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.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Busy Times

A super busy few weeks have involved plenty of birds both on patch, at work and further afield. Working in Scotland has produced the odd opportunity to sneak away and see some of the charismatic birds of the area and I have had the fortune to bump into some of them whilst working too. Mammals have also been significant in their presence and aside from the Monarch of the Glen I managed a couple of lifers. I completed my UK deer collection with some smart Sika Deer after some indecision on animals in the south west seen at distance. The penultimate addition to my UK mustelids was a stonking Pine Martin shuffling along a forest track at 4.30am. I dont know who had the bigger shock!

Terrible quality due to keeping my distance. Its a Red-throat ;-)
A day trip across Wester Ross and into Sutherland didnt produce a heap of sightings as hoped but was amazing with the mountain An Teallach proving a definite highlight as was a sky dancing Hen Harrier. Up at Findhorn we managed to see a couple of super distant Golden Eagles which were pretty rocking. Various other locales have variously produced Black Grouse, Black-throated and Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Capercaillie with several types of Crossbill encountered.

My commutes to and from Scotland have been punctuated with a handful of decent birds with a Lesser Yellowlegs at Beadnell last week and Wood Sandpiper, Spoonbill and Garganey yesterday in Druridge Bay.

On patch it hasnt been quite as successful but I have managed to get the ball rolling quicker at Barmston with 92 species now and 103 points for Patchwork Challenge. Mostly it has been the expected migrants but some of the scarcer passage stuff has been pleasant. A trio of Whimbrels early morning were brilliant, especially as they were proceded by a Little Owl, a patch tick. The flood by the sewage outfall occasionally gets waders and this months triple bill of Common Sandpipers and a breeding plumaged Dunlin were great. Terns returned with fifty-odd Sandwich Terns and 3 Common Terns foraged offshore. After last months Gadwall setting up on patch, a couple of pairs of Tufted Ducks were on the drain with one pair hanging on and looking interested. An immature Mute Swan probably hadnt come far but was a welcome addition on a flood after torrential rain last weekend. Passerines were in relatively short supply with no groppers or ouzels for me but I finally added Rock Pipit and a cracking Greenland Wheatear.

We have also started the CES season of ringing at Tophill Low with several Lesser Whitethroats. Check out the ringing blog for write up

Friday, 25 April 2014


I recently hosted those birding icons of badinage and repartee, the Dove Steppers. Robert Yaxley and Jonny Rankin made a lasting impression on my eldest who wants to know why people kill doves when they mean peace. My answer? I don't know. That makes me sad - I can't answer my four year old daughter as to why the world is cruel. What can we do she asks? I donated to Dove Step but I felt it wasn't enough and now I know why. Because of hunting. Spring migration hunting. Illegal hunting. Persecution of protected species. It makes my stomach churn.

Tonight like many others I took part in the twitter storm instigated by Chris Packham and I urged people to write to their MEP. And write to the environment minister in Malta. I have done the first and I will so the second. I love bird watching, birding, bird spotting, birdwatching. Who cares about the label? I love it but more than that I love birds and the only way I can think to support those that take part in the Birdlife Malta camps without being there is through the legal process. Malta is a signatory to the EU birds directive and as an EU citizen I can ask my MEP to ensure that Malta honours it's legal responsibilities. I have done so through which did the hard work. I just needed to know my own address and to write the letter. I asked for two things:- an end to illegal hunting on Malta.
                                                                                                             - an end to legal spring hunting which is against the EU birds directive.

We shall see where this leads but Chris Packham has proved the perfect magnet to facilitate change, we can make a difference. The twitter storm managed to trend nationally and provoke international interest. Not too bad. Now we need to follow it through. Talk is cheap. Watch these videos

And email this chap 

You know it makes sense. So does my daughter.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Im on a week off and in that time with the addition of a day the previous weekend I have managed to add 17 patch ticks. Not gone mental at all and currently sitting on 76 species and 85 points (I think). Such luminaries as Moorhen and Greylag are now gracing the list and no less than three new patch ticks were acquired. The best of the three was undoubtedly a pair of Gadwall  which at present seem set on breeding in one of the ditches. A fly past Canada Goose was enough for me... May I see one of those each and every year but no more.

Gank. Honk.
There seem to be a few more of these guys breeding on patch this year.
The now very bleached Kumlien's Gull went past earlier in the month
The first migrants are in and a Sedge Warbler singing from a bush abutting the caravan park was probably the best so far. Nothing too crazy but House Martin also added yesterday. On the sea and a few Fulmars passing close inshore drew a Gannet along the shoreline. Usually the year tick is a spot on the horizon. Curlew and Golden Plover are both migrants on the patch so getting them both was a fillip.

Away from the patchwork and it has been upland forests including plenty of Schedule 1 action. I had an Osprey on the 1st April and several Goshawks which are always good. Locations obviously arent even going to be referred to due to work/their sensitivity etc. Not sure you can garner much from the sky here though:

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Craggy Island

Ok so Flamborough is more a headland than an island but it has held a Crag Martin for the last couple of days and Im generally an irritable drunk like Father Jack. After it reappeared yesterday me and the girls sped the short distance up the road to connect. Despite a slightly sweary Garry Bagnell effing and jeffing in front of my kids when the bird shifted from Thornwick to North Landing it was certainly a pleasant twitch with the bird showing to a couple of feet in front of the assembled throng of familiar faces. Crag Martin isnt a bird I would risk travelling far for as I have seen too many to recount in Spain but they are smart, sassy little buggers despite their dull hues and this one was no exception, feeding within a couple of feet of the watching birders. Cracker

This morning also saw my first trip to Barmston this month. I have permission to visit every weekend now until the end of spring. Which is awesome...the issues with being a parent! A massive nine year ticks were found, all one pointers alas but enjoyable none the less. Driving in a couple of singing Song Thrushes were a late addition to the yearlist. I heard many through the visit. As soon as I arrived at the cliff top it was obvious the Sand Martins were back with about 40 birds buzzing about in 6c. A quick check of the sea saw my first Shelduck since my debut visit to Barmston in 2008 resting amongst the Common Gulls.

Down the beach a couple of Grey Plovers were moving through. Weirdly the usual throng of Sanderlings was absent but passing Curlew and Golden Plover more than made up for it. Curlew occur occasionally in spring but dont really use the beach and Golden Plover are pretty scarce with only a single record last year. Amongst the gulls were a few returning Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  These breed in Bridlington a few miles up the coast.

After my jaunt along the beach I decided to have a quick check of the woods and low and behold the first warblers had returned. A Willow Warbler flitting along a fence was looking very much like a migrant but the singing Chiffchaffs and Blackcap were certainly staking claim to their territories. The chiffs were actually a patch tick. Number 132...

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive