Monday, 14 November 2016

Broad-billed Sandpiper- Newport Wetlands

Sometimes, twitching is one of those pasttimes where either things go completely right, or completely wrong, and today was one of those days.
With news of a Broad-billed Sandpiper having been found on the Friday at Goldcliff pools, South Wales, it didn’t take too strenuous a decision as to where to head on a planned day out the next day.
With spring blooming, what better way could a calm morning be spent than standing in a Gloucestershire woodland, with the sound of Nightingales reverberating through the sun dappled vegetation. With one bird singing deep within the vegetation behind us, away from prying eyes, further music to our ears. The Sandpiper had just returned onto Goldcliff for the tide!

Being around 40 minutes away, we were in a good spot.
We drove southwards, pulled up near the entrance track for the pools to be greeted with hoards of smiling faces “Still there, showing well” repeated with reassuring certainty. “Asleep on the islands, it won’t be going anywhere”. It took a mere minute to walk to the platform the bird was showing best from….
All the waders were gone.
“Peregrine literally just flushed them, they flew off towards the estuary…”
And that was that, gone. No sign. Slight compensation was offered with one of the Little Stints crawling around on one of the shingle islands, but at this time, it all seemed a little dire. The tide was still high, but after an hour, it was clear they weren’t coming back. We walked out to the seawall with a vain hope.  After only a few meters, a Short-Eared Owl flew across the path in front of us, very low before suddenly somersaulting towards the floor. Firstly I thought the bird had dropped onto prey, so we changed position to get another view. We moved a couple of meters before the bird came into view, and it was clear something more disastrous had happened. The bird had collided with an electric wire and was lying stunned among the vegetation. A couple of local birders arrived, who contacted the site rangers and vet, who quickly came to check the bird out.
 (After being collected and looked after for a short while, the bird recovered and flew off strongly)
With no sign of a wader flock, and a view of a perched Peregrine looking rather smug with itself, we decided to head for the RSPB reserve. However, we left with a grand plan, till the next tide!
A particular corner of the reserve has previously resulted in good views of Grasshopper Warbler and it didn’t take a long time before our first was heard reeling away. Luckily, the bird was singing from an area of nettles right beside the path, and soon we got our first view. Over the next 5 minutes, a few more brief views were had, until the bird climbed to the top of a nettle bed and started reeling in full view. Crippling!

Good views of ‘gropper’ have been something that has proved difficult for me. So to finally have one showing so well was fairly exciting!
After exploring the site further, finding other reeling Groppers, we moved back down towards Goldcliff pools. We stopped around half way along through to view from a hide overlooking an extensive area of marshland. A Glossy Ibis had been seen on/off here for quite some time, but it often proved elusive, and hadn’t been seen in nearly a week! We tried however and it proved we were in luck. While walking along the field edges towards the hide, a number of migrant Redstarts flicked out, their rusty tails glowing in the sun. In total, we found 4 flicking around this small area, feeding and chasing each other throughout the time in the hide.
After a short time, a dark bird emerged from among the dense vegetation before quickly dropping down, a couple of seconds in the bins was enough to confirm the Glossy Ibis! A couple of further views were had, and soon a number of wannabe Sandpiper twitchers appeared to make the most of the dip. For the next 30 minutes, the bird wandered in and out of the tussocks. Once we had moved back to the car however, we struck lucky, the bird had wandered into view, and was significantly closer!  

With the day now progressing, and the tide soon to be on the rise, we moved back to the Goldcliff Pools. A summer plumaged Spotted Redshank was giving good views among the Redshanks, and a party of Whimbrel flew over. Small flocks of waders were arriving off the estuary, dropping onto the shallow pools in front of us.
The stunned Short-Eared Owl from earlier in the day was now hunting the long grass around the edges of the pools, flying closer and closer until it flew past the screen a mere few meters away.

The bird dropped onto a nearby fencepost, where it scanned for potential prey.

The bird took off soon after, but as it did so, a birder scanning the incoming waders asked for others to get onto this bird…
All scopes changed direction and there it was.
A superb summer plumaged Broad-billed Sandpiper!

That bird that had caused so much pain earlier in the day had just made a group of birders elated! Its striking black and white plumage, its humbug head pattern, its massive bill. Celebrations were shared as we all enjoyed this eastern wader.
The bird waded around with a mixed flock of Dunlin and Redshank, often in far deeper water than the rest of its short legged cousins. This however, meant it was ‘slightly’ closer than the rest of the flock, but it was still fairly distant at the back of the pool. With our target acquired, and having watched it for some time, we decided to head back north towards home.

The early dip perhaps improved the day significantly, without having missing the bird, we perhaps wouldn’t have spent so much time in the area, seeing so many species and having such great views. Sometimes, things do just work out. This time, for the better!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Spring migrants on the patch

With April underway, the amount of time I spend on patch dramatically increases. Sometimes entire days are spent walking the tracks, scanning the hedges and fields to uncover all of the incoming avian delight of summer.
As always, a huge dose of optimism is needed to pull you through, after all, my patch does consist of a river, a number of fields, hedgerows and small blocks of woodland in the middle of the country. Not exactly prime migrant habitat. Despite this, combine a bit of favourable weather and a lot of optimism, and all those hours pay off, and this spring can certainly claim to have been one of my best.
It all kicked off on the 2nd April. Sudden southerly winds have forced an obvious passage of migrants into the country, however I was still resting at home until I picked up a tweet from Rob C saying he had just had an Osprey fly north over Grimley. For those not local to Worcestershire, Grimley is about 10 miles due south of my patch along the river, so in theory, anything seen flying north here would probably end up on my patch. Despite this theory however, nothing ever has, but I still went out regardless, walking to the end of the road, setting up my scope and scanning in a S/SW direction.
Light drizzle made standing motionless seem a little futile, however the determination of a number of Sand Martin flocks to move north despite the weather gave me a boost to keep going. After about 30 minutes however, my hope was starting to dwindle. My quick calculations showed the bird really should have flown over by now. At 10:55am though, while scanning over the church near Arley Kings with my bins, I picked up a large, and very interesting bird. I knew instantly that this was the Osprey, however much lower than I was expecting. The bird dropped below the treeline while I drew my scope in that direction, and a few seconds later it re-emerged.
It was distant, probably nearing 2km however with the scope I could quite easily see the distinctive shape and flight pattern of an Osprey. The bird continued to move north, before starting to circle over Stourport town centre, just over 1km from where I stood. A couple of record shots of this momentous occasion were needed, so the camera was grabbed, and a few photos taken as the bird continued to circle.  It circled out of view behind the Moorhall marsh woodland, and that was that, not to be seen again.
However, having just seen my first ever patch Osprey, I was ecstatic! 

It wasn’t too hard to draw my optimism to get me out on patch the next morning. A patch first always has that effect. Half the walk had been completed and other than a few expected birds, I was struggling to find much. I had just covered Lickhill meadows and was just arriving next to the river when I looked up into the bright blue sky to see 2 birds of prey circling above me. One was one of the local Buzzards, however the 2nd, directly above me immidiatly hit the paic button. Flying less than 100f above me, gleaming white was another Osprey! Litterally frame filling views were had until I decided to try to improve on my record shot of the day before, at which point the bird decided it had had enough of lingering around, and started flying off north, gaining height as it did.

Conidering I have birded this site for 15 years without a hint of an Osprey (although a number of locals have seen them flying over while I have been away from patch) to have 2 birds in two days was ludicrous, and gave a great start to what turned out to be a great spring on patch.
I had been searching for Wheatear as the Osprey flew over, so it was a relief when on the return leg of my walk, a pale ‘blob’ out on a a distant field gave itself up as a male Wheatear. A great start to spring!
For a couple of weeks, activity died down again, however it hit back with a vengeance on the 17th. A bright and sunny day, with light winds, and lots of birds moving. Hirundies and Pipits were flying about, Phylloscs flicking about everywhere. I had just made it out onto Lickhill Meadows before another bonus bird appared, with my first Yellow Wagtail of the year bouncing overhead calling. By the end of this walk, this day proved to be my best ever day on patch for this species. A rattling Lesser Whitethroat gave itself away near the quarry before an obvious, and regular ‘huit’ sound emerged from the ‘Redstart hedge’. It didn’t take long to figure the first Redstart of the year had dropped into the patch. Soon great views were had of the bird sitting in the hedgerow, glowing red, blue and black.

I spent a while watching as the bird sang softly from the hedgerow, flicking down to feed from the floor. It was stopping and waiting which gave me another bonus when a distant, but obviously large Accipiter prove itself to be an immature Goshawk, flying south along the ridge. Over the years, this species has become almost expected on patch at this time of year, with juveniles moving around to find a secluded woodland away from their parents. The bird, as usual, flew straight through, without showing any signs of stopping.
From the air, a number of Yellow Wagtail calls alerted me to a small flock flying over, and from this flock, 3 birds peeled off and dropped down to feed from the paddock inhabited by a pair of horses. Over time, these horses have come to know me, and so regularly approach. This time however, and for the first time in my patch history, a pair of Yellow Wagtails were exploiting the numerous flies around the horses, and so as the horses moved towards me, so did the Wagtails, until the views I had were nothing short of crippling!

With time getting on, I continued down the track towards the old quarry field, now reverted back to pasture. The short grass here, combined with extensive muck spreading had obviously given rise to large numbers of insects, and a quick scan across the field broke another patch record, with a single flock of 5 Wheatear being present on the field. 3 males were looking absolutely superb as they mingled among pipits and Larks in the grass.

My list the end of the day included Goshawk, 11 Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, 5 Wheatear and 2 Lesser Whitethroat. Not bad for a little patch of land in the corner of Worcestershire.

The last patch visit to the moth took place on the 24th, and the pace of earlier in the month continued. I had again reached the Quarry, the favoured area for migrants on patch when I heard the distinctive ‘huit’ call of a Redstart from its namesake hedge and as I walked towards it, I was struck by another bird which flicked up on top of a pile of cut branches. The boldness in the way it perched proved it was a Chat species without need for my bins. However upon raising them, a bold white supercillium and orange throat secured the identification in milliseconds, my very first patch Whinchat! Not very often I manage to find 2 new patch birds within a few weeks of each other.

The bird favoured one of the scrubby paddocks for much of the remainder of the day, despite flying off strongly on a couple of occasions. While waiting for the bird to re-appear, a quick look over the Gull flock in the quarry revealed a very out of place 1st winter/summer Great Black-backed Gull, another scarce bird on the patch! This didn’t hang around long, obviously not enjoying the company of many of its smaller LBBG cousins.
Once again, the hedges and fields were alive with birds, with Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, a pair of Redstart and plenty of Lesser Whitethroats. What more could you want from a few hours on patch!

What a way to conclude a month of birding the patch!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Great Grey Shrike in the Forest of Dean

It turned out that a day journeying to the next county below us in Worcestershire was a good move bird wise. Having seen 2 Penduline Tits during the morning we spent the rest of the say wandering around in the stunning Forest of Dean, looking for a couple of birds in particular. At least 2 Great Grey Shrikes had made the forest their winter home, and one bird in particular had been known to show fairly well on occasions.
With a vague location and a will, we searched, and soon we managed to find out location. Atop one of the scattered dead trees, a familiar white shape sat sentinel. What we had been looking for.

The bird continued to show well as we watched, watching from its high perch before it eventually dropped down to the ground, flying back up with a Mouse almost the size of the bird! With a quick flick of its head, the rodent was dispatched and the bird flew off to cache its food at its larder.

The real Butcher Bird!

In the hour we watched the bird, it then went onto catch a Wren, flying up into a nearby tree to impale it, and then devour it in front of us. An awesome sight and something I have never had the privilege to watch before!

Gloster Penduline Tits!

Having found a female Penduline Tit a couple of autumns previously I was in no real rush to travel across the country to see another. The bird our crew had found though, was a rather dowdy young bird, probably female, so if a male turned up it may tempt me out to see another in the UK.

Generally as a winter visitor to the UK most records relate to bird arriving in singles or small groups in the SE of the country, so it was a shock to find that not one, but 2 male had found themselves flicking about the bullrushes on a flood storage area just outside Gloster! What more can you ask for?

So early on a freezing January day (and I do really mean freezing!), I journeyed down with Rob to check out these stunning visitors. A large crowd had accumulated even before dawn, but due to the birds habit of flying off not too long after dawn, it was no surprise.

A while was spent staring into a seemingly empty patch of bullrushes which the birds frequented until the fingers were feeling numb and then a familiar call started to sound from within the rushes. 'Almost' Reed Bunting like, however not quite, and upon my attention being drawn, soon our targets were sighted and flicking about low down in the dense vegetation.

The sun had still yet to rise, but as it did, the birds became more visible, spending more time moving up the stems. With some patience, and the temperature rising slightly, excellent views were had of these two stunning birds. After 2 hours though, our fingers were about to drop off, and so we decided to head off.

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Hinksford Hoopoe!

The unexpected appearance of a stunning Hoopoe in late November 2015 was certainly a great way to liven up yet another dreary winters day in the midlands.
In fact, I first heard of the bird at around midnight when a post appeared on an unassuming group on Facebook. The poster simply posting a few photos of the Hoopoe they had found at Wall Heath, West Midlands! A couple of messages were sent to a friend who lives a mere few hundred meters from the location and I awaited dawn.
Soon, the bird was located, and I then quickly headed on down to see my first Hoopoe in the UK, a mere few miles from home!

I joined a growing crowd of appreciative observers and the bird preformed admirably, feeding in the short weeds and grasses on the site of the ex-quarry. Most local birders reacted quickly to the news (and rightly so!), however few of us imagined the bird would stay on to spend the entire winter with us, hanging around until well into March. Due to a mild winter, the bird survived well

The bird continued to draw in admirers throughout its stay, and often preformed superbly, although towards the end of its stay the bird could occasionally become elusive as it fed out of view among very dense weeds on the western side of the quarry.

Being only a few miles from home, and me passing through Wall Heath at least twice a week, I dropped in a number of times to admire this very out of place Mediterranean waif.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Red-Footed Falcon at Chatterley Whitfield!

One of the biggest surprises of July 2015 was the appearance of a young Red-Footed Falcon in Staffordshire. The 1st summer male chose a small horse paddock adjacent to an old coilry site, and often gave simply mindblowing views- Often assisted (perhaps wrongly) by provisioned feeding by photographer for better photographs.

The bird was first located while I was away on university fieldwork in the Lake District however when we arrived back, I caught the first train up to Stoke- with my suitcase in tow- to attempt to see the bird. I have only seen one previous RFF in the UK, a stonking full adult at Lakenheath, so I was very hopeful to catch up with this one. Luckily, the Clipsons came to the rescue, and picked me up from the station. A short drive later and we were soon enjoying crippling views of what was a superb Falcon!

As soon as we arrived, the bird was showing well, doing its best to not fall of the overhead wires in the fairly strong winds.

As time went, the bird still resided in its paddock, gradually becoming more and more tame, and then the controversy started. Firstly, two men pulled up in a van and attempted to catch the bird, provoking a response from the Police who suggested the immediate cessation of feeding by photographers. Most duly obliged, but the story of this bird didn't end there.

The bird vacated Staffordshire, and then moved over to Linconshire, where it resided at a small nature reserve for a while, continuing to provide good views to a host of appreciative audiences. The bird departed, and the story seemingly ended...

And then the eventful journey of this amazing falcon came to a catastrophic end, when news emerged that the bird had sadly been found shot in Cambridgeshire soon after it departed Linconshire. This sparked a fully justifiable wall of outrage on many social media sites, and the bird made regional and national news outlets. The bird that had caused so much joy and ended its journey by a seemingly random act of persecution. Funds were raised by conservation companies to aid the identification of the criminals however as yet, there has been no result of this, nor the police investigation. Only time will tell.

A superb bird, which met a fateful end.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Norfolk, 16th-18th October 2015

A weekend in Norfolk with the crew is always a highly anticipated event. The promise of scarce bird species, good company and conversation is always a top draw event.
So with a trip planned months upon months in advance, it was going to be hit or miss as to whether we would have the trip planned to favourable weather conditions. Time passed, plans were made and possible target species identified. And as time grew nearer, and nearer, the weather seemed to get more and more tasty for some migration and with only 2 days to go, it happened. A large fall hit North Norfolk. Score!

The Friday came, and onwards we went. A very early start from our midlands homeland had us finding ourselves pulling into a layby at Beeston Common. An Isabelline Shrike (ssp L. isabellinus isabellinus) had been found at the site a few days previously, and with it being a lifer for everyone in the car, it was perhaps no surprise to head here first. Within a few minutes, we had the Shrike located, flicking around in the densely vegetated hawthorn stands. With its plumage being a mix of sandy and reddish colours, it actually proved to be a very attractive bird. Shrikes are always highly prized birds, and to start off our weekend with a bird of this class certainly boded well.

Very aware that we had arrived at simply the perfect time for migration, itchy feet soon took hold. Firstly by a look around the habitat on Beeston Common for any further migrants (Marsh Tit and hundreds of inbound Thrushes) and later by thinking about our next place to go.
As well as the passerine migrants, we were also away that the weather conditions looked decent for seawatching. With the midlands lacking ‘some sea’ seawatching is a task we don’t manage to achieve often, so while being so close to the known seawatching hotpot of Sherringham it would have been rude not to drop in. In the grand scheme of things, it turned out to be fairly quiet, however we quickly added 7 Common Scoter, 5 Red-Throated Diver, 5 Great Skua, Mediterranean and Little Gull to an ever growing day list. The Skuas in particular were greatly appreciated, with me having had a significant lack of them in the past.
As we sat in a crowded ‘seawatching shelter’ on the promenade, I received a text. ‘Olive Backed Pipit still at Muckleburgh Hill’… On our group chat the night before, I was quoted on saying that it wouldn’t be around by the Friday, and with an afternoon of no reports, it certainly seemed true.
After wiping off some egg from my face, we jumped in the car and headed west. Finding the hill, a new site for all of us, proved hard, but we managed it first try, and quickly made our way up the sandy slope of the hill. With Thrushes still streaming in off the sea we made our way to the top of the hill, where a small clearing had been made among the Bracken. The scrum of twitchers easily giving the site away as where we need to be.
After seemingly an eternity of failing to get onto the bird, which was showing very briefly and often hidden I finally managed to get a brief view of the bird as it picked its head up from the vegetation and stood proud. Olive-backed Pipit. Wow! That face pattern!

Slowly and stealthily the bird crept through the bracken, and as the crowd grew, the bird became continually more and more confiding. After about an hour with the bird, it was creeping around a mere 20ft away. Absolutely crippling views!

With Wells Wood/ Holkham seemingly being the epicentre of the fall, it was no surprise to head here next, and it truly was dripping with birds. Those birds being mostly Goldcrest and winter Thrushes, but we all knew there were some rare birds lurking in there! A Blyths Reed Warbler had been knocking around in the Dell, however after a fair amount of time searching here, this drew a blank. A Short-Eared Owl flew in off the sea and over our heads before we decided to head further into the woods to try and locate some of the other autumn migrants.
My main target, without a shadow, was Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, a species I have dreamed about seeing since I first saw it in a bird book a number of years before.  While I had been searching for the Blythes Reed, the group split and our walkie talkies came in handy when they relayed news they had just seen a Pallas’s about a mile further into the wood. This gave me an extra boost and I walked past the Hume’s YBW crowd for views of a much better bird.
By the time I arrived with my other crew members, the bird had disappeared, but I went about scanning the hordes of Goldcrests in the small areas of sycamore and Oak. It was only a minute or so before out of the leaves flicked a broad yellow supercillium and a broad central crown stripe.
A few views were had as it flicked along the treeline, but then it flew across the track, and into a small line of trees on the marshes side. For the next 15 minutes, the bird performed very well in a small sycamore, often giving binocular filling views! Superb! Dreamy views.
Unfortunately I was too busy swooning over the bird and by the time I had realised I should grab the digiscoping setup, the bird had melted back into the dense vegetation. I again stayed behind for further views but this proved pointless, and I missed views of the Hume’s as a result.
We headed back for further attempts to locate the Blyths however, but this was again hard work, however at least this time we struck lucky as while scanning a passing Tit flock, out flicked another Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, right above the heads of the crowd! This one proceeded to flash its rump shamelessly as it moved across the Silver Birches, before again, melting into the canopy.
As we drove out of the car park at the Well’s Wood end, we stopped on the entrance road, where we had good, but distant views of 2 Great Grey Shrikes, both perched like sentinels waiting for the next passing exhausted migrant. (I imagine Goldcrests were on the agenda).

With the day quickly closing in we wanted to add some waterbirds to our weekend tally, and so therefore it was no hard decision to head to Titchwell RSPB. A quick loop searching for Passerines within the scrub around the centre didn’t produce much, so we headed out onto the marshes.
The expected cast of waders was present on the tidal and saltmarshes, swarms of Golden Plover and winter Duck filled the skies, together with sizable flocks of both Godwit species and Ruffs. A couple of late Avocet were a nice addition as we stood waiting for the roost. Only 2 Marsh Harriers arrived, however the Gull roost developed, and in dropped 3 Yellow-legged Gulls. At last light, a Barn Owl quartered the reedbed, a perfect way to end a superb day 1 of the Norfolk weekend.

17/10/16- Durnham Deapdale- 6:45am.
Wanting to maximise time in the field, the crew was up pre-dawn with the intention of getting into the field by the time it got light. As the first shades of blue emerged, the sound of Pink-Footed Geese built, and soon the sky was filled as they vacated their roost to head to their feeding areas inland.
With the wind coming in at a strong north-easterly, and high tides, we decided a quick shot at seawatching would be worthwhile to ‘test the water’. If things were moving, we would stay.
We arrived on the Cley shingle bank by 7:30, and then settled ourselves in for a shift. There was a fair bit of Duck movement, but our targets were proving elusive, those being the rarer Shearwaters and Skuas. A few Red-Throated Divers were moving back and forth, and a close single Red-Breasted Merganser flew past and along Blakeney Point.
Scanning into the distance, a Shearwater was approaching from the east, low down across the water before wheeling up in a wide loop. This behaviour quickly indicated we were on one of the targets and soon the bird approached its closest point, revealing all dark plumage and long wings, the first Sooty Shearwater of the weekend!
The next hour provided a further 5 Sootys and a number of Great Skuas. A Sooty was tracking west when I removed my eye from the scope, to see a dark seabird approaching close in from the west. Quickly the lighter build of the bird was apparent in comparison to the earlier Greats, however the bird still seemed barrel chested and heavy. Approaching within 100ft of the beach viewpoint, it was clear we had our first Pomarine Skua!
3 of the crew members were further east then us, so a call on the walkie talkie tried to get them onto it, but in return we received a message that they’d just seen a Lapland Bunting. Long story short, a walk out there and a thorough search couldn’t relocate it and they didn’t see the Skua, so with the continuing allure of Well’s Wood, the two members who hadn’t seen the Lap cut our losses.
Following a quick Bap in Wells Harbour, we pulled into a very full car park by 10:30. A Red Flanked Bluetail, found yesterday after we had left was item number 1 on our list, so we quickly hot footed it down there. It didn’t take long for our first view, a ‘Robin shaped bird’ dropping down out of the tangle of bushes followed by a strong flash of blue as it flicked back up.
The crowd here was huge, surprisingly for this increasingly common migrant. The bird moved, and the crowd shifted. I managed a few more brief, obscured views (while most of the crowd, and the rest of the crew managed great views), but after having seen the wintering Avon bird a number of times, I wasn’t going to chase better views of this one.
After this, we didn’t strike lucky with any of the rarities reported within the woods, and with it being 1:30, activity was dropping off on the passerine front, so again, we decided that Titchwell would be a good shout. We were still missing a number of species from our trip list that we could fill in.
Although it was much the same as the day before, with large flocks of ducks and waders, we managed to find a few of our targets. Pochard and Red-crested Pochard were well represented, with 13 and 9 individuals. Good numbers of both. Our main reasoning for missing them the day before being that we didn’t visit their favoured pool.
Beyond the pools, the beach held the expected variety of shoreline waders, with Grey Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit all being represented. As we had walked towards the beach, we had been treated to rather good views of Spotted Redshank. And again on the way back, we connected with the same bird, although this time it was feeding right beside the track with a couple of Black-Tailed Godwits. Phenomenal views!

With the early mornings catching up with us, we decided to take the rest of the evening off, enjoying food and drinks in a nearby pub.
We again were out for dawn, this time with the intention of finding something for ourselves. We had racked our brains the night before about where to head with the best options of finding birds, but being able to avoid the majority of the crowds. Wells, as it had been all weekend, was packed with birders, so if anything was in there, you’d imagine it was found, so where else? Cley? Stiffkey?
We chose Burnham Ovary marshes and dunes. A good variety of species can be found, and indeed we found many. The roadside fields were covered in Geese, pink-Footed, Greylag, Brent and Egyptians. Smaller numbers of ducks and waders were present in the fields. We checked the pool and the estuarine mud after wading through hordes of Goldcrest to the seawall, adding Little Grebe stalking the edges of the reeds.

We walked further, and another Short-Eared Owl flew over our heads as it came in off the sea before dropping into the Sueada on the saltmarsh.  A Greenshank flew past calling among the omnipresent Redshanks and a number of Common Snipe flew out of the vegetation as the tide approached. We reached the dunes, with Reed buntings, Robins and Thrushes all scattering from the bushes but these seemed fairly quiet. (If only we had checked the same area of scrub a little further west- we may have found the Little Bunting seen later in the day at the same site!). A single Wheatear was flicking around We settled on top of the dunes and scoped the sea for a while, and also scanned the roosting wader flock. 18 Common Scoter flew past as well as 3 each of Red-Breasted Merganser and Red-Throated Diver. A Great Crested Grebe- our first of the weekend, sat out on the sea.
A number of Gannets were passing offshore, and sure enough, after a while, a number of Great Skua started moving past. An hours watch produced 15, including a flock of 6 which lumbered offshore before settling on the sea, including some fairly good views. As A Skua lumbered west, a more ‘flappy’ bird further out at sea immediately drew attention. The bird flew nearer and nearer until it revealed itself to be an ‘Eared Owl’. Although we had seen a number of SEO coming ‘in off’ we had not watched one struggling across the waves until this point. Clearly exhausted, the bird tried its best to shake the attention of a party of passing Gulls until it reached land. We had been watching it or about 4 minutes before it finally struck land, flying over the dunes and dropping into the long grass on the marshes.
We walked east, which honestly was all a bit quiet, with only a few hundred winter thrushes, Meadow Pipits and Goldcrest to show for the effort. We walked all the way to the western end of Holkham wood, where a quick scan revealed the Great White Egret was still present, feeding in one of the pools there, although very distant. A number of Raptors were also in the sky here, with 4 Marsh Harrier, 2 Buzzard, Kestrel and Peregrine.

With a long journey home, we walked back to the car, with our plan to find something interesting unfulfilled. A Bunting that if we had walked 30 meters in the opposite direction may have shown itself to us, and a brief probable large Pipit sp seen by one of the crew, which despite further searching couldn’t be refound (A Richards was found in the exact same spot the day after). As we were about to drop over the seawall, a superb Merlin gave a cracking flight view, before perching up on a post on the saltmarsh.
With our weekend drawing to a close, we drove west, with a last ditch stop at Choesley Barns to find a few farmland species. Sadly we couldn’t find any of our targets here, huge coveys of Red-legged but no Grey Partridges and no Corn Buntings. A large mixed wader flock were there to greet us goodbye to end the trip on a cheery note.
Overall an excellent weekend. Considering we had planned the trip months in advance, and not last minute due to weather conditions, we obviously struck lucky. Lots of great birds, great company and lots of birdy chat. What could be better!

To next autumn!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

May 2015- Hudwit!

May 2015
One good  aspect of writing something in hindsight is the fact that it takes somewhat of a greater context. And within the context of the entire year, one of the most stressful birds for me turned out to be the Hudsonian Godwit.  Having turned down a lift on the birds first day (at the end of April), it looked like I had missed my chance when it then disappeared.
I don't usually get annoyed about missing birds, and stress isn't something I usually feel when thinking about them, but with something as striking (and incredibly rare as a Hudsonian Godwit!) something was different about this one.
Fast forward a couple of days.... It was back!!
However with impending university deadlines it would have been stupid for me to 'Just go for it', and another lift was turned down.
It disappears again... Then reappears.. Another lift offer... Again, circumstances stopped the journey south..
But then, with the weekend approaching, and me having pulled metaphorical chunks out of my hair, it was finally time to head down. As we sped south on the early morning of the 2nd, news emerged it was still there! Joy!
However, one of the better things about this bird was the fact of where it was. Present within the Avalon Marshes at the superb Shapwick Heath, you know you are in for some good birding, and that proved incredibly true, with just stepping from the car revealing flypasts of both Great Egret and Bittern. Standard fare here nowadays!

The 'Hudwit' hadn't shown since the original sighting, but a stirring among the Godwit flock below the near bank (out of view) sent the flock into the air, to shouts of 'there it is'.

A second or two later, the flock alighted at the very back of the flash, and among it, the yank Godwit that had caused me so much pain, anguish and stress over the course of the last 7 days. It stayed on view for the remainder of the visit, allowing for close study of this superb looking bird.
However, it was clear that it was all about those underwings, and after tantalising for what seemed like an age, it finally raised its wings, to an audible gasp for the large crowd of onlookers.

A great supporting cast was noted, Great Egrets, Bitterns, Garganey, Hobbys, Marsh Harriers and a singing Grasshopper Warbler. Superb

A rather ambitious plan to twitch a trip of Dotterel fell through while driving back north, so we decided to drop into Slimbridge, where a Little Gull was flitting around the pools and a couple of GCP Cranes were giving stonking views.

Mid month (15th) a plan was hatched to spend the day in Norfolk, always a superb way to spend any time in May, and our usual route was followed. Making our way up from the Brecks up onto the North coast. Our first stop proved good with the expected Stone Curlew and Spotted Flycatcher, but also 3 Firecrests, which gave great views. Not a bird I had seen at this site before so rather unexpected!

The previous year, we stumbled upon a small quarry which held a pair of Turtle Doves, and while driving past again we decided to drop in. And to my amazement, within a few minutes a Turtle Dove started purring! Great, but brief views followed as the birds moved in and out of the gorse. And to think we only stopped to look for Grey Partridge!

Choesley Barns is a regular site for Dotterel in spring, and a large flock had developed and refused to carry on with their migration. With the heat building it made for hard scanning, but with a bit of perseverance, at least 19 were counted in the distance. Certainly not the best views I have had of the species, but a welcomed bird to see at any time.
We had planned to meet up with Gary P, the Biking Birder to have a catch up and we spent the rest of the day birding the site.
Finding the 2 Temminck's Stints were the main priority, and these were located fairly quickly once in the Parrinder hide. Distant, heat haze, not good. 
Luckily, they were showing significantly better later in the day!

Some great birding was had working our way through the masses of expected birds, and it was particularly satisfying to find this ringed Sanderling on the Beach. Apparently ringed in Ghana, Africa!!

A wide array of wader species were present, and a magical encounter with a pair of cooperatively hunting Peregrines culminated in a Redshank using us as a screen to prevent it being caught. The Peregrines weren't too happy and spent a while circling around us at very close range. It was great to watch a variety of Tern species over the sea and the pools, with a number of Littles looking stunning in the sun. Joining them were 4 Little Gulls. The flock of Red-crested Pochard were also giving good views.

Essay hand in date on the 18th and news emerges of a Great Reed Warbler present in Sandwell Valley. A huge shock and another 'I need to get there moment'. Arrived later in the afternoon to hear the bird loudly signing away on the island. I spent a good while trying to get decent views of the bird, with it mostly being fleeting glimpses, however a few rather nice views were had in the end. A 1st for West Midlands county.

The last week of the month 23rd-30th was spent on a family holiday in Pembrokeshire. Little bits of birding here and there revealed a variety of Coastal species, however the highlight of the trip was making it over to Skomer Island again, and admiring the large number of seabirds present, as well as some amazingly confiding Chough!

Back on the mainland, visits were made to Marloes Mere (which was fairly quiet) and the Gann. The tide was at the right stage and a good wader flock was present, with an array of Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone and Dunlin all giving great views as they fed only a matter of 20ft away.

The last day of month saw me again chasing a Black Tern. Another bird had been found at Upton Warren that morning so, having dipped the last couple, a rush was made to get over there, and very glad we did. A stonking summer plumaged bird giving superb views as it lapped the sailing pool!