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