Friday, 10 November 2017

An Hawfully Good Time

I've just got back from another successful trip to Somerset where I finally managed to bump into some of the erupting Hawfinches. My encounter was in a churchyard in Bloomfield, west of Bridgwater. I had been hoping for an opportunity to arise close by as I had a couple of free afternoons post work and it duly presented itself. Lee and myself arrived to see the two Brians of Somerset birding on site but bereft of birds. Lee picked a big finch dropping down from one of the trees but it was lost until I espied it low down. After some kerfuffle we were all watching it. It moved up higher to a better position to view and was joined by a plethora of Greenfinches, Chaffinches and a couple of Brambling.


A bevy of 'pic pic' contact calls and a further three birds flew up to the Hornbeam after feeding unobtrusively in the Yew near us. The four birds showed nicely but as the sun lowered three moved off leaving just the original bird. Fantastic views and hopefully not the last I see this winter. On the Parrett there was the usual assortment of raptors and waders with some exceptional Peregrine and Merlin aerial combat against Avocets and Starlings respectively. I didn't see a kill despite long dogfights. Amongst the waders I also saw a single Great White Egret which still elicits a thrill when working away from the levels and a Spoonbill. It is the third year in succession that I have seen the latter in the same area which is excellent and hopefully a sign of their upturn in breeding success albeit not nearby.


Today I headed to Flamborough for a brief seawatch and a look at Cattlemere which has been hosting some good stuff on the ploughed field. There was a decent turn-out despite the unfriendly conditions and watching from the sheltered and sunny area to the S of the normal position under the foghorn was reasonably warm. The birds were less thrilling mostly with a few Red-throated Divers doing little for the enthusiasm. A pair of Goosanders south were my second record of the year and as I was about to pack in 5 Whooper Swans came in high. These were a new bird for me at Flamborough so a real bonus.

Incoming!
Moving round to Cattlemere I quickly bumped into five of the six Shore Larks which have been about. They were sharing the field with an assortment of finches and at least 9 Snow Buntings. Photos were tricky as they were all in and out of the furrows so all I have were these of the snobs.



Sunday, 5 November 2017

Scilly Season - St Agnes 23-27th October

Last week I made my first venture to the Isles of Scilly. This birding mecca is logistically a little awkward, expensive and not as good as it once was (apparently). Allied with a wife and children who have no interest in birding and a trip wasn't looking particularly likely until I managed to wangle a few days on St Agnes camping at Troytown. As it turned out the spectacular run of megas Aggie has had ran short as I missed the Cliff Swallow, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and obviously the Yellow-billed Cuckoo which turned its toes up on Friday night.

My tent in the less the sunny scene that greeted my at Troytown
After a late afternoon flit I arrived in Penzance on Sunday close to midnight and attempted to kip in the car on a back street. I failed to get any sleep due to a touch too much caffeine and the fact I am no longer 22. Bleary the next morning I made my maiden trip on the fabled Scillonian III. Thankfully I am a solid sailor with no instances of seasickness as yet so despite the drizzle, the stench of vomit and the 3.5m rollers I watched the Gannets dallying in the lee of the boat with a solitary Bonxie the sole concession to the skua movement off Pendeen whilst making our way across. As we came in a Great Northern Diver lingered off Gugh. After a brief sojorn onto the Garrison I was then off to Aggie and I selected my spot at Troytown.

Little Bunting from Porth Killier
The mizzle persisted but a Firecrest was indication that I really was somewhere less than ordinary. I bumped into Steve Rowe, a regular from Cornwall, who kindly showed me the Little Bunting in dropping light. I picked a Yellow-browed Warbler near lower town and started to get my bearings. Steve and his friend Luke kindly invited me to join them at the Turk's Head for tea and the log where I was introduced to the CHOG members who were on island (Leo, Alan, Roger, Marek et al) and latterly Mike and Kathy Young-Powell. A friendly bunch who were always welcoming and willing to chat on my laps of the island.

One of several skittish Firecrests seen regularly
The Tuesday, my first full day started well with Black Redstart on the beach at Periglis and this was soon joined by a surprise Kingfisher. The known selection of Yellow-brows and Firecrests supported and there was a Reed Warbler at the Post Office and a brace of Willow Warblers opposite including a very brown acredula looking bird. Five Swallows persisted by the parsonage and a trio of Redwing were the vanguard of a movement later in the week.

Reed Warbler at the Post Office
The Wednesday was very much a quieter version of Tuesday although I added Mute Swan as an adult flew over Wingletang Down in the fog. Luke had apparently had the same on the pool first thing. Some genuine Mallards hung around Porth Killier along with a Little Egret and a Greenshank which called in the mist. The Little Bunting and the Yellow-brows remained in the area. I had a couple of Kittiwakes from Horse Point but no sign for me of the Lapland Bunting which was seen by a couple of birders at Beady Pool. News came out of a Long-eared Owl in the fruit cages and I got there to see a boatload of birders across from St Mary's. I got a brief record shot and came back later on when it had all calmed down and had the bird to myself. It was roosting in the open and was perhaps the best views I have had of this species. An attempt to twitch a mobile Hawfinch and Rosefinch double proved fruitless but did add Sparrowhawk and Red-throated Diver which were seen from above the Gugh tombolo. At St Warna's I located a new Yellow-brow and a female Merlin watched over from one of the granite extrusions that litter the island. There was a Yellow Wagtail at Covean and whilst I didn't get views on the deck as it moved about the feeling from other birders was that this was a candidate thunbergi.

Merlin at St Warna's Cove
Thursday was my final full day and it started with a Raven calling over the campsite along with a raptor call which I couldn't place and failed to see. I managed to see Kestrel, Merlin and Sparrowhawk whilst preparing my daily bacon sandwich. Walking round the pool I managed to locate the Sedge Warbler which Marek Walford had found the previous day. I'm not sure I have ever seen one later. A Willow Warbler was messing about near Periglis beach and the usual crew of pipits, wagtails and wheatears was knocking about including a one-footed White Wagtail. Black Redstart numbers had remained steady all week with between 2-4 seen daily depending on effort to wheedle them out by birders but the afternoon provided a fall with at least 10 new birds and perhaps a dozen as an adult male graced Troytown beach. There was a decent finch movement with over 1000 Chaffinches and a handful of Bramblings in evidence. I even managed to refind the Common Rosefinch in flight up near the Pig Pen above the Gugh tombolo. Sadly it didn't put down for me but it was seen later in the day by the ringing team near the tennis courts on the other side of the island. I came across several hundred mixed finches in weedy fields at the end of Barnaby's lane after being attracted by flocks doing fly arounds of Wingletang Down. More Brambling and a dozen Siskin were present amongst the Chaffinches. As the evening drew in Redwings started going over towards France and Spain. Fingers crossed they made it.

Portuguese Man O' War
I was woken by a calling Dunlin amongst the Ringed Plover, my first of the week and Steve heard it too as we readied ourselves. Friday was my final day on the island. It was evident that Redwings had continued all night and there were plenty of birds in the hedges and fields. A single Fieldfare was at the end of Barnaby's Lane but there was no Ouzel for me. A Common Redstart flicked along the hedgerow which was a surprise. I continued with my loops and had a final look in at the parsonage in the vain hope that the Hawfinch which had eluded me all week was there. It wasn't but there were a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and Firecrests to remind me how much fun this week had been.

One-footed White Wagtail
Exiting the island for St Mary's immediately a Dusky Warbler broke at the tennis courts followed by an Olive-backed Pipit. Birds were arriving all the time as they had been throughout the previous 36 hours. Red-breasted Flys were then found on Mary's but I had no time as the Scillonian beckoned. The crossing was quiet with a few Mediterranean Gulls as we entered Penzanze and a distant pod of dolphins off Porthgwarra. I didn't manage to find much or see the big one but I had an amazing time and I will certainly return. Scilly is an amazing place and the birding was outstanding. I managed to walk 120km during the 5 days I was on the island so I put the effort in. Perhaps next time it will pay off. 

Long-eared Owl at the Fruit Cages
Prior to heading to Scilly I managed to score some Patchwork Challenge bonus points when I found a Richard's Pipit at North Landing, Flamborough. I had given up finding much in unfavourable weather on Friday 13th  Oct when a trio of shreep calls came from virtually under my feet. The bird bounded along and alighted in some long grass but by the time I caught up it had vanished. Thankfully the bird was seen well by a number of other birders and has subsequently been joined by a second bird.

Adult male Black Redstart at Troytown

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.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Wykeham Raptoring

On Saturday a couple of work mates joined me in an attempt to catch up with returning Honey Buzzards at Wykeham Forest. Paul and Pete are colleagues and mates and we have been trying to do this for a couple of years. We went for the last weekend in May as its the only one I had free but we were aware we could be a couple of days early but felt it was worth the chance as there had been a strong movement of birds across the UK. We arrived on site at 09:45 and the weather was tropical. Hot and humid with barely a cloud in the sky but the forecast was for humid weather and potentially heavy showers in the afternoon. Ideal raptor weather. 

Active scanning by yours truly (left) and Paul (right). It was HYOT at this point.
Within seconds of arriving there was a male Goshawk over the far ridge. This was soon followed by a plethora of Buzzards, a couple of Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. A further, more distant Goshawk was stretching its wings before a small falcon moved west along the far side of the valley. I casually called it out as a Kes but thankfully my more observant colleagues said it looks weird. Shorter tailed than a Kes and yet with a shorter hand and weaker flight than a Hobby. The bird had a dark back, wings and tail and buffy, orange belly and underwing coverts. It looked hooded with a pale gingery head. It flew slowly west and circled at the head of the valley. When it circled it showed a white face which all three of us picked up and Pete felt it also showed a small, black mask although neither Paul or I noticed this. The white face and hooded look was the most obvious feature and along with the structure and underwing coverts plus the jizz it all added up to a female Red-footed Falcon. Sadly too distant for photos as it flew along the far side of the valley but extended views and 90 minutes after presumably the same bird arrived at Long Nab. Potentially the same bird went south at Spurn mid-afternoon, one of five in a two day period for the site.

We persevered and added a couple of additional Goshawks including an absolute flyweight male that took a little while to decipher as it was so scrawny and small but the jizz was all nazgul. A Red Kite meandered east along the valley after Paul picked it up with Buzzards and was lost to view. We shifted watch point and the rain began, just a light shower but it threw up the small gos again and he gave it the beans as he undertook an aerial pursuit on a feral pigeon. The piebald columbid managed to evade the Goshawks clutches but it was awesome to watch. Continued rain caused a change of plans and we headed back into the forest.

We rolled up at Wykeham Nurseries as I assured my colleagues that this was the place for Turtle Doves. Despite their scepticism (sitka spruce and Turtle Dove?) I assured them that they were in the right place. Just a few minutes of watching Lapwings nesting amongst small spruce saplings confused them enough and then a small dove was espied by Pete feeding in the margins. It allowed reasonable approach and Pete papped it before we moved on. Another bird was feeding in a different field and we got extended views before it flew up into a tree. A superb bird and great news that they are back - fingers crossed for them this year. We decided to have another bash at the watchpoint.

Another Red Kite worked west and was seen intermittently over a 20 minute period when we also saw a couple of Goshawks including a monster female bird. It was obvious that the watch ending deluge wasn't far off when I picked up a distant raptor circling. It moved south-east closing the distance a little and showed a white rump on a brown ground colour. Ringtail harrier. I got the boys on it but it was obvious it wasn't a Hen Harrier. It was incredibly long-winged and long-tailed and just seemed to float. My thoughts narrowed and when it decided to put the hammer down to climb and move east it showed a bounce and lightness plus a very long hand, Montagu's Harrier. It was transitting over the valley like the patrolling birds I'd seen when they were fresh in at El Hondo in Spain and lacked the power of the Pallid Harrier from the winter. Paul had already seen a couple of Pallid's this year, the juvenile female that I saw on the Humber and the adult male holding territory in Bowland plus the female Monty's at Blacktoft and he shared my view on the ID. Pete also felt the bird was incredibly rangy and buoyant. Two rare raptors in one day and despite the lack of Honey Buzzards we were delighted with the outcome. The only way it could have been better was if a Short-toed Eagle flew through (and we got a photo).

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hit and Run


Last weekend the arrival of a female Siberian Stonechat at South Landing spurred me into action and I managed to creep away for a couple of hours to have a look. A quick reference to Martin Garner's invaluable Autumn book from the Challenge series refreshed what the points of interest were, especially as there were initially thoughts (unfounded) of Stejneger's. Thankfully I have also been working on heaths in south Devon and had become acquainted with the white-rumped intergrades into rubicola from hibernans. On arrival it looked to be a pale and a uniformly pale peach rump was shown in flight as well as the upper-tail pattern pointing to a female Siberian rather than Caspian. The bird showed exceptionally well along a series of posts and I got great views although the light was somewhat dull and I made do with some cruddy record shots.


A Swift hawking by Highcliffe Manor was my first on patch this year after seeing a couple in the week around and about. A trip to Thornwick Pools failed to locate much of interest but news of a Wood Warbler at South Landing had me speeding in that direction post haste. I failed to see the bird but I was the only person who wasn't on site as it was found to hear it sing as a couple of penny spins were let go before it melted away. Good enough for a patch year tick anyway...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Some stuff

So the last couple of weeks I have been back at work and based in Devon. This has been pretty successful with some good birds, some good inverts and some good plants. The first week I was working with Pete and we had the fortune to find a Goshawk territory with some incredible views of the birds going about their business. I managed the following snap which doesn't bare comparison with Pete's selection.


Last week was less birdy although I saw the Goshawks again and had Pied Flycatcher briefly but it had its highlights. Monday commenced early for me as I had to head to Devon via Dartford and had to do some Cetti's Warbler monitoring. My first Lesser Whitethroat of the year was present on the Dartford site and I had pretty much finished work by 9am but I then had to haul to 220 miles to Devon. I had a slow amble down with stops at Portland as I hadn't visited the obs before and managed to catch up with my first Whimbrel and Arctic Skua of the year. A jaunt to the Axe estuary was great as I finally laid eyes on this pretty cool piece of Lyme Bay which I had read about in the Backwater Birding thread, then blogs and latterly through PWC and twitter. Not much in the way of birds, just a handful of Whimbrel but a great place to see.

Pearl-borded Fritillary
Work was largely uneventful but I got to see my Uncle Mike and his wife Maureen. It was the first time I had visited their house in Brixham and it was really good to see them in a different context to recently after more than a decade without making the effort. A hearty meal and we were soon talking rubbish! Work continued to be relatively steady but I did my first butterfly survey and despite the less than ideal conditions we had at least 9 Pearl-bordered Fritillarys. I also found some very early Green-winged Orchids which was a new plant for me.

PWC Tick fest


I was granted a couple of hours to go birding this afternoon as news of bird after bird trickled in at Flamborough. My wife could see I was starting to get angsty and sent me on my way. The main cause of my interest was a female Garganey on the outer head. This is a potentially difficult bird and the lack of one in late March, early April meant that I wasn't optimistic that it was a species I would connect with. I managed brief views on Head Farm Pond and saw Andy Hood there. In amongst the cloud of hirundines were a number of House Martins which were also new. A quick stop at roadside flash provided a Green Sandpiper wading in the shallows with a brace of Pheasants.


I knew I had limited time and to make the most of it I headed to Thornwick Pools. I opened the car door to a rattling Lesser Whitethroat which was my first PWC one for 2017. At the pools I could hear a cacophony of several acros and Sedge Warbler was easy to untangle. After a while I saw and heard a Reed Warbler. In amongst a few Pied Wagtails was a single female Yellow Wagtail and also a distant White Wagtail. The final new bird of the flying visit was a Common Sandpiper which dropped back in after 20 minutes or so. Also knocking about were 5 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Snipe and 1 Little Ringed Plover. Garganey, Common Sand and Green Sandpiper are new birds for the headland taking me to 187. Also up to 122 species/149 points on the head.




Wednesday, 26 April 2017

After Dad

Dad passed away a month ago tomorrow. It feels like forever and no time at all. It was both tragic and sad and yet a relief and a blessing. Dad was brave to the end having a long conversation with me on the Monday prior to his death about a Rebus book he has leant me (and I'm still only 100 pages in) but was obviously starting what I anticipated to be a slow decline. By the Thursday he was much worse and by Friday evening he was bed bound. A long, hard weekend of caring for him with my mother (I used to be a nurse, she is a practice nurse and it afforded him far more dignity than having nurses come in) and then he slipped away quickly and quietly by Monday lunchtime surrounded by those that love him. Euphoria was our initial reaction as it was over and he was no longer suffering but this was soon replaced by intense sadness and a reflection on our time together and a future without him.

Dad, me and Tom atop the Moors in North Yorkshire, probably at Danby in the mid 90s when we were in our early teens.
This post wont be too awful I promise, just rationalising why I haven't been blogging and a quick reflection. My brother Tom came over from Australia for the funeral and was here for a fortnight. I was off for three weeks as well as I work 120 miles from home and wasn't in the right place to be away from home. Tom, Mum and myself worked through Dad's clutter. He appeared to have kept every paint tin and door handle since 1987 and considering how prolific a decorator my mother is that was quite the feat. Two skips full of junk plus a couple of dump runs and charity shop donations mean't that Mum didnt have the dispiriting process of working through his belongings. Dad would have preferred it that way. He had no truck with us having a shrine either physical or mental to his life and whilst he hoarded crap would have been glad we got rid of it without ceremony. Mum seems ok and whilst sad managed very well.

Dad in 1980, the wildman that Mum fell for. Terrible hair. The beard followed soon after and I didnt see his face until I was 11.
We couldn't get a funeral for Dad for a fortnight so on Wednesday, April 12th we said goodbye to my hero. He was far from perfect as a person but he was the best Dad I could have wished for. Caring, compassionate, proud of us and good fun, we shared many a joke (often at Mum's expense). Tom read a fantastic eulogy summing up Dad's devotion to his family unit and whilst his childhood was touched upon it was his life as a father and a husband that defined him and where he succeeded so well. Tom, my brother-in-law Ady and myself were 3 of the pall bearers. We were expecting 6 in all but it was so heavy which I couldnt believe. It was only at the wake afterward that my brother told me that only 4 of us carried him in. I was at the front with Ady so we couldn't see how many there were. It was an honour to carry Dad in and one I'm so glad I did. We had a trio of songs that summed up Dad's life with him coming into 'One More Night' by Phil Collins. Dad wasn't a huge fan but it summed up his devotion to Mum that they endlessly played Yahtzee to terrible white-boy soul that Mum loved on an evening and it reminded us of the late 80s early 90s period. The curtains came round his coffin to 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol. Dad's musical repertoire didn't increase much after he hit 50 but this was on loop in his car or when he was on the computer. Finally we left the crem to 'Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)' by Cockney Rebel. Dad loved this song and found it galling that Mum saw Cockney Rebel live twice when she didn't really care for them. It lightened the mood and we said goodbye. For me Dad started my love of rock music and whilst he was generally pretty mainstream he loved listening to decent songs and set me off with a number of touchstones which I fondly returned to this month.

At his happiest, relaxing outside. Usually with a fag.
A special mention must go to Reverend Roy Shaw, a close friend of my father who had few of them and a former colleague (briefly) of my brother, mother and myself in various guises when he was a social worker. Roy conducted the funeral with a great aplomb and I personally couldn't have been more grateful for his efforts which I know were extremely trying for him. Also to my sister and my wife who read poems that looked at Dad's life and the future and how we must move forward with him our hearts. And move forward we shall. Tonight is the first time I have connected with the emotions Dads death left inside me without a torrent of tears. I'm ok, I'm coping ok but I love my Dad and I miss him dearly. A difficult month but one to treasure and remember as well. Good times, bad times.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Patchwork Shenanigans

A byproduct of the current home situation is that I am off work and needing time to get away and process. Birding has always been my escape and thus it is once again so. Spring is just getting underway at Flamborough and new additions have been flooding in with 8 new in the last three days despite missing an excellent seawatch this morning.

Crane - one of three.
I started off with a little seawatch on Wednesday which produced a few nice birds including three Little Egrets south which were the first record for the year. The other bits and pieces are here on Trektellen. It was the first 'trek' seawatch I had done entirely by myself at Flamborough so it felt good to be contributing data. There was also a Great Northern Diver on the sea amongst some modest movement. It was however interrupted by a Whatsapp message from the obs group which came through 40 minutes late about a party of three Cranes on Northcliff Marsh. I screeched up to Old Fall Gate and started scanning but with no luck as it appeared they had cleared off. Then I heard some bugling as they flew low towards me. They saw me as they approached the road banking up from a couple of metres in height to 8-9 giving me a scrambled chance to get some photos. Not the best but I was a happy lad. They landed near the cliff edge apparently but I didn't see them again in the gloom.

A Little Bunting was seen briefly at this point in a private garden but I didn't manage to see it as it disappeared and efforts whilst scanning the Yellowhammers at South Landing only yielded a displaying Lapwing and a singing Chiffchaff, both of which were new for the year on patch. Soon I was back to reality and headed off to complete chores.

After missing the first I managed to connect with the second and third LRP of the day.

Yesterday I missed the first good seawatch of the season but made amends somewhat with some common migrants in the North Landing area. Two Sand Martins over Thornwick Pools were the first of five seen whilst a cat moving down the side of the pool flushed four Snipe which then made themselves at home beside the lower hide. I had at this point missed Craig's LRP which had already moved onward. A further Sand Martin hunted over Thornwick Bay itself. A Chiffchaff sang from beside the pools and an interrogation of Holmes Gut revealed a further three along with two Goldcrests.

A tour of Thornwick cottages turned up four Wheatears including just a single male bird but a jaunt up to North Dykes produced just a single Buzzard and two final Sand Martins. A message on the local grapevine alerted me to a brace of Little Ringed Plovers back at Thornwick and upon arriving Brett and Cynthia kindly put me on to them for my fourth year tick of the day and my PWC list hit 101.

Annoyingly I have missed 10 species over the last few days, most of which I should get back but there was some quality with Iceland Gull, Little Gull, Med Gull, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Swallow, Woodcock, Hooded Crow, Firecrest and Shoveler seen. Hopefully I should get plenty of time in over the next couple of weeks and add a good few more.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Night Dad

'Night Dad' was the regular refrain over the last few years whenever we went our seperate ways so it only seemed fitting to bid his passing in a similar manner on Monday. He was my Dad and latterly since becoming a father myself we have become mates. A coffee, a fag and a moan were his raison d'etre, especially since his cancer returned and over the past three months there has been plenty of opportunity to say what needed to be said which ultimately wasn't much. It was more fun to talk waffle. Now, with his passing I feel a maelstrom of emotions which will distill in time just to sadness I imagine. For the first time this evening I had that 'I'll just tell Dad that' moment but of course I won't. So for one last time 'Night Dad'.

Dad with Abby on the ferry to Thassos. Our last proper conversation was about how much he enjoyed playing air hockey with me there. Super time, super memories, Super Dad.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The End of Winter

I know its the end of winter as it is the Spring Solstice tomorrow and I have finished counting waders in Somerset until the back end of the year. Last week was the final time and we dotted ourselves along the River Parrett. Waders were scarce and aside from an increase in Grey Plover and Knot it was a pretty humdrum affair. Birds were spread widely and the huge numbers of Dunlin that typify the site at other times just weren't in evidence. The first migrants were just appearing a bit more widely and Chiffchaffs were evident in plague like proportions throughout.


After our first day of work we headed to Berry Head in Devon as the Slapton Ley Humpback had relocated there on the previous day. We were very lasse faire about the pair of Cirl Buntings that greeted us although the slow punture we acquired whilst travelling down was somewhat more vexing. A small crowd of people were searching the azure sea which was unseemingly blue to someone who has the North Sea on his doorstep. Nothing had been seen and an hour of fruitless searching was punctured by squadrons of Harbour Porpoise which was not something Paul had seen well before. There were good numbers of seabirds returned to the cliffs to breed with carpets of Guillemot with a scattering of Kittiwake and Fulmar. A flock of seven Pintail were an incongruous sight as we tracked them coming in off from way out in Lyme Bay and doubtless rather further away. The highlight of the week for me was my first masked bandit of the year as a male Wheatear peaked briefly over the cliff before flying off into the ether.

As we made leave it became very clear that 9 psi was not adequate for travel despite filling the tyre with more air and we had to put out an SOS to be rescued. We chose to plonk down beside the Teign at Kingsteignton, scene of the Gull-billed Tern twitch for Pete and myself. The response was too quick to get our tea at the pub but it wasn't so swift as to prevent me from seeing my first Common Sandpiper of the year followed by the unseen choo-choo-choo of a Greenshank. We were on our way back and thankfully even got to the pub in Cannington just in time for tea.


The final day was somewhat vexing due to the gale force westerlies that battered us all morning. We got off lightly as the shower which soaked Dartmoor turned onto the Quantocks instead of continuing on to us. After more Chiffs I also added Wheatear to the work year list (we have an annual competition, loser buys the first round at the Xmas do, winner buys the second...). I am currently getting stuffed 114 v 104. A Red Kite seemed to dive into trees on Steart Point confusing the life out of Pete and myself and then it was time to be away. Well it felt rather longer at the time! That was that and now its gearing up for lots of CBC and schedule 1 monitoring. Love spring, hate early mornings.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Raptor Central



I decided to head back to Flamborough for a better look at the Raven as it had been showing well around Flatmere. On arriving I bumped into Gerard who patches Fraisthorpe and Barmston as well as coming onto the head. We set up at Old Fall steps and before too long were seeing birds. Initially it was Buzzards over Danes Dyke with up to three birds present. The Raven then flew into Flatmere pool and hid. Whilst waiting for it to reappear I noticed the feral Greylag flock close to the village and there was a single Barnacle Goose amongst them. I went back to checking the Buzzards only for one to morph into a Red Kite. This then toured most of the head before going over North Landing where it attracted the attention of the Raven.


The two birds then headed straight for us and onward to Old Fall where they circled together before they split, the Raven heading north and the Kite slipping south towards Sewerby. Four Grey Herons were seen at North Marsh before Andy Lassey flushed them by approaching too close. He repeated the trick later flushing them from a field to Flatmere. Apparently this is the March record so its all going quite nicely! The goose hid with the flock behind a hump in the field when Brett came looking and he was also too late for the kite. A calling Bullfinch was new for the year as was a Sparrowhawk which spiralled up over middle Dykes. The three Buzzards spent most of the morning mooching about between the village and the dykes.

I mosied off to South Landing where I had very little aside from a Coal Tit at Highcliffe Manor. No Woodcock or Long-tailed Duck but all round a successful morning.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Kronk-ing Brilliant

Today was headlined by my first decent find of the year up at Flamborough - a Raven. This monster corvid is rare as hens teeth on the Yorkshire coast although this is the second record in two years at Flamborough. I am led to believe there are just a handful of other records from the site. I was walking up to North Dykes hoping for the Hoodie or some Golden Plover in a field when amongst a monster flock of Rook I heard 'kronk kronk'. It sounded like Raven but the cynical bit of my brain cut in and said it'll just be Rooks doing impressions. I scanned to see a giant corvid slinking over the field being escorted by two Carrion Crows. In the mist it wasn't a great view but with the call I put it out on the local grapevine and on twitter. Despite living in a Raven desert I am fortunate enough to see and hear these impressive beasts on a weekly basis in Somerset, Northumberland and Scotland but it was the juxtaposition that had me on the hop.

Photos by Andy Hood. Thanks Andy!

After this I failed to reconnect but I got the word out and the regulars were scouring the head and it was heard not long after I left by Phil C before being found on the deck at Flatmere. All and sundry were then able to twitch it including Andy Hood who was stuck at work initially but got away just in time. Big thanks to him for letting me use his photos. I didnt have my camera on me as it was drizzling pretty much the whole time I was out and about.


Aside from 'da bigg crow' there was what felt like a quiet seawatch but it had small numbers of wildfowl moving of 7 species including 2 Gadwall, 1 Dark-bellied Brent and a Goosander which were year ticks at Flam. A couple of Dunlin south were also new as were the plethora of Puffins bimbling about and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Rather more embarrassingly were tonnes of Meadow Pipits which were displaying everywhere. A trip to Thornwick Pools produced nothing of note as the regulars including the Pochard were all present and correct.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Cirl One Out

This is a little bit of a catch up post after a series of adventures and odds and sods over the last few weeks. It is illustrated with thanks to Pete Clark who has a new camera and now knows how to use it and yet he is still happy to share his photos with me.


So lets start with the Cirl Buntings. Working with Pete and Paul on an infrastructure job in the South-west we found ourselves with the afternoon off after an early start. Our original plan to see the Slapton Ley Humpback went up in smoke when it promptly did one so we went to Torbay to attempt to catch up with wintering seabirds and passerines. A swift transit from Somerset to Broadsands was only interrupted by a Subway stop for Paul and further sustenance for the remainder who fancied actual food. Annoyingly unforecast rain put a dampener on things as did a sea fret which obscured the bay. A Chiffchaff sparked up giving the 'swee' call. It looked like a colybita so thats what it was ascribed to as was its more conventional calling friend. After half an hour we were somewhat bunting-less and hiding in the bandstand when we noted lots of Chaffinches and Linnets in the stubbles. Soon we were seeing buntings and before long at least eight Cirl Buntings were seen foraging on the deck before coming to sit in the small trees by the beach. Great views were had and they were Paul's first UK ones so everyone was happy.

As the buntings lost their lustre we turned our attention to the sea where the only grebe was of the Great Crested variety and shared an empty bay with a somewhat forlorn looking Razorbill. We then focused on trying to find a Firecrest, Yellow-brow or Sibe chiff in the trees around the back car park only to find a singing Cirl Bunting, a standard Chiff and a duo of Goldcrests. Not quite what we were looking for but handsome enough.

We upped sticks and shifted to Brixham harbour, desperately trying to re-enact our visit of three years prior when 30+ Great Northern Divers shared the water with 8 Black-throats, a banana bill, 2 tysties, 2 slavs, 2 Red-necked Grebes and an Iceland Gull. Just outside the harbour on that occasion amongst a further flotilla of GNDs was Clet the Bottlenose Dolphin, famous for trying to shag Irish swimmers. This time however there were two Purple Sandpipers and a very dead Gannet.


The following day we worked rather later and thus had less leeway for adventure so slipped into the Quantocks for our constitutional. A Great Grey Shrike had been wintering not more than 6 miles from our B&B (the wonderful Blackmore Farm in Cannington - go there, its great) and an update from Brian Hill in the morning convinced us that Pointless and the Chase should be forgone for a few hours searching the upland heath for this bandit. Several Ravens, Peregrines and Red Deer later and Pete found it on a bush as we spread like a net over the valley to ensure it didn't evade our attention. Good views were had, if a little distant, but it was evident that the sun was going to emerge so we did a loop to get on the bright side of our mini-murderer. Pete managed to stalk it with patience and get some reasonable shots with the new camera without it ever getting close but it was well lit so some suitable souvenirs have been saved.


Not illustrated was yesterdays jaunt to Flamborough. I slept through my initial opportunity to add Puffin to the PWC yearlist but rather than sulk I decided to do a walk of the south side of the outer head, returning via Old Fall hedge and plantation. My first Coltsfoot and Red Dead-nettle flowers of the year were seen around the headland car park but little of ornithological interest. I moved stealthily along the cliff top when I finally managed to share the same space and time as the wintering male Black Redstart. Suitably dumbstruck I failed to record this with any sort of photography before it made its escape down the cliff. Indeed whilst it felt spring-like this was very much the highlight of my walk as the only other migrants noted were a band of 23 Wigeon on the sea and a brace of Rock Pipits flying over Old Fall plantation. A rather horny woodpecker was knocking seven bells out of the Sycamores in the aforementioned plantation but no female was in evidence. I moved on in search of brownie points by taking a trip to the dump and completing my flatpack duties.

Today I head to Perth for a somewhat different job which hopefully will reacquaint me with the Nazguls of the Spruce plantations as they perform their seasonal display flights. Paul is my travel companion on this occasion and we stopped off en route to check up on the wintering Black Scoter at Cheswick Sands. It was very much not in evidence but this didn't harm a beautiful Northumbrian scene with mountainous dunes providing the elevation to scan through the exceedingly choppy surf. There were plenty of wildfowl riding through the white horses and two Great Northern Divers were the first thing I laid eyes on. Several hundred scoter were offshore but none appeared to be anything other than the common or garden variety although the brevity of the views hindered our attempts as the swell rolled in. We did see several smaller flotillas of Long-tailed Duck totaling over 30 birds with associate Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Merganser and Eider. We chalked up a brace of Slavonian Grebes just offshore amongst the duck leaving us content if a little chilly round the edges.


Our final adventure was from three weeks ago when Pete, Paul and myself went in search of Bitterns at Ham Wall. We failed but the Great White Egret roost was pretty cool with five birds in one tree as a horde of Starlings descended on the reedbed. The afternoon was finished with the scene below of a Great White Egret crossing a golden lacquered sky to join its kin aside the reedbed. Superb times in an ethereal location.


How brains and birds become mutually exclusive