Friday, 20 March 2015


So yeah everyone is bored of the eclipse cos all they saw was cloud. I didn't! I was out on patch early and whilst birdless it did throw up good views of the partial eclipse. Here are my best efforts:

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Snow Goose. Ahem.

I was back working on Teesside a mere stones throw from Saltholme where I have been grabbing my lunch. As such it would have been rude not to have cast an eye over this GENUINE ARCTIC VAGRANT. I hadnt seen Snow Goose until now and whilst not the best credentials I dont really give a monkeys about this species and it was with an obvious carrier species. Well if your in the states that is.

I am wild. Fuming.

I also found the Surf Scoter photos from Filey. They were not good.

From the back

From the side. But mostly from the brigg.
I also found a Black Redstart at South Landing whilst rock pooling with the kids. Wicked!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

An Interesting Skylark

Yesterday whilst working in Somerset on the River Parrett near Pawlett, I noticed two larks routing around in the tideline debris after a series of high tides. One of these birds was a 'normal' Skylark whilst the other bird was extremely pale. I was about 15 yards away and saw the birds naked eye and my first thought was Short-toed Lark as it appeared to be so sandy. Upon getting the scope on the bird it soon became apparent that the bird was an Alauda lark but markedly paler than a standard Skylark. At the time I knew nothing about other forms of Skylark but had a hunch this would perhaps be a middle eastern or Russian bird and managed to grab a couple of iphone scoped photos which are included below.

There were no brown tones in the fringes to the feathers giving it a much paler look and the primary projection appears very short. I posted these images on twitter and Martin Garner came back with:

So I quickly headed off to look at the relevant Lees and Ball (2011) paper in BB which describes a grey Skylark from Lincolnshire in 1988 which seemingly didnt fit dulcivox. I had a look at this and the Shirihai (1986) Oriental Skylark Paper. The latter was of interest due to the very short primary projection of the bird in question and this being a feature of Oriental Skylark.

Upon reading the RIACT statement and the Lees and Ball paper it became apparent that the primary difference between the various subspecies is the concentration of melanin in the feathers and thus a bird with paler feathers could be an aberrant bird rather than a vagrant from further east. Without trapping the bird and getting some DNA or isotope based fun it would seem it cant really be progressed anywhere.

Then Peter Stronach forwarded me his picture of the Whalsay bird from 2007 which was put forward as a potential dulcivox. The picture reminds me of how I initially saw the bird with the normal Skylark. I kicked myself for not getting both in the frame.

Whalsay Skylark, 5th October 2007 (Peter Stronach).
So what to make of it? In old money it seems to fit Alauda arvensis dulcivox for plumage but it could in theory be a pale standard Skylark with a deficiency of melanin. My gut feeling is it is from further east than Bridgwater. I didnt hear anything other than standard Skylark calls which would seem to point against it being Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula but I cant really work out why it had such a short primary projection. Overall a very interesting bird and one I have learnt plenty from without really resolving much. Any thoughts on its possible identity or point of origin would be gladly received. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Lunchtime diversion

So I was working on Teesside yesterday and seeing precisely FA when I heard the GW Teal had relocated to Dorman's Pool. A 9 minute twitch was fully successful as it swam across the back of the pool with a trio of standard flavour birds. Then back to work...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Patchwork Mayhem

I have been somewhat under the cosh in my spare time setting up the 2015 edition of Patchwork Challenge. This has eaten into my evenings, weekends and even sleep. We seem to be nearly there and with nearly 500 entrants and 300 with scores submitted it marks a massive expansion. Additionally I have been doing fieldwork all over the north with this Mountain Hare and a Viking Gull on various surveys.

Despite these exciting times I have managed a little birding with Red-necked Grebe at Barmston the highlight. On that same morning I had about 10,000 auks south - it was super busy! This was last Friday before I started work now I am able to work from home occasionally. On the Saturday I managed to connect with the Black-bellied Dipper at Harpham, a mere 2 miles from home. And so did Abby! My youngest accompanied me as we wandered along Kelk beck watching it and an accompanying Grey Wagtail.

On the Sunday we were messing about in Filey in the afternoon and as recompense I was allowed to get a quick view of the Surf Scoter that was hugging the Brigg. Sadly I was on top of Carr Naze...

Today after some dawn work we tried for the geese at Widdrington but I failed to connect with the Ross's/Barnacle or Tundra Beans. We did manage a walk at St Mary's which added Wigeon, Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling  and a few other odds and sods taking me to 45 species and 50 points there. A quick sojorn to Rising Sun failed to add any owls but I managed to pick up a Mediterranean Gull on Swallow Pond.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Patch Diver and some Devonian Stuff

I'm currently residing in Somerset for the next few days so I'm catching up on the blog. Not a huge amount to report. I managed a midweek visit to Barmston on Thursday and added a few species including Dark-bellied Brent, Shelduck and Common Scoter. Better than that the Great Northern Diver was still present and a second bird was off Ulrome. Plenty of Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes were offshore but not a huge amount more. Nice to be back.

Today after work we visited south Devon with a flying visit to Dart's Farm where neither the Penduline Tits or Black Brant were present. Moving swiftly on to Broadsands we connected with several NGB members and at least three Cirl Buntings including this rather smart male. Offshore there were four species of grebe with single Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes along with a brace of Slavonian Grebes and a couple of dozen Great Crested Grebes. Pretty decent! Now back in Cannington - maybe burgle a few birds from Rog...

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


I managed a couple of days at Barmston on the 2nd and 3rd January hoping to refind the Little Bustard and also to get my 2015 Patchwork Challenge off the ground. As you can probably guess there was to be no Bustard but there were plenty of decent birds including a few I hadnt managed to connect with in 2014 or infact before at Barmston.

A bit of seawatching produced the usual handful of Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes. Nothing too crazy and not a lot moving so I tried to add some waders with Sanderling, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover falling quickly. The first bonus was a Purple Sandpiper on the beach with the Sanderling. I failed to register any here in 2014 so it was a good solid two pointer to get under the belt. I turned round to watch the bustard dippers for a minute and noticed a blue-grey lump in the field between the bustard and my patch boundary - Peregrine and another species I didnt manage to record last year. A further 30 yards behind the dunes on the field edge and a small flock of Twite twittered around my feet. These were so tame it was untrue.

Further up the drain was a mixed flock of finches and buntings which held the first Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and at least half a dozen Corn Buntings in what is a stronghold of this rapidly declining species. The final surprise from the 2nd was a female Bullfinch on a feeder in the caravan park. With the weather as it had been I was looking for potential northern birds but this one was bog standard sized with a grey wingbar and went 'peu'. An absolute mega and a full patch tick.

The following day also saw time at both Barmston and Ulrome. Initially it was pretty quiet and I was a little disappointed but then I started picking Red-throated Divers congregating over a kilometer offshore. As I was watching these I picked up my first scoters of the year but these ones showed gleaming white secondaries. Velvet Scoter was another patch tick albeit not unexpected and a distant delight with a male and female heading south before ditching off Ulrome. After the blank 2014 for them both Peregrine and Purple Sandpiper put in their second appearances of 2015 in just two visits. The former was a different bird to the previous day as it was a 1w male (the other was adult but tricky to sex sat in a crop).

A few auks popped up inshore and after much scanning I had both Razorbill and Guillemot in the bag. Whilst scanning through these and the myriad of Great Crested Grebes a large diver popped up not far from the shore - an adult Great Northern Diver still not fully moulted. There was plenty of patch list padding going on but things quietened down after this so I went home delighted with my 2 patch ticks and a PWC tick plus 56 species and 64 points with plenty of easy stuff still to go. Ps I saw a fox today...

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive