Sunday 27 April 2008

Blog Linkage - Darren Ward

Here is a link to the cracking Yorkshire Wandering Tattler blog by Darren Ward's crew. Its all good tyke fun including shots from a top notch birder (thats what he told me to say). Definitely check it out!

Saturday 26 April 2008


Up in Aberdeen on survey being paid to do some pelagic birding. Such a hardship. Not a great survey yesterday. 3 crows headed toward Norway 3 miles out plus a few sum.plum Red-throats and a couple of Black-throats. Loadsa dolphins, RB Merg, LT Duck, a possible petrel underneath a feeding scrum and a migrating Swallow.

Also went to Girdle Ness where I caught up with the local Glauc and a few Wheatears, Purp Sands and Rock Pipits but no King Eider unlike off Flamboro Head (GRRR!!). Right off to go searching again!

Lovely Legs

I knew when one of the first birds I saw was a Mistle Thrush at Wheldrake today was going to be good. Didn't see the GW Teal or any Garganey but did add Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. Scoping the pool in the gloom I notice a brilliantly coloured Duck in the distance. 20 minutes later and the mist had risen enough to be sure of a male Mandarin, lifer, yorks tick, patch tick, any old tick you like!I zoomed off to Bishop Burton to do some research before heading onto the Yellowlegs. Met Birdieboy123 at Swine Moor and he quickly located the bird. It gave decent views in the rain running around a Redshank for comparison. Also at this site a Greenshank, LRP and Ruff collected year ticks with Yellow Wagtail and summer dress Golden Plover providing entertainment.At this point I decided to go for broke and head to Spurn. went straight to the point where a break in the weather led to a chat spectacular with Common Redstart (a beautiful male), Black Redstart (dowdy female) and numerous Wheatear provided the entertinment. Lots of Willowchiffs about but not the hoped for Rouzels. As I was walking near the middle Heligoland trap a heron with a bobbing flight approached heading south. The weather had again closed in and visibility was poor so my initial thought was Bittern. As it came into view it showed an obvious keel and started to quack. My mind shot straight back to Spain and Purple Heron. It kept coming and passed over me giving good views at about 25m height - almost definitely a Purple Heron. A look for the Garganey at Canal Scrape and the GW Teal at Long bank were forlorn but hey who cares. It was a stormer!

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Root Canal

Now I alluded to my teeth in an earlier post but I feel I must now relive the entire wonder that is my birthday weekend from the viewpoint of my upper right incisors 1 & 2.

'James has his birthday on Saturday' says incisor 1.

Incisor 2 replies, 'Its alright, I'm starting with an abcess at my base, he wont be doing any drinking this weekend.'

'Great, I think I will join the party and develop a gum infection' incisor 1 says knowingly.

Well the bastards didn't stop me drinking but a lack of hangover on Sunday indicates they perhaps had an effect on things. I didn't use to be scared of the dentist until a mad, bad and dangerous fella gave me fillings with no anaesthetic when I was about 16. It fucking killed. Id been brewing with toothache for a while but I figured it'd pass especially as I have no NHS dentist. So when I had to stop at Market Weighton on my way home last thursday because I physically couldnt drive without further painkillers the penny finally dropped that I may need an appointment. Friday and the emergency dentist laughed and said I had no chance getting in today.

Booked in for first thing on my birthday. Get there sat in chair and the dentist mentions that I have a gum infection to my relief. Then he taps my tooth. I scream. He says some of the scariest shit Ive ever heard - 'thats not good - I think we need an X-ray.'

In the end he drilled my tooth out (with anaesthetic), drained the abcess and I was feeling distintly unwell and looking like a hamster. Got home with that stroke victim look caused by the anaesthetic and took some phone calls from my parents and siblings wishing happy birthday. My wife bless her told me to 'shut the fuck up, i'm sleeping'. Now I feel this is a little unsensitive as she had all week told me stop being a big wimp and that there was nothing wrong. And there was. And it was my birthday. And she was being a bitch.

Went out on the lash and came home at 11pm. After 4 pints. Weak.

Monday 21 April 2008

Black Lark - no chance

Car was in for MOT today (it failed) so no chance of going for the Norfolk crippler. Instead a leisurely un back home after uni was rudely interrupted by two Red Kites away from their regular haunt. One passed over me by about 6 foot. Was almost scary. At North Cave a quick trundle relised a few site and year ticks - 2 Whimbrel with Curlew were nice (both site ticks), plus a few Yellow wags bouncing round the fields. A Tree Pipit popped its head out of the grass to entertain me showing its 'ear spot' and big thick bill. Still no LRP. Apparently one bugged out as I arrived. Checked the gulls for reported meds but no luck. Also a couple of LBBG about and loadsa Avopigs. I LOVE SPRING. Off to Aberdeen on thurs which is nice!

Friday 18 April 2008

46 Stone Man

Have you ever seen a 46 stone man? I have, its very worrying. Cant say anything else due to legal reasons but dont get that big (how do you?). Its not good for you.

Back to birds, a Common Crane in the LDV convinced me to have a detour home from uni - no sign from the bridge at Wheldrake but a nice male Merlin feeding not 50 metres away was great. A year tick, my first in ages and a site tick. Winner! Tootled down to Thorganby Ings where there was a very nice Whimbrel, another year tick and very little else. A flock of distant wagtails seemed to contain only pied type birds, no yellows or white's but was at about 1/4 mile so difficult.

Worked last night despite having simply devastating toothache - note to self MUST get a new dentist. Gonna be off sick today - just cant sleep. Oh well, on the upside at least im not working my birthday (19th). Adios amigos.

Thursday 17 April 2008

A not very secret location somewhere in the Lower Derwent Valley...

My XBox addiction hasn't stopped my birding urges totally so that when the news of a pair of full breeding plumage Black-necked Grebes surfaced at a secret location in the LDV (Bank Island, best seen from Cheesecake) I was there within 40 mins. Pair of right fine birds and a plumage first for me. Watched em for 10 mins and had them as a site tick. Another site tick in the shape of a pair of Ruddies distracted me and I lost em. Now having just seen several thousand BNG in Spain you would have thought that this would have a somewhat hollow ring to it but no I was very happy. However if I had visited the other 'secret location' in West Yorks (would say but it hasn't been broadcast unlike my ones which were all over birdguides as was another down the road) then maybe it wouldn't have felt so good. Hope the water stays on so that these guys can breed but I doubt it. At uni now. Bottled going to Spurn during my break to catch up with Firecrest GWTeal and BlackRed. Its a long way for a quick smash and grab. Maybe next week.

P.S. win ratio for PES improving on XBox Live and currently on second mission for Gears of War. Definitely still a chainsaw newb.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Birthday present

Have just got an early birthday present. Severly reduced chance of birding. Haven't eaten for three days. Can't remember what the shower looks like. Look like a dick with the headset on. XBox 360 with XBox live. Love it. Smell bad.

Friday 11 April 2008


Yup, finally caught up with a Chiffy or 3 today. Spent late afternoon down at Wheldrake and had a ball. A patch tick in the form of Kingfisher to take me to 105 for the site. 2 'seconds' were Jay and Marsh Harrier - a real beast of a female, possible 3rd calender year as the cream crown was restricted.

Also saw quite a few migrants, a small party of Blackwits (12-15) flew across the reserve. Along with the Chiffchaff I saw, there were c200 Hirundines on the reserve about 60:40 Sand Martins: Swallows with a couple of House Martins chucked in for good measure. Heard at least 3 Willow Warblers but couldn't get any views as they were along the sides of the pool.

Kept trying to turn the Curlew into Whimbrel but no luck. A few Song Thrushes were singing (but still no Mistle Thrush grrr). On leaving a Barn Owl coming out of a tree made me jump. Good fun. 152 for the year UK, 143 for Yorks.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Holy Scaup Batman!

Well it appears that the powers that be on birdforum have decided that the Lark is indeed a Thekla. Gonna have to study those larks a bit harder next time im in Spain. Got out birding today, which was nice!, called in at North Cave Wetlands where I got my first self found Scaup. Also loads of Avocets and year ticks in the form of Sand Martin and Black-tailed Godwit. Also a couple of Pink-feet including one with a large facial tumour. Not pleasant.

Last night I wrote an essay. 1,500 words on food labeling (WTF?!?). Then even though I saved it on multiple occasions it dissappeared into the ether leaving me with my 500 word draft. So I was cracking on until midnight a very dispirited young man. this may sound trivial but when you've had to knock out nearly 8,000 words in a week its a right shitter! Even better was the fact that I celebrated finishing the first copy with a glass (is it still a glass if your glass holds half a bottle?) of Pinot Grigio. Had to write the repeat through an alcohol induced haze - can see myself doing well on that then...

Sunday 6 April 2008

Having a Lark?!

Some correspondence from Stephen Menzie from Menzie Birding fame has questioned whether my Crested Lark is actually a Thekla Lark so here is another picture. (on left) Below is a picture of a different bird - a bit over exposed (?!) but in the same area and perched up. some birds were terrestrial and some seemed to favour percing in shrubs. Is this the divide between Thekla & Crested. Some birds seemd to have paler underwings and a few had definite rufous underwings but I wouldnt want to call them on that characteristic. Any opinions gratefully received.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Oh Mother of God

Went down to NDCarrs to check it out for the newly arrived Green-winged Teal/Garganey combo. Upon arrival it became obvious that nursery were having a field trip. Screaming kids everywhere! This was a little perturbing but the ducks on the marsh didn't seem bothered so why should I be? A thorough scan of all Teal in a half mile radius show nothing bar one that had a bleached bit of grass draped across its head making it resemble a Garganey. Ballbags.

On the way down I'd had a ouple of nice flukes - a White Stork floated over the A64 as it crossed the river ouse. Initially I took it to be a cormorant but it was much too big for that and had a lazier flight action (plus it was white and black!). My driving at a decent rate put paid to too much close study so I couldn't make out rings and things but I wouldn't stake too much on it being a wild bird, what with the Harewood ones being all frisky at this time of year.

The second bonus was a Green Woodpecker which flushed from the roadside between Escrick and Skipwith - my first in the LDV. Quite how its my first round there I'm not sure but it was. Other than this standard fare at NDC - locals stringing Mute Swans as Whoopers and asking what a GW Teal looks like and some Reed Buntings flocked on the field out the back. No fecking migrants mind. The bastards.

A Shag in Benidorm

Thats right - I've had a Shag in Benidorm, it was desmarestii if you care! Here is a cut and shut of my weeks birding on the Costa Blanca. Was a bit windy throughout so less spectacular than hoped but still very productive.

8 nights with an elderly relative may sound like purgatory but this came with the release of warm weather birding and habo on the doorstep. 22 lifers out of 84 species was a good haul. A very happy chappy.

We arrived to La Siesta, Torrevieja after a quick 2 hour 20 minute flight from Leeds/Bradford to Alicante airport. My wife's elderly aunt picked us up and we were at the apartment. It was pitch dark unfortunatly but I drifted into a fitfull sleep full of Hoopoes and Flamingos.

At 6.45 I was scouring the scrub alongside the apartment. This was part of a nature reserve called La Salinas del la Mata, a large lake which was formerly a salt pan.First bird was a House Sparrow followed by my first lifer in the form of Spotless Starling. These pretty little birds were ever present around the apartment and around any built up areas. As I got stuck into the scrub I heard the evocative trisylabic Hoop-hoop-hoop of a Hoopoe. I quickly saw a pair displaying to each other oblivious to me. I have never seen one before around the med - how I have avoided them im not sure! A lark rose from the bushes next to me, Crested Lark. A common bird on the continent and one I had seen on most european trips pereviously. 4 Greater Flamingos flew above the horizon and I couldn't yet see the lake side. Another lifer - 3 already. There were infact several hundred Flamingos around the lake. A pair of Shelduck were flying over the lake shore.

As I reached the lake shore another triumvirate of lifers awaited. First up a displaying pair of Slender-billed Gulls were hding in the margins. These were flushed by an incoming pair of Black-winged Stilts. Zitting above my head was a small and vocal bird whcih I soon twigged was the first of many Fan-tailed Warblers I would see.

Barn Swallows were hawking over the vegetation as were some higher flying birds. A group of Pallid Swifts moved slowly west over the streets. Under close scrutiny these subtle birds showed a few differences to their common relatives such as an obvious white throat, paler colouring (only obvious in good light and scaling to the body. Im not sure how useful the blunt wing tips are as it wasn't an obvious difference to me (bearing in mind I hadn't seen a Common Swift in 8 months).

Looking back at the lake it was obvious there were thousands of 'ducks' out at some distance. As I scoped these it became patent that these were infact a massive grouping of Black-necked Grebes. Perhaps 5,000 individuals were present, maybe more. Also sat on the water were many Black-headed Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls. A Grey Heron flew overhead. A constant accompanyment was the scolding of many Sardinian Warblers followed by brief glimpses of flying birds or furtive glimpses in the pine scrub. Along the shore yet more stilts were mating and small groups of Avocets sat and loafed. I soon noticed that the majority of the flying passerines were very showy Serins.

I mooched back in for breakfast a smiling and sweaty fella.

Later the same day a walk with my wife produced a very pretty male western Subalpine Warber. This was to be my only sighting of this stunning warbler and preceded some unsettled weather in the afternoon. A pair of Red-legged Partridge flushed from vegetation as we walked.

A third walk of the day found me largely frustrated but a very cold female Woodchat Shrike showed down to a few feet. At this point I cursed not having my camera with me as it sat in the scope view for ages.

The next day I was due to hire a car and head 100 miles or so north to Pego Marshes so I slept a dreamless sleep after such a productive first day. The next morning a flyover Goldfinch was pretty standard fare and its delay in being noted was more likely my lack of attention to the familiar. We hired an Opel Corsa for 7 days for 125 euros which included a full tank of petrol. This little beauty gave me my first faltering steps in left hand drive motoring. A long drag up the 'A' road to Pego - at the very north of the province improved my confidence driving on the wrong side of the road.

Arriving at Pego it was windy. Not a bird could be heard but I got stuck in. Up first was a White Wagtail beside the board walk. Cruising over the reeds were many hirundines - swallows and both House and Sand Martins. Nothing more interesting but some Mallard flushed as did loads of Little Egrets. There must have been hundreds of these on sight as they were all over - concealed by reeds. A scan of the reed tops from a tower showed some raptors over the reeds - Marsh Harrier, four f them, 2 males and 2 females. I soon noticed a few herons flushing from the reeds and the third of these proved to be a Purple Heron - another lifer. Over the course of the afternoon these proved to be the most common large heron. I stumbled across some waders feeding in some damp meadows - Little Ringed Plover, a single Wood Sandpiper a bogey bird in Britain and several sowing machine like Snipe. Stilts were pretty much ubiquitus. A Greenfinch settled by the road (which incidently was always full of Little Egrets). A Cattle Egret sat atop a small building - a very dowdy individual and a large white heron was chasing a Purple Heron of equal size - it had to be a Great White Egret, a very good bird for the area. It flew again and its brilliant yellow bill was easily seen. On the mud bank several Spanish Yellow Wagtails were present. Coot, Moorhen & Little Grebe were present on the cut areas of reed. Several warblers were singing from the reedbeds - I'm sure one was a great reed warbler but didnt see the bird. One that I did see proved to be a reluctant Whitethroat.

The journey back was made on the toll Motorway at high speed! Added on the trip was a Kestrel. A common site in Alicante.

The 28th was less interesting birding wise as my wifes aunt insisted we visite Benidorm. This did provide a Shag just off Benidorm beach as I dipped my toes. Yellow-legged Gulls were all over. A few Sandwich Terns worked the surf zone. When we returned my wife picked out a Black Redstart sat atop next doors roof.

I went for a walk early evening down by the apartment in the scrub and Southern Grey Shrike was seen briefly. A very pink breasted individual, this species proved regular in suitable habitat. A female Bluethroat was flitting through the low shrubs next to the lake - appearing to be on passage. The ever present Crested Larks, Flamingos and Black-necked Grebes remained but I scanned the gulls roosting on the salinas finding several Mediterranean Gulls. A few Cormorants were amongst the gulls. On returning to the apartment a few Woodpigeons and Collared Doves were about.

The 29th brought a trip up into the mountains with the ball and chain. She wanted a walk - I wanted Bonelli's Eagle. What we got was a compromise - she saw a large raptor and I walked a bit! Four lifers were added - Chough, Black Wheatear, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush and not a good view was had of any. The Crag Martins were zipping over the tops of the Sierra de Crevillente as the Chough worked the cliff face. The Rock Thrush and Wheatear were both seen on the skyline at about a miles difference and I had to looked at the undercarriage to seperate them as size didnt cut it at distance (the wheatear having a white arse as they say). Added to the trip list was a solitary Great Tit.

The afternoon found me exploring the eastern end of the salinas near the aprtment. Here I found a hide overlooking some ace wader scrapes full of Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Little Stint and Sanderling. Kentish Plover being a lifer - I soon realised they were everywhere and even saw an extremely ickle baby.

The next day was an early start as I did what any east coast birder worth his salt does during migration and found myself at the top of the nearest headland with scrub. The Cabo de Santa Pola looks perfect but I saw nada, nothing, nowt, nicht. Rubbish.

I soon worked my way down to the salt pans of Santa Pola. Here many gulls, waders and flamingoes loafed. The fabled Marbled Duck was supposed to be around but did i see any, did I heck! I did see my first Red-rumped Swallow tagging with the Swallows and a breeding plumage Cattle Egret running around my car. A Great Crested Grebe was on the salinas and also one was just offshore from the beach. The salinas are very hard to work with limited viewing access and the very busy N332 running through. The rest of the usual fare was knocking about as was a single iberiae Yellow Wag.

Another site mentioned in my guidebook (A Birdwatching Guide to the Costa Blanca by Malcolm Palmer - very good for some ideas but lacks a lot of detail) was El Pinet jut to the south of the Santa Pola salinas. This site accessed from La Marina is a set of working salt extractions and some adjacent nature reserve. Here a group of 8 Hoopoe was notable as were single male Whinchat & Stonechat. It was 26 degrees and I soon gave up due to the call of the sea (ie the misses wanted to go to the beach) but not before seeing displaying Slender-billed and more interestingly Med Gulls. At the beach at Guardamar a couple of Audouin's Gulls flew over. Driving home a couple of raptors were going for each other at the west end of Salinas de la Mata - a Common Buzzard and a male Hen Harrier. It was my first male Hen Harrier as the winterers at Blacktoft recently have all been ringtails.

The monday rolled up and I fancied another day up at Sierra de Crevillente in the mountains. This was good fun on a week day and provided some good birds. The first new trip bird was a Sparrowhawk flushed from pine scrub which then circled the peak nearest for 20 minutes. A sylvia warbler in the gorge that ran alongside the footpath proved to be one of three Dartford Warblers, another shameful lifer! whilst looking at this a medium sized bird appeared to fly into on of the holes in the rock face - a good look at a surprised and surprising Little Owl followed. Some Kestrels were nesting in the crags further up and I watched the female appear to bring food whilst the male soared overhead. The only other bird added to the trip list were some nesting Jackdaws, a scarce bird for the province. I did flush some larks in the crags and I have a feeling these were thekla larks - they had plain tails - but no way of proving they weren't crested larks.

The journey home proved to be more productive with an Alpine Swift moving west over the western scrubs of La Mata and a massive raptor passing over head on the benijomar road. The underwings reminded of a male Hen Harrier with extensive black tips and no carpal mark. The wings were broader and wider at the base and a dirty white in colour - enhanced by the dark trailing edge. A scout through Collins reinforced my first impressions, a pale morph Booted Eagle. Was extremely chuffed - even more so when a small party of 4 Bee-eaters went overhead in the garden, vruuuting as they went.

A walk at the western end of La Mata on the 1st provided the last lifer of the trip, a bright Iberian Chiffchaff in subsong. 4 Hen Harriers were floating over the reedbed - 2 males and 2 ring tails, a glorious sight.

Despite being a built up area with pockets of habitat - it seems the Costa Blanca is a promising birding area with plenty of potential. I missed enough species to warrant a return and next time I intend to spend a day or 2 with Jules Sykes the bird forum member whose advice was gratefully received and who runs Oliva Rama tours based at Oliva near Pego marshes.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at