Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The end is nigh!

With only the same number of hours remaining of 2014 as the number of fingers (and thumb!) on your right hand, it may be time to finally reminisce on a year that has simply flew by!
Another post will describe my years tales at a later date, but for now I am just dropping in to wish everyone who has read my blog over the past year a great 2015.
Again, like it has been all year, the blog had ran behind, but more due to the fact that I have so much, and so many birds to talk about it's hard to keep up with the pace. 2014 has been my most 'successful year' of birding so far, absolutely thrashing my personal year list record with thanks to everyone that I have shared the car with on many birding days. Many amazing days were had, a few not so great days, but in general the year has been one of enjoyment. Both the company I have kept and of the hours spent scouting the local patch for migrant Redstarts, scoping the sea for that distant Surf Scoter, or indeed stumbling upon a Penduline Tit in a Norfolk reedbed were immensely enjoyed!
It has been varied and often filled with a variety of emotions, from jubilation, to frustration, from being mesmerised, to completely underwhelmed, as is the way with birding.
So that's it. Another year is over, and I'm not going to see another bird until 2015. I will no doubt be in a non- fit state to write this by the time it goes online, so best get it over with!
All the best everyone! And thankyou! See you in 2015!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Norfolk! Steppe Grey Shrike! (3-5/10/14)

It was with great kindness that I was offered a weekend away in Norfolk by a local birding family and recent birding partners in the start of October, and it was eagerly anticipated!
Following the long drive across over to mid Norfolk, we first stopped at Sculthorpe Moor NR, where a Purple Heron had been residing. However, it was clear very quickly that the bird had not been seen, with gloomy faces all around, and unfortunately, there was very little to make anyone too exited.
A Golden Plover flew over, as did a Fieldfare, but after what felt like a painfully long time on the reserve we decided to leave, knowing our luck would be better tried elsewhere.
So we moved quickly onto Cley Marshes, which improved the day somewhat very quickly. Even from just our first glances at the sea, it was clear that there was significant amounts of Geese moving, with hundreds of Brent Geese flying offshore, flock after flock!
Similarly, Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter were all moving, proving very easily that winter was on its way. 2 drake Eider flew past offshore. which was a long awaited year tick after missing them on every coastal visit this year!
Small numbers of Red-throated Diver had started to appear, with some feeding relatively close in as the tide rose. Also on the upcoming tide, 2 Guillemot drifted past.
Good numbers of ducks and waders kept us entertained as they flew around the marshes, constantly harassed by 4 hunting Marsh Harriers.
One of the spectacles of North Norfolk I had always wanted to experience though was that of the Pink-footed Goose roost. With a few small to medium sized flocks seen flying over during the day, we fancied our luck at Burnham Ovary Marshes, and we were not disappointed.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare, and we quickly located the Black-necked Grebe on the pool next to the seawall, as well as good numbers of waders, which were commuting between the pool and the estuary behind us. A few Snipe probed the reeded edges of the pool, and a Water Rail sauntered across the gap as the sun began to set, and the real show began!

With the light fading, we very quickly noticed large numbers of Little Egret, Grey Heron and particularly Cormorant flying towards Holkham. Eventually, we spotted another of our targets for the weekend, 3 very distant Spoonbill as they dropped into roost with the other birds in the trees. While these birds were flying east, the Marsh Harriers were going the opposite way, and 8 flew west as we stood vigil on this high point.
The Starlings started to murmerate in front of us, and then it began.
And more Geese...
And more..

By nightfall, and estimated 15,000 Pink-footed Geese had dropped in to roost at Holkham, a simply breathtaking spectacle!
Add to this the superb flight views of two Barn Owls, this is why we love Norfolk right?
We were up bright and early the next morning, and our first destination of the day was the superb site of Holme Dunes NNR. The tide was out, but on the turn, so the attention turned to scanning the beach and the sea. Again, large numbers of Brent Geese were moving, as were Wigeon and Teal, but we were treated to a nice range of other species, 3 Eider powered past, as did a female Red-breasted Merganser. It was also a pleasure to see 3 each of Arctic and Sandwich Tern, both moving east along the shoreline, but unfortunately the real targets eluded us. On the water, Red-throated Divers, Great crested Grebes and a good count of 7 Guillemot were bobbing about like corks.
The lack of our targets however was more than made up for by the huge numbers of birds on the beach. Hundreds upon hundreds of waders. Huge spiralling flocks of Knot, with smaller numbers of all the regular seashore species. More than enough to keep us midlanders happy!
We did have a Spotted Redshank and a Whimbrel fly over calling though, and 2 Greenshanks were feeding on the pools. Among the extensive Gull flocks feeding on the wet sand, a single adult Mediterranean Gull added some variety.
Moving away from the sea, our attention turned to migrants, and it was obvious (as we had predicted), with the winds in the wrong direction, and clear conditions, we were not going to be in for a 'migrant fest' this weekend. However a rather dapper Whinchat did its best to keep us entertained, with little bit ands bobs vismigging over.

Following a drive around Choesley, where at least 5 Grey Partridge, 2 Golden Plover and 2 Yellowhammer were found we headed to the mecca that is Titchwell RSPB.
We covered both the pools and the sea, with good numbers of wildfowl being present. The reeds adjacent to the benches was 'alive' with 'Pings', and it didn't take long for its source to appear, and we were treated to some good flight views of at least 5 Bearded Tits. A single Common Tern flew past offshore, as well as the now expected Red-throated Divers. With a rather daunting weather system developing though, we hot footed it back to the car.
As planned, after dumping a lot of rain on Norfolk, and as we had lunch back at the Hostel in Burnham Norton, the clouds broke, and it was a beautiful day once more!
Being just down the road, we moved back to Titchwell RSPB for the high tide and Harrier roost.
As you come to expect with Titchwell, a number of the birds are very habituated to humans.
A Little Egret shown well..

As did a rather smart Bar-tailed Godwit.

Scanning the muddy shorelines led us onto the two Little Stints which we had missed earlier in the day, but as expected, much was repeated from earlier in the day. 3 Common Scoter were seen from the beach, as was 2 Guillemot, but Skuas were still managing to avoid us.
We moved back to the reedbeds, where Bearded Tits were pinging, Cetti's Warblers singing, with both Marsh Harriers and Starlings pursuing in aerial acrobatics as they jostled for roosting spots.
It was a rather stunning sunset also!

With a slight change in wind direction forecast for our final day, we planned our attack strategy, and were again out by dawn....
Sunrise over Burnham Ovary was rather spectacular, with thousands of Geese, Wildfowl and wading birds flying out of their roosts. Pink-feet were calling as we got out the car in still near darkness and a single Barn Owl took its last flight of the night as we walked down the track.
Over 100 Little Egrets flew past us as we stood scanning from the raised viewpoint. 70 Egyptian Geese flew off the pool, where the Black-necked Grebe was still present. The same great variety of waders was present as our last visit as we slowly made our way along the embankment.
A few birds flicked up onto the fencelines as we walked, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats, and eventually we found our first 'migrants' of the day, 2 Wheatear.
A large covey of Grey Partridge were flushed from behind a ridge, which then flew out into the fields opposite where they dropped in and became invisible once more.

We moved out into the dunes to check Gun Hill and the sea. A quick scan along the shoreline revealed the expected waders, and the sea was again rather quiet, other than a passing flock of Sandwich Tern.
Unfortunately, our migrant search came a blank, and the scrub held very little. Moving back towards the car, a party of Bearded Tits was pinging in the still conditions.
Wanting to be that little closer to home, we decided to move onto Titchwell RSPB, where we had heard there had been a bit of movement on the sea with some Whooper Swans and Little Gulls. Moving up the track, we managed to log all the species we did the previous day, including the 2 Little Stint again as we moved up towards the beach. Perched distantly atop the Sueada on Thornham marsh, a Whinchat and a Stonechat perched side by side.
With a large crowd overlooking the sea, I jokingly made a comment about them no doubt having seen multiple Skua's fly past this morning as we walked past, to which a lady replied to her friend "Did you see the Skua's (insert the friends name)".
As you would expect, I took this as somewhat of a joke, but the look on the old couples faces proved otherwise.
They had had a passage of Skuas that morning!!
Having recounted my woeful story about dipping them all weekend, I quickly got a reply saying that someone was watching one on the water now!
Scope set up, and then it flew....
Directly into my scope view! A juvenile Arctic Skua! Ok, not a Pom or a Great as I had hoped, or even a Long tailed as I have dreamt, but it was a Skua!
With a Black Redstart having been reported out at Thornham point, we bode farewell to the large crowd (no doubt missing a bucketload of Skuas going by our luck) and headed out there. Unfortunately I didn't see anything of it, however a couple of the group did. I rejoined the group, but before we went looking for it again, Liz shouted out some rather unexpected news. A possible Steppe Grey Shrike had just been reported near where we had been this morning!
Mega eek!
Decisions were made. At worst it would be a Great Grey, so we went for it, wading through mud, across dunes, jumping down a 15ft cliff where the dunes had been washed away and the long 2km trek back to the car! Some real paramilitary action!
Nobody knew about the Shrike as we walked back to the car, so we mentioned it as we walked briskly past. It was rather fun watching people spinning on their heals and changing course for the car park!
A drive later, and another brisk walk and there it was!
Perched distantly on a hawthorn in the middle of a field, a STEPPE GREY SHRIKE!!
Even from this distance, it was rather obvious. The colour hues to its plumage were off in every respect. It was almost a peachy/ sandy colour! It obviously had more white in the wings, but I just couldn't see the lores due to the distance.
But that didn't matter, as after being ousted from its perch by a Kestrel, the bird repeatedly moved closer to the ever increasing crowd. Until eventually, you were getting simply stunning views!
No denying those pale lores!! 

What a perfect way to end the weekend!
Again, a huge thanks to Rob, Liz and Luke for a great weekend! Some great birding was had! I'm sure one day I'll get to pay you back.
Same time next year?

Monday, 22 December 2014

Virjinxity! Wryneck, YBW and Spoonbills! (21/09/14)

I have never been on one of the RSPB Stourbridge field trips, however, following some encouragement, in late September I joined them as they went to Portland Bill and Lodmoor RSPB.

Following some banter on the coach, we arrived in the bill car park, and as we had picked up some news from twitter we headed straight up the hill to the area where a Wryneck had been found!

Masses upon masses of Hirundines were everywhere, Yellow Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and a single Grey Wagtail flew over south, so there was certainly plenty of vismig! But, having dipped on Wryneck many times in the past, I was keen to get there as soon as possible. I was in so much of a rush that even a Whinchat perched on a fenceline was almost ignored as the crowd appeared on the track opposite us!

It felt like an age to cover the fields to them, but as soon as we did I saw what looked like a Wryneck as it flicked past me and behind a hedge, yet no-one was looking. Surely that wasn't it! 

A quick question later, and having learnt that they hadn't seen it for a while I went to check out the bird I saw. A short walk later, and there, perched atop a hedge, with a backdrop of the English channel was a stunning WRYNECK! I had lost my "Virjinxity"!

Over the next 30 minutes, the views slowly got better and better, and as people left, the bird became more confiding, and eventually, with only a small group of people, the bird landed on the fenceline adjacent to us and started feeding from the track! Although invisible when on the deck, the bird often flew up onto the adjacent fenceline and hedge, giving absolutely amazing views to all present!




I have dipped so many Wryneck in the past, and so to finally catch up with one put a huge smile on my face, and it was with regret I left the bird to look for another scarcity.

It was clear that overnight there had been a 'significant' (at least by my standards) fall of Chiffchaffs around Portland, and in the Observatory garden alone there were at least 80. Counts from the Ob's staff suggested the actual total was closer to 200! In this fall of 'Phyloscs' a Yellow-Browed Warbler had been located, but it was being very elusive in the dense vegetation, which was literally dripping in birds! Chiffchaffs were flycatching everywhere, and these were joined by two birds that are more akin to the behaviour, as two Spotted Flycatcher perched sentinel over the 'alive' garden.

Most people had given up with the YBW when it hadn't shown for a good hour and a half. However I soldiered on, and just as a group of birder rounded the corner from the Ob's car park, an absolutely stunning bright Yellow-Browed Warbler flitted up above the fenceline!

Calling over the crowd, only 1 got onto the bird, before it disappeared back into the bushes, but despite only being on view for around 15 seconds, as always with these delightful leaf warblers, it was well worth the wait!

With the time now running out, I decided on a quick look out to sea, where 3 Mediterranean Gulls were flying about and a Kittiwake flew past. A Yellow-legged Gull landed on a post outside the cafe, but had flew off by the time I had gotten my camera out.

In the old quarry, the Little Owl was showing nicely to the assembled crowd!

Little Owl

Moving onto Lodmoor RSPB, our first notable sighting was when this stunning little thing flicked up next to us:

Clouded Yellow

A Clouded Yellow!
Again, this had become another of my bogeys, and despite having seen them before, they had steadfastly refused to land. But this one was different, and gave us stunningly intimate views as it perched on roadside vegetation! 

Moving onto the pool, 2 Spoonbills were very quickly located (how could you miss them?!) and gave a great performance as they fed constantly in the shallow water! Not something you expect a Spoonbill to be doing.



A small selection of Waders were present, with Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe and Ruff all being present. Walking to the opposite end of the flashes (so I could view the gull flock of course!) I found an early Pintail roosting on the edge of the water. But my mind soon wondered and my reason for walking here was obvious, and I was soon seeing countless Mediterranean Gulls flying into the increasing Gull flock!

All ages were present, and great views were had of all!

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Burton Mere RSPB- The rare Trio! (10/09/14)

September often brings up a a good number of passage waders, so it wasn't a surprise to hear of a good build up of birds at Burton Mere RSPB, a place I have been only once before when I twitched the Buff-bellied Pipit earlier in the year.
A nice trio of scarce birds had been hanging around for some time, and so plans were arranged to head up there.

We had only walked to the visitor centre before our first target was seen, and the Cattle Egret was found as it sat on the islands among the Canada and Greylag Geese! I have only seen this species once in the UK (a flock of 4 near Slimbridge), so it was good to catch up with another!
Cattle Egret
There were a lot of people in the visitor centre though, so it didn't take much of a decision to head over to the IMF hide at the opposite end of the reserve to try to locate both of our next targets.

It is the flash here that has seen a large build up of wading birds, and it is fair to say I was impressed very quickly.

It didn't take long for the rather stunning juvenile Red-necked Phalarope to appear, and given some time, but bird swam closer, eventually feeding just the other side of the small reedbed! With the sun moving in the sky, the light got continually better, and the bird just looked even better!

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope

This also allowed for us to scan around as the birds were no longer in silhouette. By far the most common wader on the flash was Lapwing, with around 200, but it was more quality than quantity, and small numbers of desirable wader species kept appearing.
3 Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Little Stint, 5 Spotted Redshank, 7 Greenshank and 15 Ruff among the more common Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits! A great mixed flock.

The 3rd and final target was soon picked out, and we were watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, and following a slight wait, the bird flew and landed on the island in front of the hide, giving superb views.
With the light now shining onto the birds, you really could see every plumage detail on each of the wader species, which made it all the more enjoyable!

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

The wider reserve also held a Whinchat, a Cetti's Warbler, as well as good numbers of Pintail, Shoveler and Teal among the other common wildfowl. A single Peregrine flew over, doing its very best to flush as many birds as possible!

All in all a very good visit to this reserve, and one I look forward to visiting again in the future!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Temminck's Stint in the home county!


Having dipped Temminck's Stint back in May I was very keen to catch up with the species. Over the past few years it has become a bird that repeatedly eludes me, or arrives on days that I cannot make it. It was great to hear though that a juvenile bird had turned up at Clifton Pits just south of Worcester and continued to grace the site with its presence for some time. Temminck's are particularly unusual in Autumn in the midlands, so it was well received by many and I'm sure most county birders made the pilgrimage to catch up with the Stint.

Luckily, it was still around on the day I had free, so following a thrash of the patch which was relatively quiet other that a fly-through adult Hobby, I headed down to this new location for me.

Just off the A38 the spot was found with ease, and I was soon overlooking the relatively small 'Southern Pit'. Scanning through the wader assembly, consisting of Lapwing, Snipe, Green and Common Sandpipers eventually paid off as a small wader flew out from behind a small spit and landed among the roosting Lapwings. It was the tiny TEMMINCK'S STINT.

Good views were had as it fed along the shoreline. Mike was on an 'dinner break' twitch, but unluckily for him, the bird was flushed by a Sparrowhawk just before he arrived, and following some circling, and some calling (Sounding rather like a Finch!) it flew off NW.

After having met up with Mike, I took him back down to the Southern Pit, but the bird had not returned, and following a brief talk with the site managers, we headed off over towards the main pit on a 'we might not see you' basis, Again though we couldn't relocate it, and Mike had to head off, but as he walked the path I picked up the bird again, feeding in channels unviewable from our previous location, and we got great views from here.

Temminck's Stint
Temminck's Stint

The route back to Stourport went straight past Grimley, and it would have been rude to not drop in. Both Camp Lane and Wagon Wheel pits where checked. 9 Little Egret, singles of Green and Common Sandpiper and a flock of Yellow Wagtails was about the pick of the bunch.

Always a good day when you get a bogey bird in the home county!