Thursday, 12 October 2017

A Herd

On Monday after work Neil Rowntree, Pete Clark and myself had a ramble round the Somerset levels. It was mostly the usual stuff with Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret and a few Marsh Harriers the highlights. Try as we might we couldn't winkle out any Bitterns and we ambled back towards the car at Ham Wall RSPB. There was an obvious egret roost on the southern boundary of the reserve and I suggested we scope it for Cattle Egrets. Remarkably all the birds I could make out were Cattle Egrets - about 15. We moved along to the bridge over the drain near the car park for a better angle and tried again. This time we came up with 28 Cattle Egrets, 1 Great White Egret and 1 Little Egret amongst the Cormorants. As the light left, Pete saw the Glossy Ibis fly over towards Shapwick Heath.

20 of the 32 Roosting Cattle Egrets - Ham Wall RSPB 10/10/17
A few emails and messages and it became apparent that this was the highest single count for Somerset. I wasn't convinced that we had done a great job of counting them due to our surprise at finding the roost so we went back the next evening without Pete. A single bird came into roost at about 18:15 and a few minutes later a flock of 27 Cattle Egrets came in. 28 then, perhaps we were correct the first time round. The egrets started to drop out of the trees into lower vegetation out of sight and the light was dropping when four more flew in - 32 Cattle Egrets! The Glossy Ibis then shot over and the light left. By 18:45 it was nearly dark and the only egrets remaining on view were 2 Great Whites and a Little. Time for off then.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Call the Scops

I have been beetling about seeing a few bits and pieces but largely failing to summon the prerequisite levels of enthusiasm to blog about it but thankfully a couple of days ago a blimmin' rare bird managed to chivy me along. The first Scops Owl in North-east England for a century, a British tick and my first sight record since 2005 when I was on Kos. It decided to pitch up just outside Sunderland and conveniently was on the way back to work from a dawn bat survey so I was one of the first on site, arriving an hour after news broke. Along with Northumberland Explorer Neil we first found the bindweed markers on the bush before resolving a small brown owl shape. It wasn't completely asleep and it morphed from a spherical fluff ball to the devil horned menace that is typically seen. Thankfully it was in a pretty secure roost and it showed well for all and sundry for a couple of days. A superb find by Tom Middleton and one that brightened my day.

Not the best picture but you can tell what it is.
At St Mary's Island, a couple of recent visits have revealed four Yellow-browed Warblers and a Reed Warbler but sadly not much else despite plenty of effort.


At Flamborough I have had a little success adding largely expected migrants with Whinchat, Redstart, Redwing, Lesser Redpoll and a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers being seen recently. Seawatching has revealed a Pomarine Skua and lots of Sooty Shearwaters but I managed to virtually miss a Sabine's Gull where I only saw its back end and as such I'm not counting it for PWC. Thankfully my plans to go to Scilly in late October look like they may bear fruit so I am looking forward to some yanks.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Monday Morning

Now being an ornithologist isn't the same as being a birder. Generally the fieldwork is dull and routine and the conditions are normally not ideal and usually you see nothing out of the ordinary. Occasionally though the timing, the conditions and the location all line up and you get something quite spectacular. This morning was one of those days. I am down on the River Parrett in Somerset doing some fieldwork and my routine of counting Shelduck was rudely punctured by the forecast of force 8 westerlies. Normally this causes a feeling of dread as a day of enduring the elements comes to pass but my optimism was piqued by the smattering of seabird records over the last few days in the Irish Sea.

Immediately upon setting up a Manx Shearwater flew past the sea wall on the river. And another. Then I noticed a third being brutalised by a GBBG on Stert Island. Something special was happening - you don't get seabirds in Somerset unless the winds are perfect and these obviously were. Soon there were Manxies zigzagging all over the place as the tide came in and a couple of young Arctic Terns danced over the writhing waters. An adult pale phase Arctic Skua headed up river bothering the ducks as it went. I settled back down to count the moulting birds when something small and black flew through my scope - a Leach's Petrel. I had been keeping my fingers and toes crossed for one and duly it skipped over the surface trying to escape to the Bristol Channel between Stert Point and Island.


Yet more Manxies and news of Bonxies and more Leach's beyond my view flooded in. I picked up a second Leach's up near Burnham and got the pleasure of watching it fight south in the breeze for the next 40 minutes until it too managed to escape. A Ruff, my first of the year, went south along the seawall and a juvenile dark morph Arctic Skua hunted up near Burnham. I received news of 4 Grey Phalaropes along the river which I'd obviously missed and another with 2 Leach's Petrels in Bridgwater Bay. I made so with another dark morph juv skua, this one looked to be a Pom in the brief views I got but they werent really long enough to pin it down as it escaped over the WWT reserve. As the tide receded so did the seabirds but not without a Kittiwake south past my VP and a Guillemot to round things off. A sad and probably moribund Manx Shearwater was still floating about when I left. An amazing day and probably not one that will get repeated anytime soon.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Summer Catch Up

I have generally been a busy boy over the last few months with work and family taking precedence over birding. I have squeezed stuff in such as a jaunt to Somerset which saw me side track to Pendeen and a Great Shearwater and the Devon commons where Dartford Warblers were the point of interest neither species I have seen for a good while (10 years for the shear and 6 for the warblers). Both were fantastic to see again and hopefully they wont take so long to revisit.
One of the more photogenic Dartfords...
 At Flamborough I have made three visits over the last couple of weeks and the highlight was a Greenish Warbler that Peter Williams and myself found. This devil was calling repeatedly from the crown of a sycamore in Old Fall and wouldn't show in windy conditions today. I'd have loved to get a photo but alas no. It was great to catch up with Pete as it had been nearly a year since I last saw him. A Yellow-legged Gull on the seawatch this week and a Balearic Shearwater last week were other highlights.


Prior to going on holiday I managed to see the Caspian Tern and Pacific Golden Plover in the handful of hours I spent in Yorkshire that week. Both species were Yorkshire ticks although I have seen both in Norfolk (weirdly in the same spring on down days from boat work on one project). I also saw Chough in between as I visited the Great Orme for work. A stellar location and one I hope to visit again.


We also celebrated my Mum's 60th birthday and despite a Dad shaped hole in proceedings we all enjoyed the festivities very much. And talking about Dad, I'm doing ok I guess. Not great as I'm prone to a cry and it doesn't take much to set the waterworks off. I miss him immensely and I'm having all the thoughts of nihilism and my own mortality that inevitably follow but then I look at my kids and I strive to continue to make him proud. One of the ways I'm doing that is going to Australia to visit my brother Tom and his family and my new godson Patrick in the new year. Another is finally making a commitment to look after myself better. I'm 35 years old and 3 stone overweight. This can't last or I will follow my father into an early grave. We have reached the end of the summer holidays and I have made a couple of pledges to myself. 1) to lose the weight 2) to stop hobby birding after new year until there is a 13 at the front of the scales and 3) to eat a better diet. This is all pretty tough as I live a somewhat transient lifestyle but prior to my father's illness I had lost a stone and got somewhat derailed by it all subsequently. Wish me luck or the blog may get even quieter in the first quarter.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Korcula, Croatia

This isn't really a trip report. It was hot and hard work to do any nature watching but I did manage to see a few odds and sods including a single bird lifer when an Olive-tree Warbler briefly popped up in the apartment gardens one morning. Mostly it was enjoying the inverts and the odd reptile. The holiday was in two parts. The first week was hot and the second week was extremely hot.

Southern White Admiral
Birdwise it was difficult as there was an extensive pine dominated scrub which was near impenetrable across the island so birding localities were limited. I tried some raptor watching first week with very limited success - two distant buteo sp, a probable Honey Buzzard and a distant Short-toed Eagle. Due to the heat there were very few birds visible during the day aside from Pallid Swifts, Swallows and Yellow-legged Gulls. Presumably most passerines were moulting and hiding from the sun. Red-backed Shrikes were evident in the first week with recently fledged young but presumably the fledging young and increased temps meant that these went to ground when the temperature hit the late 30s and early 40s.

Slightly scruffy Red-backed Shrike
A few warblers were knocking round the apartments and it took a few days to unravel what they were due to the brevity of views and lack of song but it was soon noticeable that a couple of Sardinian Warblers were in residence plus a myriad of Eastern Subalpine Warblers and a single Olive-tree Warbler was seen in the fig tree by the pool. A jaunt along a nearby goat track in the second half of the holiday revealed more subalps and a family of Wood Warblers plus an Icterine Warbler.

Icterine Warbler
On the reptile front it was uneventful although I did have three sightings of Balkan Wall Lizard in the first week. These were incredibly quick so unsurprisingly when it heated up even more they vanished. Turkish Gecko's were a feature throughout with several including adults and juveniles present around the apartment with a juvenile even residing in the kids room from which they took great delight. The final reptile was not as it seemed. A lumbering Hermann's Tortoise was infact a walled in pet although no doubt was a product of the local hillside.

Female Balkan Wall Lizard
Butterflies were present in abundance and my inexperienced euro lep eyes managed to see some decent bits and pieces. I still have a perfusion of unidentified 'blues' but the presence of a fig tree, lavender bushes and a vegetable garden mean't that there were usually a few about. Scarce Swallowtail was usually present in the garden with the occasional visit from your common or garden Swallowtail. A Two-tailed Pacha was seen twice, both fleetingly as it graced us by the pool. Both Red Admiral and Painted Lady were seen on the lavender on occasion. A wall sp. was present in the garden along with a Clouded Yellow and Southern White Admirals were also a constant. Eastern Rock Grayling held a territory by the cars and were common throughout the island. The lavender held Hummingbird Hawkmoth and Small White as well as Small Copper including the distinctive 3rd brood morph. The only blues I have identified so far are Blue Argus and Brown Argus although I think I have a silver-studded type but more work needed. Away from the hotel I also had an Eastern Wood White with its distinctive brown tips to the antennae.

Eastern Wood White


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Honeyz

No not the awful girlband of the mid-nineties but my first Honey Buzzard in a few years at Wykeham. I took Friday in lieu and decided to come home via the North Yorkshire forests. I arrived at 11am just after the pale male had been on view. It was cool and overcast so not ideal for watching for raptors but just 25 minutes after I arrived a dark headed, dark bird showed. It flew directly over the watchpoint and then dropped to just below in height so it was hard to see the underside but from photos I have seen later it seems it was the female bird. It looped back in after heading a few hundred metres east. A brief but excellent sighting. Another two hours failed to reveal any further views.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Blyth's Reed Warbler in Aviemore

Its been quiet on here and with good reason. Birding has taken a back seat to work and this has largely consisted of monitoring breeding Ospreys in the last few weeks. Last week I was working way way up near the Dornoch Firth and en route I got a message suggesting that I take one of my coffee stops in Aviemore, or more precisely in a spot round the back of the Rothiemurcus fish farm in a nettle bed. A singing Blyth's Reed Warbler had been found by an American tourist who wanted confirmation on the ID of his Reed Warbler. Peter Stronach, a local birder, went down and as suspected it wasn't a Reed Warbler at all but the scarcer of the two likely candidates (with Marsh Warbler being the other one). Blyth's Reed Warbler would be a totally new bird for me.

I arrived at 7pm and immediately got tacked at by an unseen acro. This was the boy. An hour later and a few further tacks but no sign as despite the glorious pictures of it singing from perches just before I arrived it was playing hard to get. I was joined by two others who also heard the calls and then it moved from the nettles to the wild raspberry canes. We got into a position and the skulking bugger gave the worst of views as it moved swiftly through the vegetation before moving off . I left with over an hour still to head north, tick in the bag despite the dissatisfying views. On leaving I got a message from Birdguides saying the bird was singing. No time to turn round I moved off somewhat grumpy.

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive