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.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Back to patching!

After the week away in Pembrokeshire i was fully rejuvenated to get back into Patch birding, having not been able to 'work' it properly for around a month!
So early in the morning i headed out with the intention of vis-mig counts and just generally surveying the progression/build up of bird species around the 'North Circuit' of the patch.

From early on, it was clear that good, but not outstanding numbers of Mipit were moving, and over the coarse of the 4 hours on patch i counted at least 98 Meadow Pipit, with 80% of those flying over south as to be expected. The remaining 20% i will come to in a little while. The usual wildfowl counts were undertaken at Blackstone, where 6 Mandarin remained, two of which were drakes.

My highlight however was catching up with the locally bred GOOSANDERS, a flock of 15 (Adult female with 14 juvs) on the rocks below the bridge. It was great to catch up with them, as they are still a relatively rare breeder in Worcestershire and to my knowledge there have been no breeding records of this species along this stretch of river before!

Moving onto the paddocks, i quickly noticed a fairly decent flock of Meadow Pipit (The remaining 20%) and it was while walking past the first paddock, i heard the distinctive buzzing 'tziee' call of a TREE PIPIT! It took a good while, but 30 minutes after i locked onto a pale Pipit which upon getting my scope on the bird revealed it to be the bird! 
Unexpectedly, while watching this bird fly to the far right of the paddock i heard an identical call originate from my left! Scanning in that direction and there it was, a 2nd TREE PIPIT! Unbelievable, i have never had multiple Tripits away from breeding sites so i was very chuffed!

After seeing so many White Wagtails while away in Pembrokeshire i also grasped at an ounce of courage and started scanning the flock of 60 Wagtails. All 'Alba' type Wagtails, and started assigning them to species. A further hour and i was sufficiently happy to have found 5 White Wagtails among the flock, looking just as obvious as they did on the coast among the 'British' subspecies. To add to this, a further 20 'Alba' sp Wagtails flew over to the south.
Hirudine movement was limited, but 100 Swallow south was noticed, with smaller numbers of House Martin, but for the first time in a good few months, i was unable to pick up a Sand Martin. 2 Grey Wagtail went over south.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Pembrokeshire- Autumn 2013

I have never been to Pembrokeshire in the Autumn before! So as you could expect, a week away was highly anticipated! We were staying in the freshwater east area and i spent much of the week searching the surrounding area.

Soon after arrival out our beach-side temporary home i was already picking up birds, with 4 Sanderling scurrying along the shoreline close to some fishermen. All of them being juvenile's and these were the first of many over the week. 5 GBBG were also on the sand with a Shag out in the bay.

The next morning i was itching to get out, so i was out at 6:30am, and was soon ammassing a healthy list of species, a 1st winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL spent some time on the Beach before flying off, as did a winter plumaged BAR-TAILED GODWIT and a single juvenile Sanderling.

As time progressed, and having had little luck on the cliffs (No seabirds moving other than Gannets) i moved back down onto the Beach, where a juvenile Sanderling was showing, which as the tide increased became more and more confiding. After a patient wait, this superb arctic wader approached within 15ft of where i was sat, giving superb and intimate views!

Nice view isnt it.

The Sanderling remained all day on the Beach, moving out on the tide then moving back in again. Another wader highlight was soon given when a WHIMBREL fly over calling, as did an Oystercatcher and eventually 2 CHOUGH were seen over the hillside.

The next morning i awoke with optimism again, and i was out searching the area from early on in the morning and i was rewarded with a superb range of species. By far the standout species was that of a superb SABINE'S GULL which hung around offshore for around 15 minuites with a large flock of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Gulls, with 11 SANDWICH TERN'S, 20 Fulmar, 5 MANX SHEARWATER and the same 1st winter MED GULL as yesterday! Hows about that for a bit of seawatching! There was a massive movement of Hirudines and easily 2000 Swallow, House and Sand Martin flew over, all going south and straight out to sea! Watching them skimming only a flew feet over the top of the headland before dropping down to sea level was breathtaking! A TREE PIPIT put on a similar preformance heading straight south calling. Actually on the headland it was quieter, with a single Stonechat, 2 Whitethroat and i flushed a GREY PARTRIDGE while walking through waist high foliage.

Here was the view from my self designated 'Seawatching spot'.

A brief watch later in the day around 12:30 revealed a dark morph ARCTIC SKUA was followed the coast heading SE.
A small flock of Gannets entered the bay, and i tried to take some digi-scoped flight shots,

Again, a nice early start had me out scouring the clifftops. The Hirudine passage was still going incredibly strong with 1000+ Swallows and about even numbers of House and Sand Martin at around 100 birds. 'Alba' Wagtails were also on the move, and 50 flew over, as did a measly 20 Meadow Pipit. In contrast to yesterday, there was very little seabird activity and an after an hour I gave up and scoured the gorse. I had closer views of the CHOUGH pair, but could not locate their feeding area. It was while doing this I heard the 'raspy' call of a Dunlin as one wizzed past over my head. Passerines were still a little hard to come by, but 2 Whitethroat and 2 Stonechat were found. Late in the day, 3 Sanderling came up on the tide, but didn't hang around for long!
A visit into Tenby town always produces Rock Pipits and I wasn't disappointed when I found 3 birds on the south beach.
Do you know those days where you really couldn't ask for much better? That one day where the slightest bit of dampness in the air and a little fog and every bush seems to have some sort of life in it. These next two days certainly lived up to that expectation, not because of the rarity of what was seen, but just for that feeling of interaction you get when you come face to face with a variety of migrants, that you know in just a few weeks would be flying across oceans, plains, deserts and countries to reach their wintering ground. That brief moment when you can almost feel that slight feeling of anxiety, that desperation to move onto pastures new.
Quickly I found 3 SPOTTED FLYCATCHER doing exactly as their name implies, flycatching off a wire fence along a hawthorn hedge only 50ft from the sea, obviously waiting for that moment to launch themselves off towards Cornwall of beyond. In the fields adjacent to this hedge, 5 WHEATEAR and at least 40 WHITE WAGTAIL were scurrying around, relentlessly searching for sustenance for its upcoming journey. Multiple Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Goldcrests, Constant streams of Linnet, Goldfinch, 'Alba' Wagtails and Meadow Pipits overhead.

A late evening jaunter on the beach was rewarded by a flythrough flock of 15 Dunlin.
If the previous day had been good, today was brilliant! 'Our' SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS were still hanging on, but had been joined by a 4th bird overnight, and the hedge was absolutely teeming. 5 Willow Warblers, 5 Chiffchaff, a Whitethroat and multiple Goldcrests were also flitting from the hedge to the wire fence, obviously a prime feeding spot. The adjacent horse paddock was similarly teeming, but with Wagtails, Pipits and Goldfinch. 30 White Wagtail remained, with small flocks of Meadow Pipits in the weeds (Although 150+ flew over) and 50 Goldfinch were feeding on Thistles.

A very good start and I quickly had itchy feet to search the rest of the coastline. A LESSER WHITETHROAT was feeding on Trewent Point, and I was briefly exited as I saw a black 'mask',blue head and a peach breast perched on the top of a hawthorn. Shrike flashed through my mind but a change of viewpoint revealed the head on bird to be a male WHEATEAR, 3 others (totalling 4) were present in more typical habitat.

6 Stonechats were found, but my personal highlight was when a bright orange autumn male REDSTART perched on a wire fence, only feet from the cliff face. Within a minute, the bird had flicked of and down the cliff face not to be seen again. Migration in Action!
And finally, after nearly 5 days, I finally located the CHOUGH feeding area, and I was treated to stunning views of the pair as they fed in a paddock!

On returning back to Freshwater East, 9 SANDWICH TERN were feeding in the bay and spent about 30 minutes doing so before flying off again. Small numbers of Gannets were also following a similar routine. Just to add to the total of 'Sarnies', much later in the day 2 more flew in and perched distantly on a Boyd.

The final day of the holiday was a brief stop at Saundersfoot, where another 3 SANDWICH TERNS were feeding, with 40 Gannet, 2 Rock Pipit and a Grey Wagtail!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Migration, don't you just love it!
That twinge of excitement as you wake in the morning to see if that clear spell overnight has brought anything with it. You anxiously await the text to confirm the presence of a rarity down the road while thrashing the patch in attempts to find your own 'mega'.
Sadly, mega's were lacking. In other words there were non, however, a nice scattering of migrants fresh in is enough to keep this midlands birder satisfied.
Following my work at Earlswood, I headed down the road to the lakes where a stunning juvenile BLACK TERN was showing. Within a few minutes I had picked up the bird feeding along the south shore of Engine pool, however repeatedly dropped onto pipes adjacent to the 'island' to perch, which, from the shore, gave stunning views!

I watched the bird for some time, being much closer than the bird I found at Blithfield Reserviour, both in flight and 'on the deck' before moving onwards to the Causeway between Engine and Windmill pool. From here I has stunning views of the Tern, at times down to a mere 10ft as very strong headwinds pushed it closer to the bank, directly passed where I was standing.
A Grey Wagtail was the only other 'Of note' bird, just because it strolled past me at around the same range as the Tern flew.

From here it was the roost at Upton Warren, complete with a nice array of Waders. The juvenile Little Ringed Plover and Ringed Plover remained (The adult had departed mid-week). Beside the residents, 4 Green Sand, 4 Common Sand and 2 migrant Snipe were also found probing the soft mud around the edges of the flashes. As we sat, a party of 3 Yellow Wagtails flew over south calling, as did a Common Tern.
The next morning (1/09) that feeling arose again, and it was straight to my phone to see a local 'grapevine' text. LITTLE STINT at the flashes.
As you would expect, patch birding was delayed slightly so I could catch up with this scarce inland arctic wader. As with most autumn LITTLE STINTS it was a juvenile bird and initially was feeding exclusively at the back of the flash among the base of the reeds, with the occasional Green Sand of Teal walking past, revealing just how miniscule of a bird it was.
Some time later, after having not very satisfying views the bird started to wade along the shoreline, before flying onto the near side of the 'channel', slowly working its way closer and closer until eventually it creeped out from beside the 'main island'

Completely worth the wait, Juvenile Little Stint is a stunner of a bird, but sadly one that is not guaranteed on a county yearlist this far inland. Needless to say, I left a happy birder.
Overnight, a single Green and Common Sand had left, leaving 3 of both, and the 2 Snipe remained, but new in was a Redshank, the first I had seen at this particular site all year!
Another grapevine text, however this time in West midlands county revealed the presence of a juvenile Shelduck at Sheepwash Urban park, which, being the site rarity it is warranted a fairly impromptu visit, within minutes, the Shelduck was located, feeding on the only suitable section of habitat on site, (note the litter also present). Also recently arrived was the first Pochard of the winter, a drake which was asleep in the favoured wintering area.
Yes I know, I'm ashamed, I twitched a Shelduck, but the real laughing point was that I dropped in again the next day with the scope to get some photos, with the objective to give a digi-scoping demonstration to another birder. While walking along the raised track, a familiar call had me looking to the sky to see a superb RING-NECKED PARAKEET circling above me, calling constantly, before after a short time flying off north. Another new site bird for me! As luck would have it, my digi-scoping companion was just around the corner at the time, and also heard it calling as it flew around.
Amazingly, the Shelduck remained, as did the Pochard, but a surprise was given when an adult HOBBY flew over the pool and proceeded to hawk dragonflies over johns lane pool. All in all, one of the better days I've had at Sheepwash recently!