Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Brixham White-Billed Diver! +Everything else!

With what can be regarded as no less than ridiculous numbers of Divers been seen in and around Brixham Harbor, and with 4 species of said genus being possible, it would have been rude not to take an offer given to me on the 31st to head down there.
So in the early hours of the morning, after finding my first Tawney Owl for the year, which perched 10ft away from me, it was towards the meetup point at Upton Warren. 2 car loads of us were heading down, a mixed composition of birders and photographers, and following a smooth journey down, we arrived at the carpark near the breakwater. Even scanning from the car, 3 BLACK-THROATED DIVER were immediately obvious, as were GREAT-NORTHERN DIVERS, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Shags.

This was going to be good!

For what was a relatively short walk to the end of the breakwater, it took a really long time, as i paused and scanned every few steps. Great-northern Divers everywhere, Turnstones pottering about everywhere, Kittiwakes flying past and Rock Pipits feeding on the rocks!

It was around halfway along the breakwater a 1st winter BLACK GUILLEMOT popped up in front of us at very close range, giving stunning views as it fed just off the rocks. Easily the best views of the species i have had, with each of my previous ones having been distant.

I was then distracted by the 3 BLACK-THROATED DIVERS which had swam in closer, and my scope was then aimed at those.

A GREAT-NORTHERN then joined in with the fun:

While watching this variety of sea-birds, Jarad called out the ICELAND GULL as the wintering 1st winter bird started to circle nearby before flying off out to sea.

It really was all going on!

Catching up with the remainder of the 'Crew' i was told that our main target for the location was showing, and within a few seconds i was onto the WHITE-BILLED DIVER as it fed near to some boats fairly close in. From this range that yellowy bill really stood out to the Great Northern it was feeding with.

It was somewhat of a privilege to get such good views of a species like this. It is rare to see one this far south, but to have such amazing views as we did though made it probably once in a lifetime.

After about 10 minutes, the bird dived, but was never seen to resurface, and we didn't see it again after that! (And neither did anyone else!)

We spent some time scanning from near the end of the Breakwater, with PURPLE SANDPIPERS, Turnstones and even a Grey Seal giving up close and personal views immediately adjacent to us. 

2 SLAVONIAN GREBE were picked out on the far side of the Harbor which was the first grebe species of the day, and again, a good bird to find. With the Harbor being well covered, a lot of the birders in the group turned and scanned the sea, and we were quickly picking up the likes of Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill, Guillemot as well as even more Divers!

All were Great Northern bar a single RED-THROATED DIVER, which flew in from the west and pitched down on the sea on the opposite side of the bay.

After we all had our fill of the excellent location, the walk back to the car started, being equally slow to the walk there.
Again we were treated to amazing views of Black-Throated and Great Northern Diver alongside the Black Guillemot.

 It was while watching this mix-match though that a smaller bird surfaced adjacent to them, which was easily recognizable as a RED-NECKED GREBE! Again, excellent views were had as it fed close by. It was somewhat bizarre to have seen the two rarest of the 'regular' British Grebes before either Little or Great-Crested!

We then took the short journey to a well known winter feeding station for CIRL BUNTING'S, where we had stunning views of this attractive farmland species as it fed on seed put out by birders to sustain them throughout the winter. A flock of 20 eventually came down to feed, and all at close range. The surrounding area produced Yellowhammer and 3 Chiffchaff before me and Jarad went off to scan the sea and Beach.

The beach was quiet, as it was covered in dog walkers, but just behind the surf we were treated to good views of 2 BLACK-NECKED GREBE as they fed in the very shallow water, at times being completely submerged by incoming waves. Further out in the bay, the 4th Grebe species of the day was picked out, as a large raft of 100+ Great-Crested Grebe was visible. A RED-THROATED DIVER was also offshore here, along with yet more Great-northern Divers!

With the afternoon drawing in, we decided to drive the short distance to Dawlish Warren to hopefully catch up with the wintering Bonaparte's Gull.
The walk out to the end of the Beach was long and hard, but we were entertained by Dark-Belled Brent Geese, a small flock of Common Scoter and 2 Great-Northern Diver. A pair of Stonechat were feeding on reeds on the Golf course.

We eventually got to a point which overlooked the Estuary, and we were treated to views of 10 RED-BREASTED MERGANSER as they fed on the incoming tide. The 3rd SLAVONIAN GREBE of the day was picked out distantly, as was a female Goldeneye. Small numbers of Little Egret, Dunlin, Reshank and Curlew were feeding in the shallows and a Ringed Plover flew past calling.

But one thing was obvious. There was an almost complete lack of Gulls, and it was only as the light began to fade that the large flocks in the distance started flying towards us. A single adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL landed on a sandbank, but unfortunately we were unable to locate the American interloper.
With the light fading, and a 3 hour car journey back we gave in as a rainstorm hit. As we walked along the Beach 15 Turnstone flew in, ending the day nicely.

A big thank-you to Vern for the offer for the Day, and to 'my' carload of birders for the banter. Twitching as a group certainly makes it much better! A great day, and a great start to the years birding!


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

First day of the new year- Shrikes and Sea-ducks

The first day of the new year. Dont you just love it!

From the moment the clock stuck midnight i parted with the company of Biology revision to spent the next 1 1/2 hours searching the local woodland for Tawney Owl. But having slogged my way around it was obvious the wet conditions had prevented me getting Tawney as number 1 for another year. So with sadness i slogged myself into bed, awaiting the new beginnings of the morning.

And i awoke, at a fairly typical teenage time of around 10:30, and i then proceeded to spend the next hour or so reading. No birds for me...


While lying awake in the duvet, i conjured an elaborate plan, and my quest for Tawney Owl as number one changed. It was now Great-Grey Shrike for number one!

So, with headphones blaring some overly loud rock music, and with my eyes looking nowhere other than the floor it was towards Bittel.

It was a very hard task, and i managed to get to around the M42 when a sudden lapse of concentration had me inadvertently looking up, and in doing so my worst fears were realized, as a Carrion Crow flew past....


So with the first bird now having been positively identified, i went into full 'tick' mode. And soon i had a small but growing list. On arrival at the destination a single scan of the intended field was enough to reveal the presence of the gorgeous GREAT-GREY SHRIKE, but again it remained distant at the back of the field, and after a short while watching it from the road in what now was becoming fairly heavy rain we decided to have a quick look at Lower Bittel, having been tipped off about the presence of some sea-duck.

And immediately upon arrival at the causeway, a quick scan of the nearest Tufted Duck flock was enough for me to locate the 1st winter drake GREATER SCAUP, which was feeding actively.

Slowly the bird moved out into the middle with the flock, and i scanned the remainder of the reservior, where i picked up a female SCAUP feeding in the NW corner, with its white blaze and rouded head standing out very well, even in the driving rain.

Optimism was quickly diminished though by the rain, and after locating a female Goosander, 15 Pochard, 2 Wigeon and 2 Kingfisher among the expected species we took a hasty retreat.

The ever worsening rain stopped me from finding anything more, but with a big day out planned for the next day, i couldn't run the risk of getting ill.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

2013- The final one! The Year Ender

(Got your attention didn't it!)

Yes, yes, yes.

Its the 22nd of January, but after a month of intense revision, exams, birding and birdtracking its time for some blog work! And do i have an excellent start to 2014 lined up.

But before that its time to reminisce. A previous post has detailed my 2013, one of a mix of contrasts but this post isn't going anywhere near that!

This is entirely about the wildlife!

And 2013 was certainly the best on record for me, with personal records been beaten, new areas visited, new people met, lifers and some mega's seen!

So, what first?

2013 will go down in personal records for a variety of reasons, it was the first year i managed to break the 200 year list barrier, with the year list standing at 207 in the dying moments of the year, well and truly smashing my previous 175! A little bit of car sharing with friends does wonders! It will also go down as the year that, on the days the 'midlanders' gatecrashed Norfolk that i managed to break 100 species in a day, when on a stunning summers day in mid May the crew of 4 managed 109 species, with my personal total being 108, sadly missing the last 'tick' of the day in the form of a Kingfisher! But did i care no! It was a stunning day!

It was in that last paragraph that i touched upon my next topic, the birders i shared the year with. Much thanks needs to be given to everyone who ferried me across the country in the last year in pursuit of our avian targets. Trust me, without you guys i would never have managed to see the amazing variety of birds that i did, including my first ever birding visits to such awesome birding locations as Norfolk, the Somerset Levels, Suffolk, Yorkshire, as well as the yearly visit to Pembrokeshire, or which i made the pilgrimage twice in 2013! So thanks to Neil D, Gert C, Andy P, Sean F, James G and Matthew B for the days out, i have seen some amazing birds thanks to you all. Leading on from that, it is much harder to mention the many people i have met this year, some great people whom i hope to become firm friends with in the coming years, and furthermore to that, catching up with a variety of people whom i have not seen in an age (Speaking from a teenage point of view obviously). So to each of you, a pleasure!


In the space of the year, i managed 17 lifers, which in taxanomic order were:
Egyptian Goose (Tart)
Green-Winged Teal (Respectably scarce)
Baikal Teal (Absolute MEGA!)
Common Eider (Tart)
Common Scoter (Tart)
Red-Necked Grebe (Uncommon enough not to be ashamed)
Spoonbill (My Bogey Bird)
Red-Footed Falcon (British life tick, awesome bird)
Stone Curlew (Uncommon enough to not be ashamed)
Purple Sandpiper (A tad common on the East coast, but really not that common anywhere near me)
Buff-Breasted Sandpiper (Decently rare)
Ivory Gull (Absolute MEGA- For how far south it was!)
Little Tern (A little bit tartish, but very uncommon inland)
Pacific Swift (Absolute MEGA!)
Bearded Tit (A hard bird to get locally)
Woodchat Shrike (Decently rare)
Two-Barred Crossbill ( A MEGA this far inland/west)

So there you go, my 17, a somewhat bewildering mix of Mega's, Scarcities and absolute Tarts.

From that list though it really is hard to pick the best, but with contemplation, it seems that the moment that i remember the most was that of the stunning male RED-FOOTED FALCON that appeared in front of us at Lakenheath after a good few hours searching. With half of the day gone, we took the decision for one last look at the viewpoint and within a few minutes we were being treated to stonking views of this stunning looking species as it sped around chasing flies/Dragonflies with a flock of 5 or so Hobby at times down to about 50ft. After that it must really go to those stunningly confiding birds, the female WOODCHAT SHRIKE near Chew Valley lake which at times was showing at around 20ft after unbelievably flying closer to us, a performance that was repeated by the juvenile IVORY GULL at Patrington Haven, which after teasing us for an age in freezing winds, proceeded to fly towards us, before hovering above us in the wind and dropping down at close range to feed on discarded fish.
The most surreal moment goes to that of the day of the PACIFIC SWIFT, a long time planned day out 'east' starting at Lakenheath brought the crazy news that said swift was found and then started to linger around Trimley Marshes in far east Suffolk, the priceless look on our faces when we received news combined with a very quick 3 mile walk to the car, an hours drive and a further 3 miles walk to the viewpoint once we arrived at Trimley made for an excellent chase, topped off by seeing this 7th for Britain, and only the 2nd 'twitchable' bird.

And just to end it all, i have managed to compile and condense a years worth of photos and videos into an 8 minute taster.



Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Twitching with the Next Gen Birder's + Some days in between.

Having being part of the Next Generation Birders since its foundation last year has come with many bonuses, meeting like minded folk of a similar interest from around the country, nearby and also good dose's of banter, humor and information!
In fact, i have been part of it since before its foundation having also been part of the group since it's precursor 'Young Birders' which remained an outside public view group of young birders for its duration.

Back in early December, i received a message from two of the members of the group who were going up for the drake Baikal Teal near Southport and wondered if i wanted to join them. After a little planning i agreed, as the bird looked a good candidate for a wild bird.

So at an early hour in the morning, the 3 of us, Sean from Portland (our driver) and Espen from Hereford set the sat-nav for Marshside!

A few hours later, we found ourselves scanning thousands of Wigeon and Teal moving up the 'coast road' adjacent to the estuary looking over towards Blackpool tower. Pink-Footed Goose were flying around and calling everywhere, but our main focus was admittedly on the ducks. We located a since drake Pintail on the saltmarsh side of the road but our main target eluded us and negative news was emerging.

Oh no!

We walked a fair distance along the road until we saw the twitch on the seawall. From here there was lots of activity, hundreds of Golden Plover, Lapwing, Wigeon and Teal, with smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and a single male Ruff.
In the distance i picked up a GREAT-WHITE EGRET, but when i say distant, i mean distant, but its yellow bill made it stand out quite well.

The crowd on the sea wall was becoming restless. Only 1 person had claimed the bird and that was a lot earlier. At this point it was somewhat surprising to see my two recent stalkers, Martyn (Now back into the Blogging scene) and Kay who had apparently 'missed' their turning for Cannock Chase and  turned up at Southport! Bit of an overshoot there!

Having been battered by rather heavy winds for only around 10 minutes, Martyn came up to me and proclaimed it had just been pagered as being seen on Marshside, where we had just walked from!
A mass exodus occurred as the scrum walked, jogged and ran back to Marshside.

A seemingly long walk had us arriving at as relatively small gathering of Twitchers scanning a flock of Wigeon (One of the flocks that were too distant from our earlier point of view) and were quickly guided onto the bird, which proved a little difficult to pick up at first glance, but soon, everyone settled down to enjoy this stunning Siberian duck.

No doubt absolutely shattered from its long flight, the bird spent all but around 20 seconds of the time we were watching it asleep. Drake BAIKAL TEAL must surely be one of the best looking of the worlds wildfowl, with that stunning black, green and yellow  head pattern and those stunning drooping orange back feathers.

After our fill, we bode farewell, but it would have been a shame to have not gotten a crowd shot, so we did.

A true failure of a twitch down to Severn Beach, the Desert Wheatear had left overnight, and a distant, flying silhouetted, no calling view of 3 Finches flying from the Saltmarsh were about as close as we got to the Twites, but there is no way i would claim them on that sort of view. A pair of Stonechats were about the only things about.

News of a GREAT-GREY SHRIKE emerged from Hopwood, and we duly headed over there, to get distant views of it perched in the field behind the first field from the road. Not at all good views, but my first in county Shrike so worth the effort for one of these wintertime specialties.
From here we did the roost at Bartley, which was very quiet, with no rare gulls despite a fairly large roost. The 2 long staying SCAUP (1W Drk + Fem) were compensation though for the freezing fingers and the dog crap on my Converse.

The next day we, (that being a selection of the Next Gen Birders) had planned to head up to the Mynd, but having returned from my birding foray the previous day the day plan changed somewhat! 
Yorkshire was the destination. Why? One of the very elite of Gulls. One of that band of 'ultra' Gulls which stand head and shoulders above the rest. Most of which live in the far north.

A band of Gull's so sexy that only the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis rival them. Yes folks! Really. That good!

So, having being picked up by James and Espen we headed over to the home of Matt, the voted chairman of  the NGB's and then set on our way to Patrington!

A big set back on the way up followed, when news came though that the bird WAS NOT present....

Errm, really not good!

However we failed to let our driver know in fear of turning back so we plowed on Patrington bound!

Just before Humber came into view a quick check of RBA revealed the bird to have been found somewhere near Spurn Point, no doubt feeding on one of the many Seal carcasses that would have been washed ashore following the Tidal Surge that destroyed the Eastern coastline.

Soon after it flew off westwards and arrived for the waiting crowds at Patrington.
We were soon parked and the walking began.

 Walking out to the water building and then overlooking the Humber we were led onto a bright white IVORY GULL sitting on the rocks! Awesome! Sadly, with the freezing and strong winds we struggled to see much more than just a completely white Gull as it sat preening on the rocks.

I must say though, i became distracted by the many thousands of waders that were present out on the mudflats! Being bad at estimating numbers i generally underestimate, so 100 Oystercatcher, 50 Grey Plover, 1000 Golden Plover, 1000 Knot, 1000 Dunlin, 300 Redshank, 40 Bar-Tailed Godwit and single figure numbers of Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Black-Tailed Godwit represent absolute minimums among a decent number of Lapwings!

Despite the IVORY GULL being stubborn, the crowd refused to  leave, and once everyone had passed the threshold of freezing (like the point when you would be seriously be considering a trip to the hospital for treatment of Hypothermia or missing body parts!) most took shelter behind the buildings.

It took a long time, but when it did everything came clear, and the IVORY GULL flew towards us, and the crowd fell silent. The bird just seemed to hang in the air above us for an age, seemingly in no rush to do anything. It teased us to a few low flypasts, but refused to land until the 4th circuit.

But when it did, it was straight onto a nice piece of rotting Mackerel.


After around 10 minutes feeding, and not doubt stinking of rotting fish, the Ivory Gull decided to reinstate its sexy status, and after a good drink, Off it flew back out to preen and wash on the Estuary. 

(Nearly done now folks, stick with it a little longer)

I dropped into Eyemore in an attempt to find a rare Worcestershire Crossbill, which failed quite miserably, with not even a Common Crossbill seen. So it was down onto Trimpley, where 12 Mandarin, 8 Goosander, 8 Tufted Duck and a Peregrine flew over.

Despite my failure the previous day, i quickly found the 3 TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL'S around Postemplain, which were calling occasionally and were seen in flight, but proving very elusive!

The Common Crossbills in the area though were showing well!

The last day of the year was taken up with a twitch for the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll on the other side of Stourport. Sadly, i arrived about 30 Minutes to late, and following a 6 hour search i didn't see it. 5 MEALY REDPOLL were nice compensation, particularly a strikingly pale bird! Around 50 Lesser Redpoll were around, and a Yellowhammer and a Brambling were also seen.

And that was it folks! The end of 2013!

Next post will be my summary of 2013, so it will be a few days before it will be completed!