tree had 2 massive wing bars! A TWO-BAR! Quickly however, the flock flew back into the pines. I moved up, and soon after i was watching 3 of these beauties (2 males and a female) in another clump of Larch, calling very frequently! After around 30 minuites however, the flock decimated, and the birds suddenly became very elusive.

I did however, manage to get onto a stunning male which perched on the top of a pine calling for a few seconds before flying off.

With the birds having moved off, and the crowd becoming more and more agitating, i took my chance and also left to explore the area.
I soon located a calling bird, and then i saw another flying across the Postemplain compound, also calling.
I took the decision to the explore a ride to the NE of where the birds had been seen, and i was rewarded when a new female TWO-BAR, my 4th for the day, dropped into the top of the larches, a completly different individual to the bright green bird i had seen in company with the 2 males.

A long wait ensured, getting occasional views of the birds as they flew around, untill eventually, 2 males settled in a nearby Larch, giving stunning views!
What birds!

Once the birds flew, i waited for a little longer, but the cold got the better of me, and headed home.

Thursday, 26 December 2013


Having already dipped on the 2 reported 'Two-Bar's' in the Forest of Dean the previous week, and their extreme rarity this far inland/South-west a repeat visit was already on the agenda. However, they weren't seen again for the majority of the week.

However, the day before the planned visit to try for the Great-Grey Shrike which was also present, news emerged of a mega flock of 17 which of these stunning northern trumpeters had re-appeared, the largest flock of this rare eruptive species in modern history!

Anyway, the Forest looks stunning at this time!

Needless to say, the next morning a fair gathering had gathered. An early morning report increased my optimism while driving down but upon arriving on site it emerged that these birds were infact Chaffinch's! And from there most hope seemed to drain, after a couple of hours standing 'near' to the increasingly noisy twitchers, and with not a sniff i got fed up and went to look for the Shrike. A circuit of Crabtree hill and surrounding area's failed and we reluctantly returned to the crowd.

"Any sign?"


"Ok, bye"

And so i walked off down the track.

We walked off at a complete tangent to everyone else and ended up on the track immediately to the west of the 'main' track where the crowds were waiting. At least i was searching for them rather than most of the gathering!

(Later i learned that after 10 minutes of leaving the crowd 2 separate flocks of 3 and 8 Two-Bars appeared!)

I failed to locate any of the target species but soon the track opened onto a clearing, and at the back of that clearing stood a stunning GREAT-GREY SHRIKE!

It wasn't particularly showy however, and i didn't try to approach it, so only some distant photos.

Great-Grey Shrike are somewhat of an icon of winter birding for me, and it is always great to catch up with this species perching sentinel over its winter territory.
After a good time watching the Shrike, and having a flock of 10-15 HAWFINCH pass through the tree's behind us which was a great bonus we decided to head back to the crowd.

We approached from the Crabtree hill side to be told that only minuites before there had been a couple in the trees above them!

While i was informed about this the group a hundred or so feet away frantically waved us down. A second passed and i realized they were still watching them!

A quick jog- a hard task i wellies- and one of the birders put me onto a male and female TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL perched up on the top of a dead conifer! Awesome!
Both of the birds wing bars were massive and so obviously not one of the 'wing barred' Common Crossbills that seem to be reported as Two-bars across the country this winter. The male in particular was completely outstanding, with its body colour being very different, a very attractive raspberry red/pink. Not wanting to hog the birders scope (Who turned out to be 'Username' off Birdforum) i started to set up my own, and just as i set it down, a Common Crossbill landed next to them, and they flew off deeper into the plantation. Another hour and not a sight not sound and we decided to leave. Happy that i had gotten both my 'target species'.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

That time of year again!
The time where good cheer is ment to rule and good wishes ment to be passed.
Oh, and also the time when your bank account takes a huge hit and you wake up on countless mornings with a sore and achey head!
Welcome to Christmas folks!
Although not feeling much of a Christmas spirit this year due to a very rough 2nd half of the year, I feel as though I should wish each of my 153 followers, and each and every viewer of my blog a very Happy Christmas.
Despite very sporadic posting schedules, and often very brief day accounts, it is somewhat heartening to see that people do still drop by to the blog. It has been somewhat of a rollercoaster of a year, and as I posted on Twitter a few hours ago, it has been a real mix of euphoric high's and catastrophic lows, and it is this mix of occurences that have left me in my current blog situation, some amazing days birding with some truly great people combined with a completly shattered desire to then write about it.
I know eventually i will catch up, and i will try my very best to, even if just to prove to myself that it is possible, but i urge you to please stick with it. I'm sure you can all look back on your latter Teenage years, times when you were just too broken, bogged down and admittdly, too often hung over to really get down and working on a task. But it will get there in the end!
Thankyou to everyones support over the last 12 months towards the blog, both through the virtual and the real world. 2013 has certainly been a 'year to remember' for a variety of reasons, sadly the negatives protruding somewhat above the good.
Despite that, i can sincearly say thankyou to everyone who i have shared many a car journey with this year. I have been to some truly amazing places thanks to a variety of generous offers from a host of other Midlands birders, and i have seen some simply stunning birds due to that, and more recently with a variety of young birders from the recently formed Next Generation Birders. You all dont know how much you have helped me limp through the last half a year, so for that i say thankyou.
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Christmas 2013. Hope you have a good one, and I hope each and everyone of you have a great start to 2014
Wishing you a very Happy Christmas
Craig- MB 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Northerners, Yanks and Sibes

With news of a Penduline Tit in south wales, plans were arranged with Neil Duggan to head down there and see this stunning example of a male bird.

For those who would be interested, Neil has recently joined the local Blogsphere and can be found here, so therefore, if you want to read about my birding exploits a month before i get around to posting it, or want to follow the birding exploits of a fellow local birder, head over there!

As if by coincidence, Martyn Y (Formally of 'Adult Plumage', 'Regional Birding' and 'Blurred Birder' fame- So many in fact that i'm not even sure which ones which anymore!), Kay D (The Lover of Black Redstarts (Ochruros) ) and Richard P (Local Birding) were also heading down to Newport Wetlands.

While on the M5 though, we heard news of Great Grey Shrike in the Forest of Dean, and with Two-bar Crossbills reported the day before it was worth the effort! Being only a few miles off the M50 it was worth the effort, so with no news having come out from Newport, we took a diversion.

Arriving at Woorgreens was greeted with confusion.

Where do we go?

As we walked up to the somewhat picturesque Woorgreens Lake, i heard the familiar 'glipping' of Crossbills as a flock of 15 flew over. Sadly that proved the be the only view we had of Crossbills, and no-one else found any rarer ones either! 2 Wigeon were the only birds 'of note' on the pool. 

But anyway. To cut a long story short. We saw nothing. The Shrike did a bunk and didn't reappear for the rest of the day. We plodded around the Woorgreens/ Crabtree Hill area for a good couple of hours, but other than calling Brambling and Marsh Tit it was very quiet species wise.

Having contacted the other 'midland crew' down at Newport, it seemed as if the Penduline had done an overnight flit!
Not going to plan!

Right, what now? How about we cross the Estuary to Slimbridge WWT? Some nice birds around there, AND, if the Penduline was to be refound, we would be in a decent position to head down there via the Severn Bridge and the extortionate £6,20 toll charge!

As a lover of all things weird and wacky, my main priority was to get to the Rushy Pen to see the Purple Sandpiper. Within minutes of being on site we entered the Peng Observatory, and upon inquiring about the Sandpiper i was guided onto a wader at the back that looked suspiciously like a Redshank.........

So i then set about scanning the shorelines. Within a few minutes i came to the conclusion that it wasn't there!
At this point, i remembered reading on the site wardens Twitter that the bird was showing down to a few feet from the office buildings. Moving to the opposite side of the 'hide' i poked my head around the corner, and there is was! A mere 10ft away! Insane! A 1st winter PURPLE SANDPIPER!

Not being able to get my scope on the bird due to the somewhat awkward angle, i lifted my camera to my bins and took a few shots.

And its a good job i did! Very soon after, a brief chase form a coot pushed it out, further into the middle and it was then relentlessly hounded by Jackdaws until eventually, it just gave up and flew out towards the Estuary.
And that was it, gone. A far to brief sighting.

So then we walked to the Zeiss Hide, via the 'decoy' area. No Chiffchaffs were showing, so we moved on. A completely packed Zeiss hide were all looking out across the Teal flock. Of which there were a few.....

Yeah, a few in the 2000-3000 range!

And why was everyone looking? Its close new world cousin, a yank interloper was present among the ranks.

After some scanning, i eventually picked up the drake GREEN WINGED TEAL, its vertical white stripe making it stand out quite easily once you knew the basic area it was in. Sadly though, it was very inactive, no doubt well and truly knackered after its long haul across the Atlantic.

The birding from here was actually very good, as thousands of birds were present. Two GCP Common Cranes were wading in the shallows, which, as always, was an awe inspiring sight! However, the more interesting 'stuff' were the smaller birds, most particularly the waders!
Among the small flock of Dunlin we were informed a Little Stint was present, and after some time, a winter plumaged LITTLE STINT emerged from the flock and fed along the shallow waterline.

 Soon after, a winter plumaged SPOTTED REDSHANK was found, wading in deep water at the back of the flash, and, on occasions, swimming quite actively! A flock of Golden Plover flew over, with a small number of Black-tailed Godwit and 6 Ruff.
In the Reedbed, a Cetti's Warbler was showing superbly!

With news of a Great-nothern Diver just down the road, we started to leave, moving again via the 'decoy' area to look for Chiffchaffs. We met up with a searching birder and walked the boardwalk. At the end i became aware of a gathering of birder/photographers on the opposite side of the hedgeline looking towards us.
And it soon became apparent why, as a striking Chiffchaff popped out of the ivy at close range. And by striking i mean a smack in the face obvious SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF. Very white underparts with an almost pale grey/light brown back. Actually a very attractive bird!
If i needed any more convincing, the bird spent some time calling, sounding almost like a Bullfinch, and it was joined by a Common Chiffchaff, just further emphasizing how different it was!

Having bagged a good 'cast', we took the last minuite decision to check the Holden tower, where we quickly locacted the Dark-Bellied Brent Goose out on the Saltmarsh, and 23 Eurasian White-Fronted Goose.

So, with the light now fading fast, we decided to hot foot it down to Sharpness Docks, after a while of moving around, we eventually found ourselves at the SARA building, watching a stunnning GREAT-NORTHERN DIVER showing very well on the tiny pool adjacent to the old lifeboat station.

What a way to end the day!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Birding run through- Mid October- Mid November

News of a winter plumaged RED-NECKED GREBE at Westwood pool just outside of Droitwich had me heading down there after college as access was quickly arranged by the permit holders and finder (Cheers Wayne!) Arriving on site the bird was immediately viewable, but it stayed on the far side of the pool. However all the main plumage details could be seen, as it floated around the roosting flock of around 70 Great-Crests.

With the pre-roost building, a good count of 10 Common Gulls had arrived before we left, and this increased further one we left.

From Westwood, we decided to shoot the extra few miles down the road so we could also see the pair of WHOOPER SWANS that were currently present at Grimley Camp lane pits. Immediately upon pulling into the cutout adjacent to the gate we could see the Swans, but it was as i took my Optics off the swans i noticed a large bird flying in form the south. Instant recognition and i was soon calling my dad and the other birder who had also just arrived to get onto a juvenile plumaged GANNET! We were treated to great views as it circled the north end of the pools in front of the Wood on the west side of the pits. A few minutes later we watched it climb slightly higher, then flew off SW over said wood. 
In a way i was somewhat relieved to see it fly away, it was good to know that it stood a decent chance of re orientating and heading back towards the coast. At least it proved it was a healthy bird as most that turn up in the midlands are either found moribund or dead!
According to the Patch workers of Grimley, this was the first in its history! So well chuffed with that one!

We stayed on site until just before duck, but the Gannet didn't re-appear. The WHOOPER SWANS however were still showing. 6 Little Egret were showing and a Green Sandpiper flew past us.

The next day and another seabird. A female COMMON SCOTER had been found on the Moors Pool at Upton warren and i was soon enjoying good views as it swam around with the Coots and Tufted Ducks out in the middle of the pool. In fact, it was my first inland Scoter sighting, so it made for a very nice productive weekend for birds!

Another drop into Upton Warren was rewarded with superb views of a JACK SNIPE directly below the hide. Rather stupidly, i had not charged the camera up and it had no battery so i missed the opportunity to get some photos of this species. The bird remained here for the entire visit. The Goose flock was in eveidence, and among the Canadians were 31 Greylags and a Barnacle Goose. 9 Wigeon on the islands was also a good count for the site.

A drop into the Hungry Horse field at Earlswood was rewarded with great views of 489 GOLDEN PLOVER.


From here we headed to Upton Warren (Again!). Tonight 2 JACK SNIPE were showing well, but not quite as well as the previous weekend. Here is both of them:

A adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL was showing with the Gull flock, but refused to come any closer than the opposite side of the pool.

A 1st winter drake SCAUP was showing at Bartley very late on the friday afternoon close in to the Dam but we arrived too late to be able to 'do' the Gull roost.

This eclipse drake GOOSANDER has been showing stunningly well in Bewdley Town center for a few weeks, often giving stupidly close views (Down to around 10ft). I even took the opportunity to take a selfie with it.

After a short time with the Goosander, i heard news of a Wheatear at Barnett Brook. Hoping it may be one of the rarer Wheatears i headed straight over there, but sadly i couldn't string the bird into anything more than a NORTHERN WHEATEAR. Still, a very good record of a very late Wheatear!

From the Gardening jobs at Earlswood i saw 150 GOLDEN PLOVER circle over the garden before eventually heading back towards the Hungry Horse.

Just to finish off what was a great days birding in the Midlands i dropped into Upper Bittel, and i had soon located 2 of the 3 SHAG that were present. Sadly, very distant as is often the case at bittel but a new bird for the region for me!
An interesting Gull attracted my attention for some time, but the light was quickly dropping. The bird seemed to show a mix of YELLOW-LEGGED/CASPIAN features, but again, the distance and the falling light meant i couldn't nail it. Here it is anyway.


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Waterbirds and a Chat

An evening drop into Upton Warren was fairly eventful. A stop at the Moors revealed a pair of PINTAIL which were the first i had seen here this year.
The flashes faired slightly better though, with a nice little array of waders. A single winter plumaged DUNLIN was feeding at the back of the flash before flying north towards the Moors Pool after only a few minutes. The other wader highlight was a flock of 5 RUFF which were very mobile around the flashes, feeding incessantly.
It has in fact been a very good year for this species at Upton Warren, with an almost continual presence throughout the entire autumn period, which contracts significantly to the last few years which has seen relatively few records of fairly short staying birds. Singles of both Green and Common Sandpiper were also present.

As i had still failed to connect with a Whinchat this year i became very tempted by news of the presence of 3 around Holt, so early the next morning i headed down there, and after a short walk, a single stunning juvenile WHINCHAT perched up close by, flycatching from an area of amazing looking habitat.

I find it incredible that i could manage 10 months into a year without seeing a Whinchat, considering the numbers of them i saw last year it came as somewhat of a shock. It has been clear that they have been either scarce or short stayers for most of the summer and i also haven't found any this year, so i was very grateful for this chance so late in the year to catch up with one.

As you would expect, a visit to this area couldn't be completed without the visit into the Camp lane Pits, where i was surprised to see the large number of 8 LITTLE EGRETS, the 2nd largest count in Grimleys history. They were well spread out across the pools but occasionally a number of them would join up briefly for a fly around.
5 were feeding in the small pool below the north end viewpoint.

It was also great to have the sight and sound of 100+ Wigeon around the pool, with also small numbers flying over. It is a sound i look forward to every winter and i'm very glad its back !

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Public transport twitching


Don't you just hate it!
I do, i hate public transport.

But anyway, following an unusually smooth journey via a bus, and then a train, and then a short period of walking, me and the Gornal birder arrived at Doxey Marshes in Stafford to look for the Yank wader found the previous day.
After some walking around the site not knowing where to go we eventually saw the usual 'congregation' of birders that accompanies a rare bird and headed to that point.
With no news having emerged from the site that day we weren't sure if the bird was still on site, but we were relieved to hear that the bird had been seen briefly earlier that morning, but it was very elusive in among the vegetation.
It took some time, and we were in site for most of the afternoon, but we eventually had decent views as it worked its way along the rear shore of the flash. PECTORAL SANDPIPER is a species i have only caught up with once before, that being the long staying bird at Upton Warren a few years ago so it was nice to see another of these American waders.

The bird spent most of its time associating with Common Snipe, just as my last bird did, however, just as i had been told, the bird spent most of its time hiding in among the vegetation. Interestingly, a 'Pec' had been seen at this site a few weeks before on a Snipe count. This raises the question had the bird just been there all along but its elusive nature meaning it hadn't been seen.

Other than the Pec, i was left fairly impressed by the site, 3 Barnacle Goose were showing from a hide and waders were represented by a single Green Sandpiper, 2 Ruff and probably around 50 Snipe.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Yanks and Sibes!

Anyone that knows me as a birder will know i have a fondness towards waders. And the autumn months certainly bring us some excellent wader action here in the UK.
With our geographical location being right on the edge of the continent, and being the first landfall for many Yank and Arctic waders we are often spoiled for choice. An it was exactly that situation when i heard news of the wader flock developing in the Severn Estuary around Slimbridge. This build up invariably brings a higher chance of rarities and it was when James Lee's, Warden of Slimbridge WWT, found a stunning 1st winter Buff-breasted Sandpiper out on the estuary with the Dunlin flock, when my recent partner in crime (That crime being dirty twitching), Neil D was contacted to arrange an impromptu visit on the Sunday, as access has been arranged out onto the foreshore of the Dumbles to search the flock.

First off, a huge hats off to the Wardens of Slimbridge WWT for allowing this type of access, not only on this one occasion, but for the many times that they have done over the last few years. It certainly was a privilege to be out adjacent to the Saltmarsh scanning the waders. 

As you could imagine, being a weekend bird it was very popular, and just prior to the arranged time the Holden Tower became very full, with the queue eventually stretching off down the Holden walkway. Luckily, we had arrived early and were at the front of the queue.

Soon after we were trudging out onto the shore, and soon after the tide was fast approaching.

And so were the waders.

We were soon surrounded by the sound of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, and once they were pushed closer i soon started picking out waders.
A pale juvenile CURLEW SANDPIPER was soon showing well in the nearest group, but the search for the Yank continued. Not long after, while scanning the mudflats away form the main bulk of birds i scanned onto an obvious orangey coloured wader. A short quick run through some grass led it out into the open, revealing it to the the BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER. A quick shout out was followed by the usual pleads for directions, and it was at that moment i realized why i was a crap twitcher, How the fuck do i get 80 people onto a Starling sized bird in the middle of the mud with no other reference point or adjacent bird other than a small area of saltmarsh grass the bird was feeding in? There really was nothing at all, as i backed away from the scope Neil grabbed a quick look as i tried to navigate people onto the area, but as i was doing so was told the bird had just took flight when my directions became redundant.

Tip one- If on a twitch with me looking for waders, make sure your standing next to me so if i do pick something out you can just grab a look through my scope rather than having to suffer my pathetic directions.

Luckily, the bird was seen again a few times, but again, it was only seen briefly by a select few or in flight, not exactly the most accommodating Buff-breast then when you consider some of them plod around by your feet.

With the 'biggie' now successfully 'gotten' (Twitching slang for the uninformed out there) i relaxed and started going through the rest of the ranks of waders.
The pale CURLEW SANDPIPER was picked out in almost the same spot. And 2 LITTLE STINTS (Both juvs) were feeding nearby.

The warden then moved the gathering slightly to where the main flock were gathered and soon many more waders were being picked out, a nice 'peachy' CURLEW SAND was soon picked out, which was showing nicely.

After around 2 hours i didn't manage another views of the Buff-Breast, but the other mix of Arctic Siberian, Arctic and single yank waders made a very good variety. Among the 100c Ringed Plover, 300c Dunlin we found 4 CURLEW SANDS (3 juvs, 1 ad), 4 LITTLE STINTS (Strangely of the same age combination as Curlew Sand, 3 Juvs, 1 ad).
The high tide had also given us 12 LITTLE EGRET and a small flock of Wigeon amongst the expected large numbers of Curlew, Gulls and Geese.
Away from birds, we were surprised by the continued presence of the HARBOR SEAL fishing off the Dumbles throughout high tide.

We then decided to 'work' the rest of the site. A single LITTLE RINGED PLOVER was still showing in the Rushy Pen (we saw it earlier in the morning) with 2 GREEN SANDPIPER and small numbers of Blackwit. 2 Pintail were close to the hide
The remainder of the action was centered around the Zeiss hide, where a wild 2nd summer COMMON CRANE was showing close to the hide, giving stunning views.

 A decent sized flock of Teal, Lapwing and 38 Golden Plover held small numbers of Redshank, but also the hoped for juvenile SPOTTED REDSHANK, showing at the far end of the flash. A large flock of 15 RUFF were also feeding here after flying in as were 2 GREENSHANKS. To finish off the list of waders, 4 Snipe fly in and also started feeding in the shallow water, making that our 16th wader species for the day.

 I dropped into Upton Warren upon our arrival back in the home county, where a nice gathering of 3 juvenile male RUFF were showing close to the hide.