Saturday, 16 August 2014


Last week I was working in Somerset which is again set to be a regular occurrence. I had a little downtime and managed a couple of visits to Ham Wall/Shapwick and also my first visits to Blagdon and Chew Valley Lake.

As per usual Great White Egrets were in abundance at Ham Wall with several seen. Estimates of numbers are tough as the most I have seen simultaneously is 5 but I would be surprised if the true number wasn't in the teens. No bitterns but a Hobby over Noah's Lake was pretty decent. No sooner had I told a colleague that the conditions looked perfect for a Black Tern then one appeared, a juvenile which seems to have stuck about. 

A Lesser Scaup was at Blagdon as was a male Ruddy Duck. The Lesser Scaup was in almost identical plumage to the surrounding Tufted Ducks aside from some grey scaps just moulting in and a chestnut sheen to the breast. The small nail and half wing bar confirmed it's ID but very subtle. The Ruddy Duck was my first for 4 years and testament to the success of the cull. A very smart duck but undoubtedly a threat to White-headed Ducks.

One surprise was a handful of Clouded Yellows flying over the meadow from where the Lesser Scaup was watched. Aside from a Greek one a couple of weeks ago these were the first I had seen since one at Flamborough when the first Brown Flycatcher was there.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


Whilst on Thassos I noticed plenty of non-avian delights including a few butterflies. I have a passing interest in this sort of thing at home and so took a few shots. There were a handful of Swallowtails knocking about and a large white type was regular in the gardens. On the flowers were two main species - Long-tailed Blue and Grecian Copper. The other species that I noted around and about was Clouded Yellow. Here are a couple of shots of the Long-tailed Blues and Grecian Coppers.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Bird Fair 2014

The Bird Fair cometh and I rather unbeliveably am working there on the Sunday as part of the Patchwork Challenge team based on Forest Optics stall. I will be there to talk all things PWC and hopefully meet some of the contestants from this season and encourage others to take part. I will also be having a go with some of the optics on display and having a general mooch. If you fancy it come and say hello and if you are interested in taking part in 2015 then let us know and we can fill you in about the competition.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


I spent the second half of July on the rather lovely Greek island of Thassos. Not an obvious birding destination due to a lack of standing water but the extensive rainfall off-season combined with marble and chalk bedrocks leads to plenty of ground water and a wastefulness that has to be seen to be believed. This all leads to plentiful habitat with olive groves at low levels leading into deciduous and pine forest further up. Access to the higher elevations is tricky due to a lack of paved roads and I only managed to get to 800m asl. There wasnt a lot of diversity of passerines with Spotted Flycatcher, House Sparrow and Great Tit the standards. A few decent bits and pieces were encountered and I managed a couple of lifers which is always a bonus.

We flew into Kavala on the mainland and the short trip to the ferry at Kirimoti took only 20 minutes. There were a handful of White Storks seen on the way through with some nesting on rooftops. The first Red-rumped Swallows were feeding over the Nestos delta. At the ferry port a few Little Egrets were seen amongst the plethora of Yellow-legged Gulls. The journey across was quiet as was the transfer to Skala Rahoni.

The first afternoon I went for a quick walk up toward Rahoni. This was equally quiet but a Honey Buzzard decided to liven things up when it showed for an extended period.

The following morning an early walk turned up Hoopoe, Icterine Warbler and Blue Tit. Further afield a Nightingale briefly sang and then there were Red-backed Shrikes everywhere. A flat Eastern Montpellier Snake on the road pointed that there were some in the locale and a large example snuck away into a brush pile. Some raptors on the other side of the valley to the Honey Buzzard turned out to be Common Buzzards despite my best stringing efforts.

A boat trip gave me my first lifer of the trip as an Eleanora's Falcon hunted over the sea cliffs was the first of several during the trip. Three Avocets were seen in flight heading towards Turkey from Panagea island off the south coast.

We went up to Panagea after a visit to the beach between there and Thassos town. A raptor was high above the town and about 40 Raven soared over a ridge. A Hobby was hunting hirundines and swifts with the first Pallid and Alpine Swifts seen.

Further exploration around the hotel later in the holiday turned up Goshawk being mobbed by two Hobbys. Another Honey Buzzard was on territory near Rahoni. Eleanora's Falcon's were seen almost daily over the hotel including two hunting hirundines one evening which were mobbed by the Hobbys nesting up the valley. A small group of Bee-eaters flew over the hotel on an afternoon and were the only sighting of this cracking species. I heard Sardinian Warbler on a number of occasions but views were usually of the back end heading into a bush.

On the final Friday there was a torrential rain storm and this led to a few interesting sightings including a number of Scopoli's Shearwaters offshore plus a few Green Toads and a Balkan Pond Turtle. The second lifer of the trip was a Black Woodpecker which flew across the road whilst we were in the forest en route to Golden Beach.

The return journey across to Kirimoti turned up a few Mediterranean Gulls, an Audouin's Gull and a couple of Black-headed Gulls. Shags were frequently seen on the sea.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

St Mary's Island Seawatching

After getting up at a mind-boggling 2.15am I finished work at just gone nine so I ambled from the moors to the coast. It was warm and there were light South-westerlies. Not exactly ideal seawatching conditions. Fortunately the heat haze didnt get too bad but it made me jib the only skua of the day up near Blyth. As passage was slow to non-existant I did an obs style count of most stuff except the large gulls, Gannets and Kittiwakes. This mostly comprised of Sandwich Terns tbh. Concentrating on the terns meant I picked up todays stars - an adult and juvenile Roseate Tern which passed over the rocks just in front of me. The same birds were then seen nearly four hours later going past Hartlepool Headland.

Common Tern
Aside from the terns I added a further three patch year ticks with both Peregrine and Heron coming in off with the former attacking the only flock of Common Scoter of the day albeit half heartedly. The final patch year tick was a Red-throated Diver south close in. A good few Cormorants went north and there was a light passage of Swifts south offshore. A family of Common Terns fed around the island for much of the watch but failed to mask a small movement of this species later on. I finished up at half one absolutely shattered.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A Quiet June

I hit up Barmston for the first time in an age yesterday as a lack of avian interest and the fact that summer distractions were abounding. Despite this I made my way down there yesterday and what a decision that was! Bridlington Bay was full of seabirds with hundreds of Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots and Kittiwakes feeding close inshore. I couldn't winkle out a Little Gull which I still need but I did find my first Barmston Puffin which was a result. A Bonxie marauding offshore was also a first for the year.

Autumn was very much in evidence as failed breeders were noted in the forms of ducks and Curlew. Offshore there were well over 120 Common Scoter bombing about in various small groups with a small group of Wigeon out there too and these were a patch year tick. A handful of Teal included a two and a five which may relate to the same birds but equally may not... On the land two Curlews landed briefly on the fields to the north of the caravan park and were heard at various points. Another two headed south offshore and 10 headed north along the beach. The amount of crossover? Not sure to be honest. A Grey Wagtail over the rape fields was a first for the year and a huge kettle of gulls contained a couple of Sparrowhawks and 3 Kestrels and finally my first patch Buzzard for 2014. This barrage of patch ticks takes me onto 99 species. Can I get the ton today?

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Bee-eaters and back to St Mary's

So I had been out on a dawn survey in the middle of nowhere. This meant I had to get up at 3.15am. I was wrapped up with work just after 11 and started the trip back to Yorkshire. Realising that breaking the journey in half would stop me sticking the car in a ditch, Yorkshire's northernmost outpost, South Gare, came to mind. I hadnt seen any updates for the day but went on-spec hoping for an Icky or such like. I certainly wasnt aware of anything from the previous day so after 10 minutes when I saw a long-thin banana shape in a tree 800m away I got a funny feeling and took a shot with the SX50... Here is the result.

When I saw this I nearly soiled myself
The colours! The little alarm bell in my head that went off about the shape was confirmed and I legged it up the road bumping into the warden on the way up who told me three had been present the previous evening. Eventually three of them popped out, a pair and a spare with two always close and a third bird which went missing occasionally. I watched them for an hour from about 70m away and got some terrible photos and video. Bee-eater is a UK and Yorkshire tick and takes me on to 347/302 respectively.

I also managed a few trips to St Mary's now that I am based back in Newcastle. Four visits on three days over the last fortnight added 50 species and 57 Patchwork Challenge points. Best bits have been a Goosander south although it had fishing tackle wrapped around its legs sadly, a singing Grasshopper Warbler and best of all a Spotted Flycatcher which was around the scrub and was twitched by a couple of locals. A juvenile Stonechat had presumably not come too far but hadnt been raised on the patch. I also bumped into Jack Bucknall and he gave me some cracking gen which will hopefully yield results.

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive