Thursday 30 December 2010


I have just received a couple of histories of Black-tailed Godwits I have caught up with this year at Killingholme, North Lincs.

The first was ringed as an adult in 2009 in NE Iceland. It was seen at Pyewipe that autumn - only a couple of miles south of my survey site. This year it was seen at Caerlaverock in May, presumably en route to Iceland before being seen by me at North Killingholme in August. I have highlighted sightings on the map below (which doesnt want to centre in the right place...)

View Black-tailed Godwit RN-WX in a larger map

My other Blackwit is GO-OO, ringed as an adult female in 2003 in S Iceland, seen at this location the following month before moving to Cliffe Pools, Kent in September 2003. It seems to over winter in Kent as it was seen on the Swale Estuary in February 2004 & 2005. Post breeding it was seen on the Thames Estuary in August 2005. It was then seen next in July 2006 at Northward Hill, Kent, presumably as a failed breeder. That winter it stayed around the Thames estuary with sightings at Leigh, Essex and Cliffe,  Kent before moving onto the Swale Estuary in March 2007.

View Black-tailed Godwit GO-OO in a larger map

GO-OO returned to the same site in Southern Iceland in June 2007 to breed before being seen around the Thames that autumn at Leigh & Cliffe. In early January it was seen on Canvey Island. The bird was not seen again for 2 years before subsequently being seen several times on the Medway in April, 2010. Finally for now it was seen by myself at North Killingholme in August 2010. As can be seen from the map below this bird spends most of its life on the outer Thames estuary. Killingholme is probably a major stopover point en route from Iceland. It is worth zooming in on the Thames area to show usage of the estuary.

Twitching Tales #2 - My First Mega

In the heady days before I had seen Little Egret or Green Woodpecker let alone a Shrike of any description I went to see a Baird's Sandpiper. This I enjoyed very much. I decided to go twitching again. The bug had struck. The question is - where do I go? what do I see? how far should I go? I failed to answer any of those questions and decided to go for the next mega that came up. Boy did I choose a good one - no Red-flanked Bluetail or other such "dross" that would be devalued. I went for something enigmatic and rare. A first for Britain and one that has only been seen once subsequently - a one day bird on Scilly.

The year was 2004 - I was very much the novice but I had drooled over the series of firsts that autumn with Purple Martin, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Rufous-tailed Robin & the unacceptable Chinese Pond Heron. How lovely. I'm sure by now you will have worked out which bird I went for but if not below is a small reminder.

Masked Shrike 1st winter - Kilrenny, Fife 2004

Thats right - setting off in the middle of the night I arrived at Kilrenny in Fife at 10ish to see the Masked Shrike. There was no trepidation which now bothers my twitching, just expectation. I saw a Treecreeper which was my first since I had restarted "birdwatching" as I was still calling it. And lo - there was a silver apparition with a massive white patch on the primaries. Obviously I ruled out Woodchat with extensive observation and detailed notes...hmmm. Ok maybe not but I saw it and I was overjoyed.

Finding myself in Scotland at 11am I went to Vane Farm and life ticked Little Egret, Pink-footed Goose and something even gayer which I can't remember before coming home. Mental. Enjoyed it loads.

p.s. dipped the Mirfield Ring-billed Gull yesterday. Again.

Monday 27 December 2010

Welsh Winter Wonderland

The Menai Straits are one of the warmest places in Britain, especially in winter. Nice Gulf stream influence, sheltered, little precipitation due to the rainshadow from Snowdonia. Basically lovely. Was minus 7 there and 6 inches of snow when I rolled up last Sunday. In fact when we went to sea we managed to record minus 7. Offshore. Insane. We were surveying Rhyl flats and managed quite a few decent birds. I lost all feeling in my fingers and toes plus I got snowed on but Scaup at sea were very nice. As were the 20,000 Common Scoter that flew past (but no velvets). Truely incredible stuff. It was like that Carling advert but with small black ducks instead of Starlings. During the day we had a passage of Skylark and a few winter thrushes. Wise birds beating the chill. The other highlights were a couple of Great Northern Divers. Not a right lot although we managed Goldeneye and both the commoner sawbills back on the Menai Straits.

I soon returned home and a bit of garden action occured with Song Thrush on my feeders and Pied Wagtail actually in the garden as opposed to on a neighbours roof. Continuing evidence of a hard winter. Oh that and the 6 inches of snow we had between 6pm Christmas Eve and 1am Christmas Day. Oh yeah - we had a proper white christmas. My tweets with appropriate pictures may even still be in the twitter feed. Or not if you are reading this in January (or July) (freak).

Using my smooth linkage Im going to move on to Christmas itself. We had a pleasant time here in Chez Spencer with my wife hosting. Beer has/is being drunk with gay abandon and I appear to now own a Nikon D200. Just waiting for it to arrive in the post but once that happens I can assure you my ability to take limited pictures will be evident. I did however get a couple of useful books - The Sound Approach by Mark Constantine et al which seems amazing plus A Birdwatchers Guide to Digital Photography by David Tipling which will hopefully also prove illuminating.

p.s. Did North Killingholme on Christmas Eve. Simple summation reads as such - Frozen, snow. Best bird a Fox on the ice. Foreshore = snowy. Few waders. Nothing good. Tonnes of Thrushes.

Friday 17 December 2010

Hedge Fund

I literally shit myself yesterday driving into work. I was on survey the day before and I ambled in mid-morning. Driving down the snow and ice covered back-roads I noticed a bird of prey sat atop the hedge. I stopped fully expecting it to be a Sparrowhawk or Kestrel when blow me down with a feather it was a fucking massive female GOSHAWK! Once sphincter control had been regained the bird just stared me down. They truely are big...this had obviously just come off a kill as it had a blood-stained chest and face and looked mean. Cant believe the sighting. In a hedge. I haven't seen Gos on the deck before so to get such a view was mega. Sadly I had to trundle on otherwise I could have continued to stare out this mean motherf**ker.

Since I last posted I have been surveying. Latterly I was on Islay where I saw FA except a few Great Northern Divers (50+), single Black-throated Diver plus 40+ Red-throated Diver which is pretty unusual up there. A few Goldeneye were new for the island as well. You could tell the ground was covered in ice and some snow as the large gulls were in evidence actually being SEA-gulls as opposed to follow-the-tractor-gulls.

Going back even further into the mists of time was a survey down at Patrington Haven in 2 foot of snow. I got cold, I got wet. I saw some corking birds. Pick of the bunch were a couple of Snow Buntings on the floodbank which dropped in briefly before beetling away as I drove past in my 4x4 Fiesta*. Further excitement was elicited by raptorial goings on. A Peregrine decided that it wanted to give everything the hoolies by setting up court on the floodbank in full view of everything. I had a couple of views of a female Merlin blasting out over the mudflats but no kills noted which was cool. Sparrowhawks were seen a few times failing in similar ways to the Merlin. A Short-eared Owl was roosting in the plantation and it was flushed a few times by my beetling up and down. Last point of note ornithologically was a few fly through Twite. There were lots of Hares and Roe Deer on site and I kept flushing them from the plantation (which I sure gets good birds in easterlies - its like Sammy's and you can see sammy's from it. Travelling to the shop for my pie (all important) I was impressed by 3 coveys of Grey Partridge totalling 27 birds, including one of 13. I think all the Red-legs have died however...

*Not really a 4x4 I just treated it like one in the snow. I didnt crash/get stuck/freeze.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Paull Holme Strays

Had a yomp round Paull Holme Strays today clocking up 14.35km in the snow. Just glad I decided to move my car to cut another 3.5km off - was knackered anyway. In terms of birding it was standard estuary fare mostly in small numbers due to the cold. A Kestrel managed to kill a wader (possibly Redshank), first sucessful bird kill I have seen one make. Two different Peregrines buzzed through, neither making a catch. Im sure these were two seperate birds as one was tiny (male at a guess) and the other huge - really broad in the hips so must be a girl. My only other BOP was a male Marsh Harrier bimbling around the south end of the site. It is reasonably unusual to get an adult male on the Humber in winter - cream crowns yes but males usually leave the country.

There were loads of geese kicking about with about 110 Greylags and amongst these a surprising number of Pink-footed Geese (35 in total) which I think is the most I have seen on the deck in Yorks. Wildfowl were the over arching theme with about 800 ducks on site, largely Teal & Wigeon although 3 Pintail were pretty sexy. A single Woodcock was my second in two days - surely a sign of the times.

The site was largely under snow and ice except where tidal waters reached but a noticable thaw has started with the path becoming greener throughout the day. When I left the car it was -1 and at the end of the day 3 degrees so positively balmy. Thank god for my thermals.

Monday 6 December 2010

Birding Podcast

About 2 years ago I broached the idea of a birding podcast with a mate (about the same time as I came up with the #rarevine twitter feed) but whilst we had the tekkers we failed in the knowhow department. I for one am glad. I didn't know enough about birding to be interesting/relevant and neither did my mate. On the flip side Charlie Moores of 10,000 birds does and he has taken this idea and assembled a humourous crack team including Mckinney and The Drunkbirder. This month they garble abut credibility (amongst other things including the Reservoir Cats). The link for Charlie's Naturally Talking site is and the podcast is there. I will pop the drunkbirder, 10,000 birds and talking naturally in the old links section to the east. Get stuck in - I pissed myself laughing.

Thursday 2 December 2010

The Rigors of Winter

At present I am supposed to be on a boat in Wick harbour. As you may notice I'm not. This has a lot to do with the ridiculous amount of snow and very low temperatures (Wick is only 30 miles from -20 Altnahara). Eventually I decided it was untenable to even try to get there and we gave up. 8 inches of snow here. Snow day today so I have been largely playing with my daughter and the kids in the close. I have had a interesting birds in the garden though. Finally got my garden tick of  Great Spotted Woodpecker although it didnt come to the feeders it passed along the treeline at the end. Also had Fieldfare and Redwing in the garden rather than overhead. Black-headed and Common Gull have both touched down in the garden. Long-tailed Tits are sporadic visitors to the garden and very rare on the feeders so that when 9 birds arrived on the peanuts at dusk today it was tres pleasant. A daily large passage of corvids to roost is going on from 3pm at the moment so the garden is interesting for a change. Plenty of Chaffinches & Goldfinches knocking about at mo so hopeful for in garden Brambling or Redpoll.

My daughter Izzy watching her hand disappear

A view of the road.

Friday 26 November 2010

Four Corners of a Kingdom

This may seem a bit random but if you follow me on twitter (@ornid) then you may have noticed that last saturday/sunday I managed to see ie not enter all four of the home countries plus Eire in less than 24 hours.

This 'epic' achievement (I WAS proud) was on the back of a marathon 6 day survey which started at half 5 on friday with Luca picking me up heading to Birkenhead. Here we joined up with Ray and boarded the Prince Madog - a fab boat if ever I saw one. Luxury. We left the Mersey to loads of shite hawks and Anthony Gorley's Another Place - a truely remarkable piece of sculpture and one that I wholeheartedly endorse. Due to admin we were unable to start work until late doors but managed a surprise Black-throated Diver. Finishing after dark (yes really!) our visual survey stayed offshore, ready to take advantage of the early morning moonlight. The bright lights of Prestatyn ket us going.

Saturday started with Bacon on brown with a side order of over 1000 Common Scoter. Impressive although I abjectly failed to find a Surfie or rarer. A touch scarcer though was a Great Northern Diver. This was a post build site so we were surrounded by Cormorants, crap and giant windmills. Interest wained save for Grey Seal and we pushed on to Menai Bridge. Followed by a taxi to Birkenhead, followed by a drive to the Mull of Kintyre. Nice.

Largely uneventful, 10 deer were noted on the small roads of Argyll. Most noticable was the beast of Exmoor reincarnate wandering round the oncoming lane in the middle of Tarbet, at  the head of Loch Lomond. super scary!!

Survey can be largely glossed over as same old same old save for 4 Little Auks  (year tickage) plus a variety of divers. The Little Auks were distant ish but not an adequate grip back for the previous weeks Ross's Gull off the obs. Bah. We did however see Antrim and Donegal

Better views were had over the next few days of Little Auks but the trip total staggered to 8 birds. The Islay site over Monday/Tuesday was dross with 180 birds in 10 hours. SSSSSSSSSSSLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW!!!! Did see a Redwing nearly get drowned after getting caught in our slipstream, although thankfully the collective will of the surveyors proved like wind to the wings and it recovered to fly strongly toward Donegal.

The final avian highlight was a distant Golden Eagle being bombed by a couple of Ravens. 2 small dots and one bigger dot. Good news - apparently Sea Eagles have bred for the first time on Islay. Corking - will have to kee an eye out.

Apart from slow birding it was a nice trip. Could do with sum rare to skor.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Pied-billed Grebe and some other stuff...

Last weekend myself and the former Uptonite Tim Jones headed across the pennines. This was a perrilous journey, largely because Id forgotten I had the opticians so we were later than expected and then I missed the M62 as Tim regaled tales of Fair Isle. We arrived at Hollingworth Lake at bout 3ish and realised we had a heck of a walk to get the bird. I started to worry about the light and we hot-footed it round the eastern side of the reservoir. As we did this we lookeed for the birders who were miles away.

Bally to you lot is all I can say as the Pied-billed Grebe came to greet us, swimming into the bank a mere 10 feet from where we stood. To say the views were stunning would be to undermine the views. The eye ring was nicely on view, and a surprisingly long-tail. The bird didn't look like a big Little Grebe at all with a very different, less compact jizz and a rocking of its neck whilst it was surfaced. It almost outdid itself however when it bought a biggish perch to the surface and subsequently took 5 minutes swallowing it. It got there but im sure belly-ache ensued as it gave up feeding and drifted off across the lake at which point we drifted back to the car.

That completed my UK grebes and was a nice grip back from the '99 birds. Takes me onto 316 UK (although that could well become 317 with the Collared fly being supported by genetic evidence).

Last week I did a bit of survey work on the saltmarshes of the outer Humber. Standard waders with clouds of Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and the like, highlights came in the shape of a male Hen Harrier getting the hurry up from a Peregrine that was resting on the flood bank. Thankfully Hen Harriers are still regular in this location and this is the second male I have seen here this year. A bit more raptor interest was provided by a Kestrel hunting for voles and a few Sparrowhawks making forlorn forays onto the mudflats in search of a takeaway. No Twite, Snobs or Laps today.

Lastly my Rough-legged Buzzard surfaced again at Great Kelk - halfway between the original sighting location and my tick coming??

Wednesday 3 November 2010


Last weekend I went for a quick sojorn to Islay/Kintyre but due to the weather was only able to get the Kintyre survey done. A good journey up was completed quickly and we arrived on Islay in total darkness on saturday. No birds of note on the way up with Buzzard counting being the highlight. Our skipper was in bed early and so as not to wake him we retired to the pub. Our regular haunt was filled with arseholes getting lary so we decided to head for the smaller pub to avoid facial injury.

After some convivial drinks where we all swapped birding stories with our newest recruit, Steve (turns out I saw him being interviewed at the Alder Flycatcher twitch a couple of years ago). A slightly restless night was had but we were on song in the morning as we headed toward Macharihnish (spelling?).

On survey we had a steady day but the highlights were many and varied with female Long-tailed Duck perhaps deserving top billing. Other stars included the return of 25 or so Great Northern Divers including some in the last vestiges of their summer finery plus a couple of Black-throated Divers. Two skeins of geese were noted, both of exactly a dozen. Firstly a group of Pink-feet headed south and later some Greenland white-fronts headed east. All in all very nice.

We quickly headed back to the mainland to get away before the storm hit and whilst travelling through West Loch Tarbert had large numbers of Great Northerns and plenty of Red-breasted Merganser and Black Guillemot. A most enjoyable survey!

Thursday 28 October 2010

Barmston Birdforum Bash

Last Sunday a few of us descended upon Barmston in order to catch up with Little Auk. We failed. First thing was a Common Buzzard following the car on the way up there. This was possible as Rob was driving. My car is offline due to  an idiot crashing into me.
Upon arriving we had a flock of at least 30 Twite bobbing about the car park and cliffs. Pretty showy eh? Photos are thanks to Paul 'Doc' Reed. A brief seawatch produced a mega distant Bonxie, Red-throated Diver plus Wigeon, Common Scoter & Teal.

We decided on a quick amble which was pretty good. Another 12 Twite, a Short-eared Owl on the saltmarsh and best of all a Rough-legged Buzzard. This was quickly shoo-ed off by the local corvids unfortunatly but not before we all got views. A Snow Bunting shot overhead. By now it was midday and I had to visit the fuzz. The other went on to Hornsea Mere and Tophill Low but thats a whole other story.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Losing My Virginity

Seeing as my actual birding experience currently is limited (work, children, wife, darkness etc) I thought I'd share a memory or two with you, my loyal readership. Now I am a very recent convert to this hobby after eing 'interested' most of my life. In May 2004 I stumbled across a Little Owl roosting on my parents land and this allayed with various other species that I encountered there set me off birding and the following month I joined birdforum which for its sins has helped. A lot.

My skills improved rapidly as did my life list with visits to flagship reserves and the like. Exotics like Green Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank & Black-tailed Godwit were added. By the beginning of October I was regretting not going to see the territorial male rosefinch in Humanby (it seemed a long way to justify travelling from York - if only I knew!). A new website, Birdguides, was starting to show interesting birds which were maybe within the reach of a beginner and so I decided at the very beginning of October to twitch the Baird's Sandpiper at Flamborough head.

This proved an inspired decision as I dont believe there has been one in Yorks since (not an easy one at any rate). I drove all the way to South Landing and saw a small group of birders on the beach so I clomped over. First lesson in twitching etiquette was soon learned. Know your place! As a rank beginner I was made to stand at the back and got shushed regularly as a group of waders came up to us. They were Sanderling so I was told at the time (I only ticked Knot off 2 months later) and amongst them was a funny shaped bird which looked the same but not to my untrained eye. I was told this was the bird. Wow! Tick.

Did I critically analyse its JIZZ and look for fieldmarks. Did I fuck. Someone had told me it was a Baird's Sandpiper, it was different to the Sanderling, it looked like the photo on birdguides. That picture still looks the same. Is it on my list still? you bet your life - we all gotta learn somewhere. And here is the bird for posterity. I apologise as I have robbed the photo but if you are the photographer and want it removing just let me know.

In the next edition we look at my first mega.

Monday 11 October 2010

UK Tick #315

To talk about the lifer from yesterday would be to do yesterday a diservice. I was at Spurn for the afternoon and nearly trod on Goldcrests & umpteen Siskin, watched more Chiffchaffs and Redstarts than I can remember with all the chiffers looking distinctly abietinus, saw over 100 Brambling for the second day in succession and also caught up with 2 more Ring Ouzel. Redwing were like a biblical flood overhead, Robins looked distinctly scandi and flocks of Song Thrush were the norm. A little scarce was good with three distinct highlights.
  • 4 Shorelark ambling in the strand line at Chalk Bank. This was my lifer and also Yorks tick 278. Not quite as exciting as I hoped. And I fell over into some sea buckthorn. Yowser! Brambling & Redstart foraging amongst the seaweed next to the Shorelarks was amusing.
  • 3 Jack Snipe acting like proper waders by feeding in the open teetering a mere 2m infront of the hide at Chalk Bank. No camera (although it seems Santa may want to rectify that).
  • Best of all was a bunch of migrants finding and mobbing a Tawny Owl in Easington Cemetary. Ages since I saw a Tawny in daylight and I have never seen one in a tree in the day.
All three were yearticks with sats shrike and Rouzels takes me to 218 for the year. Beat last year but may struggle to get another 39 birds to equal 2008.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Actual Birdwatching

I spent time birdwatching for fun today. I covered 13km and burn 990 calories according to my new training gps device thingy. Im still fat though so its fine. It was all spent at Flamborough so naturally I didnt see anything too good. The highlight was a Great Grey Shrike killing a Goldcrest that had just arrived before I left.

I didnt twitch a thing and saw loads of common, limited scarce and no rare. The morning started at 8 in bay willows with a Redstart, one of several and continued around to North Landing with nothing much more save for a few Siskin (had over 100 throughout). Robins were everywhere and Redwing were streaming in. Meadow Pipits flooded all the grassland and everywhere marginal had its Reed Bunting. 2 abietinus Chiffchaffs included one with a faint wing bar and a bog standard Lesser Whitethroat bobbed about. As I got to North Marsh a Peregrine wheeled overhead scattering the Jackdaws and Rock Doves.

I arrived at North Landing and bumped into Andy Walker who was scoping Brambling amongst the commoner finches. A brief chinwag was good and I pushed off into one of North Landings gullies which yielded three Ring Ouzel including a fine male. they were a little skittish but good views were had. Other bits down there included Garden Warbler, Blackcap, more eastern chiffers and my first Goldcrests of the day.

I moved on to South Landing which didnt produce much new but plenty of migrants including a plague of Redwing. I failed to catch up with the Lapland Buntings in the area but saw a number of Kestrels. I finally walked Old Fall and back to the car park including the shrike and another Ouzel. There were more birds but you get the idea.

Went surveying in North Lincs the other day. Only birds of note were a few Grey Plover. Site Ticks.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Lowestoft is shit.

Sorry I havent posted in a couple of weeks but an unexpected 8 days stranded in Lowestoft kinda breaks your flow. A lack of pictures is dominated by the lack of camera as the work one went back to its owner. What I have managed have been a couple of wader counts around the Humber with limited highlights including 1 Curlew Sandpiper, a few Greenshanks and a few Little Egrets. Not a lot really.

The survey was good beer despite the weather preventing us getting out there. Highlights were a few Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater & best of all Balearic Shearwater. 3 sum plum Black-throated Diver were scarce skor on the east coast and a number of migrating passerines including an 'interesting' unstreaked acro. A good number of Bonxies and Arctic Skuas were recorded. A Peregrine kept us company in the docks most of the week scaring the bejesus out of the local scab doves. A walk up to Oulton Broad produced a few ducks but  not the hoped for Garganeys. Bit windy mind (gusts to 40mph!). Now back home I have seen no birds in the last few days. Cool. BTW its the daughters birthday next thursday. I expect cards.


Thursday 9 September 2010

More Migrants

No new additions to any lists this week as I dipped the Booted Warbler last Saturday horribly. Didnt bother with the Brown Flycatcher as I saw the 2007 bird and thought id save my desperate begging for one that I really have to see.

Dunlin - North Killingholme

Fortunately on Monday I got to do some proper survey work and managed some good views of Dunlin and er... single Ruff, a handful of Turnstones. 12 Teal were good as were a mixed flock of 15 flava/alba wags. It was tres quiet.

Pied Flycatcher - Sammy's Point

Wednesday I was running out of things to do at work and all the scarce was giving me itchy feet so I went and bashed about Sammy's Point for a few hours. Seems like it was more productive for me than some others as I managed to refind the 'mass hallucinted' Red-breasted Flycatcher. Refind seems a bit of a strange way of putting it as a greyish flycatcher (arent they all?) took flight and apparently had mated with a  Blackwit. before diving into cover. Not sure what there is to doubt? I will admit i didnt get onto the T-piece in the tail but the flight only views weren't particularly extensive. 3 seconds of it moving across 10 metres and then a briefer view of it diving through a bush. Other bits and pieces were a heard only Firecrest, 20+ Redstarts & Pied Flycatchers, several Wheatear and Whinchat, a few Spotted Flycatchers and an eruption of flava.

Spotted Flycatcher - Sammy's Point
Unfortunatly I have had to jack in the Skua cruise this coming sunday in order to go on survey into the southern north sea, halfway to Holland-ish. Hopefully we score a few decent migrants and seabirds.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Everyone loves a lifer. I prefer 2

Yesterday against my better judgement I headed up to flamborough a'twitching at 6.30pm. Its September and thus it isnt light for very long. There were very many people there and the eastern waif I had come to see had pretty much gone to bed. not seen since 4pm I was told. Was talking to John and Lawts when a Wren started tekking. A softer tek back was heard and then a small grey bird dropped through the willows. Cue mayhem as everybody tried to climb in with it. Fortunatly sanity eventually rained and people moved back allowing the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler to find itself in my bins view. Mega score. It was tail dipping away and I got lovely views of its backside although only fleeting glimpses of the whole bird which struck me as a grey and long tailed warbler. Happy days. Some others weren't so lucky.

Common Rosefinch juv (note buffy wing bars)
Today an early finish allowed me to catch up on a bit of a tart in Common Rosefinch. Only a grotty juv but it showed well on elders. Also FINALLY caught up with the Hornsea Crane.
hmmm...elder berries

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Hybrid Theory

Gelter, H.P., Tegelstrom, H. & Gustafsson, L. (1992) Evidence from Hatching Success & DNA Fingerprinting for the Fertility of Hybrid Pied x Collared Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca x albicollis. Ibis, 134(1), pp62-68

Essentially there is a set of conditions specific to the islands of southern Scandinavia where it is profitable for female Collared Flys to mate with male Pied Flys in order to gain a healthy mate that will raise offspring. Offspring that could well be the result of pure albicollis parents due to extra pair copulation. There is a chance of hybrid offspring which is more desirable for a female than be spending a season unmated as male offspring are fertile and often successful in passing on their genes. Female offspring are sterile and their reduced fitness often leads to death in the first winter.

There is an interesting flycatcher at Spurn at the moment. Wing length too long for Pied but rump pattern not conclusive for Collared. Mild, K. (1994) Field identification of Pied, Collared and Semi-collared Flycatchers – Part 3: 1st winters and non-breeding adults. Birding World, 7(8) 325-334 mentions that 1st winter Ficedula flycatchers are all diagnosable on rump pattern. This bird isn't. Why? I am no expert on black and white flycatchers so I wont be dissecting the id from pics but my inclination is to believe at present this is a 1st w hybrid albicollis x hypoleuca. As a tick hungry tart I would usually bury my head in the sand but this is my reading of the situation.

As for other birds recently I managed a seawatch on sat which produced 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Whimbrel and a few other bits and pieces. I met Jim and we went on the quiet boat out of brid for a princely single Arctic Skua, nectarine and Purple Sandpiper combo. Dipped the local crane twice but I will see it.

Thursday 26 August 2010

So Whats New?

In an attempt to make these posts more 'interesting' I decided not to post everyday. Otherwise it would be dross like. I went to lincolnshire. I saw a bird. I went home. And frankly - who wants that? No one. What people want is pretty pictures. Like of Kingfishers and stuff. So here is a Kingfisher doing pretty.

Kingfisher - North Killingholme
In all seriousness I went to Lincolnshire on Tuesday hoping, nay praying that the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was refound. It wasn't obviously but I made do. An early start saw my first interesting birds appear as I hit the high tide roost. The Kingfisher above was hovering outside the hide window and then sat down so that even I could get a bad photo or two. The rest of the roost was pretty steady. A handful of Knot, a couple of hundred Redshank. Oh and 3,800 Black-tailed Godwit. And these boys were all packed in as you can see below. At least 10 were colour ringed but several were doing things like standing knee high in the water or on one leg making reads partial or impossible. So far the info forwarded me indicates one possibly two were from Portugal & one was from Iceland but any further info I will divulge when I get it. Might even whack together a bad google map. 4 Avocet were pratting about as well.

Black-tailed Godwit friends - North Killingholme

The count was fairly uneventful as large numbers of birds decamped onto the foreshore. Loads of juv Yellow Wagtails were on the sea wall joined by a few Common Sandpipers. No interesting gulls were seen but I did record Avocet on the foreshore for the first time along with a number of Turnstones.

Common Sandpiper - North Killingholme

After the count was done I decided to go for my backup lifer - the Semipalmated Sandpiper at Alkborough flats. This distant bird showed well in miserable conditions and whilst it was too far to see the semipalmations the super was resolutely not split and thats all I had really to go on. Having looked at pics on the interweb of the bird the bill looks deep based and the scaps seem better for Semi-P over Little Stint BUT who am I to judge with a lifetime experience of 1 Semi-P and a handful of Little Stints, none of which have been adults. What I could discern was the wader that dropped in infront of me was a very nice Wood Sandpiper. This along with a few flyover Greenshanks livened up procedings. Rather bizarrely a Fulvous Whistling Duck was present on the lagoon with Shelduck. My second Marsh Harrier of the day drifted over the reeds upsetting most things but not as much as the juv Peregrine that hammered through, failing to catch a cold.

Wood Sandpiper - Alkborough Flats

In other news this week:
    Marsh Harrier  - Alkborough Flats

  • Somebody has claimed a Short-tailed Shearwater off Pendeen watch. Good luck.
  • A Common Crane is bimbling about Hornsea Mere and surrounds at moment. Hoping to catch up over the next few days.
  • A video from Eigg of a Sunfish PERFECTLY imitates the sighting I had in the Moray firth this month. Apart from where it lies on its side and stuff. Check this out.

Right im off to think about how wonderful the Champions league is. Im a Spurs fan.

Monday 23 August 2010

The End?

I realise that this blog has become a little stale in its writing. I was going to put recently but that would be a lie. Probably since I became a dad and I started working at Hull University. Thankfully I have had some pretty awesome wildlife adventures both professionally and personally to provide material but this will not go on. This is the end of the old ornithological idiocy. And its rebirth. I promise to try harder if you will dear reader (thanks Phil!). I will try ot to make this an A-Z of what birding I'm doing but a labour of love as when I started. I mean who can beat such a puntastic blog post header as 'Shag In Benidorm'? I may even be proud of other elements of the blog but at present I can't remember these. Plus if I keep mentioning small black pelicaniformes and valencian versions of Blackpool I can keep myself high in the list of things that appear when you google shag and benidorm. Or sex and benidorm or any of the other key words I have hidden around the blog to improve traffic. Transvestite Lesbian Dwarf Sex. Dammit that was meant to be hidden. So in the spirit of the Ornithological Idiocy Improvement Campaign or OIIK lets begin.

Lets talk calidrids. There are two currently bimbling about the Humber estuary that are currently of maximum interest. This morning with every intention of diverting the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper left Patrington and I diverted to work (I say diverted, I mean kept going as they both require visiting Kingston-upon-Hell, however briefly). Obviously as soon as I got the work PC fired up I was treated to news of the birds movement along the Spurn peninsula. This particularly hurts as John Sadler, whom I was gassing to at the birdfair managed to score last night. Nicht sehre gut. The last 'Sharpie' was in a similar place three years ago, as I was starting to twitch. The blow then was softened by finding a Great Shearwater the next day. I am unlikely to find a Great Shear tomorrow BUT I am surveying around Killingholme Pits and am thus in the game for a good bird. Some decent shots of the aforementioned Sandpiper are on the following link:

In addition to this, the Semi-palmated Sandpiper has been pinned down to another work site - Alkborough Flats (we work on most of the realignment sites on the Humber). This seems to be sticking and will hopefully be about tomorrow for a quick homage.

My real birding was limited today to THE Turtle Dove. I saw the bird on the way to work (after a week) so was ready with the work camera on the way back. Only its not the Turtle Dove - its three Turtle Doves. Here is the best I managed of the middle bird. The first was so scrunched up it was terible and the third flew quickly.

Turtle Dove - Hutton Cranswick
Note the jaunty angle due to shooting from an open car window from below.

The second to last item on the agenda is to update the links. I would like to thank Pete Mella for his glowing recommendation on Steel City Birding. This site is a charmer from keen birder and regular contributor to the birding glossies. Another from South Yorkshire is Birding Frontiers by the Frontiersman himself Martin Garner. You will learn something from his blog! Lastly for now is Reservoir Catz. You have probably read this over and over. It takes up exactly where McKinney left off all those years ago. Coincidence? You decide. By reading it. Lots.

Lastly I would like to make a full and public apology for calling Hobbies also rans. They are the best birds bar none. I love em.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Urban Birding

Blogger seems to have gone nuts and messed around with my photos. We shall however persevere. Just got back from London where Ring-necked Parakeet was finally added to my British List. Also rans included a Hobby in Sunbury Park, Common Tern on the Thames and some screechy Jays. Much more fun was a day at Legoland followed by another at Hampton Court. West London fringes are quite pleasant despite the invading Psittaformes.

The return was punctuated by a brief stop at the Birdfair which was curtailed by my daughter becoming increasingly fractious. We did however get a super print of a Spatuletail. My wife was frighteningly engaged and ready to part with her money. Always a good sign. Whilst I was away the Semi-P has turned up again - now at Alkborough Flats whilst tonight a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper has been bird-spotted at Pat Haven where we do our winter counts.
White-winged Black Tern - Hornsea Mere
Basking Shark - Wick
Sooty Shearwater - Beatrice Oil Field

Tuesday 17 August 2010


Was back up in the Moray firth this week. Another successful trip with some storming sightings but yesterday was dore for the last 4 hours. Best bits of the first day were 25+ Sooty Shearwaters, 3 Manxies and 3 Whimbrels and a Grey Phalarope. Mammal wise it was sparse save 15 Minke's. Stars of the day however were suprisingly the fish. First up was a surprise Sunfish waggling its dorsal at us. Only a small fish but hey giants awaited. 4 Basking Sharks greeted us at the mouth of Wick Harbour. 3 were between 2.5-3.5m. The 4th was enormous and I wouldnt care to guess how big. And i got a few pics. The second day had a few highlights (2 Storm Petrels, 1 possible Leaches - distant!) but was largely quiet. The best were mammals with a Minke spitting distance from the boat and 3 distant Bottlenose Dolphins motoring past.

Whilst there a good fall occured in Yorkshire plus a Syke's Warbler in Northumberland. No fewer than 4 lifers including three potential county ticks. Today I tried to right this. Got home and a shower & shave later I was at Hornsea Mere with the Little Gulls watching the juv White-winged Black Tern. Corker and about time! Got some photos and these will be on here shortly. Also an Avocet and an extremely wild Ruddy Shelduck. From here I visited Flamborough where I failed to see the Icky & RB Shrike due to no scope. Doh. What I managed was a couple of Whinchats and a Spotted Flycatcher. Also a medium sized juv accipiter flushed off a kill and although female Sparrowhawk is most likely I coulndnt rule out a juv small male Gos. Natch!

Just before I went a dip of Dotterel at West Carlton was annoying. The Tern took the UK list to 310 and Yorkshire to 276. 4 year ticks (phal, tern, Little Gull and Spot Fly took the year list to 202)

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Catch up

Its getting too late for a proper catch up so here is a summary of whats happened.
  • Went to Beatrice - Leatherback Turtle (6th for the Moray firth) plus Sooty Shearwater, Minke x 8, Porpoise x 70
  • Went to Tophill ringing twice - Tree Sparrow & Treecreeper highlights
  • Went to Tophill for fun and managed a juv Garganey
  • Went to Blacktoft Sands yesterday and saw 4 Wood Sandpiper, 10 Green sandpiper, 8 Greenshank, 25+ Spotted Redshank, 7 Little Egret, 100+ Black-tailed Godwit, Water Rail, 40+ Ruff, 2 Bearded tits, 5 Yellow Wagtails & no Semi-palmated Sandpiper 
  • Went to North Killingholme on the 2nd and managed 2,200 Black-tailed Godwit plus 2 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Whimbrel, some summer plumage Knot.
  • Keep seeing a Turtle Dove in Hutton Cranswick. Im now up to 4 work days in a row... Saw the adult a couple of months ago but this bird (a juv) seems to have benn about for just over a fortnight.

Sunday 1 August 2010

House Keeping

My internet connection has disappeared due to a wife related incident and I am currently waiting for a new router but I do have several tales to tell involving reptiles, birds, mammals & insects so a varied lot. Other housekeeping stuff - unfortunately in a battle to prevent the chinese spammers I have had to put all posts to the blog under moderation. Anything related to this blog and in english will be published. Even if it is a direct insult! Post in chinese and it wont make the cut. Hopefully the router will be up and running this week.


Sunday 11 July 2010

More waders!

Started a days surveying at North Killingholme with my first Sandwich Tern of the year flying over my car as I crossed the humber bridge. Almost unbelievable that it has taken until now considering the time i have spent at sea...

The survey was steady with plenty of returning waders including a Common Sandpiper on the beach and a flyover Little Ringed Plover on the pits plus a 1st CY Yellow-legged Gull roosting on the foreshore. Oh and hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits. Obviously.

Went ringing yesterday at Tophill and got a ringing tick with Treecreeper plus we managed our first Coal Tit with a juv. A family of Long-tailed Tits and a number of juv Willow Warblers made up most of our catch of 20 or so birds.

Wednesday 7 July 2010


Tis true - the best season is here. Must be - I have seen returning waders, there have been 20,800 swifts through spurn in a day and a Fea's Petrel has been seen in Cornwall. Personally I did a bit of ringing last weekend. Mostly dross but a single Turtle Dove in the road en route plus a minging Red-crested Pochard asleep on south marsh east were year ticks. A few Grass Snakes were seen knocking about including a sizable female.

On monday I went to north Lincs where my surveys revealed returning waders by the 'bucket'ish load. A single Common Sand, 270 Black-tailed Godwit, 40 Bar-tailed Godwit, 150 Curlew, 4 Redshank, 1 Golden Plover & 1 Little Egret plus a juv Yellow Wagtail. Better was at Chowder Ness where a big group of gulls contained a minima of 2 Yellow-legged Gulls. My first british self-founds that I was 100% with. Out again on Friday.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Underwater Common Dolphin

I quite liked the presurfacing Common Dolphin shot. the other pic is us surveying on the west coast in a class 7 prototype lifeboat (only one not owned by the RNLI). This was taken by the hardy observers at Macharinish Bird Observatory, Kintyre. I was having my brekkie when this was taken and am thus not on show...thankfully.

Moray Firth

I was back up on the Beatrice Oil Field last week and it yielded some super results after a fog hamperred start. Final totals ran in at 5 Minke whales, 12 Bottlenose Dolphins (2 pods - a 10 and a 2), 10 Common Dolphins around the boat as the survey finished giving point blank views, 1 Grey Seal and innumerable Porpoise. From the bird point of view there were more Arctic Skuas and Arctic Terns but otherwise as you were. Of interest were the Guillemot and Razorbill fledglings which had managed to paddle 15 miles or so from their colonies already. Infact we saw a bonxie making short work of two fledglings at once.

Wednesday 30 June 2010


Some reasonable views of Common Dolphin. Full write-up to follow

Thursday 17 June 2010

Warbling Welsh

Paid a visit to Blorenge to pay homage to the Marmora's Warbler there. A corking little bird but Im sad to report that there were a bunch of dickheads that wandered about on the moor disturbing the breeding Tree Pipit, Whinchat and Meadow Pipit that were knocking about. The warbler was brilliant showing well on favoured bushes. Will see if i can get an image up soon.

We (me, Mike & John) stopped at Ilkeston for the Great Reed Warbler on the way back which showed like a P*RN ST*R. Was a real beauty in full song and fly-catching. It was getting tainted by the local Song Thrush that was imitating it. I have a sound file I will post of the song in due course.

Currently in the inner hebs again and having a cracking survey. Home tomorrow but the tally stands at 4 Minke Whales, 9 Storm Petrels and plenty of filler including several thousand Manxies with rafts of over 50 birds today.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Water Rail Song

After hearing this for the first time on Monday I thought I'd educate the masses by linking to the Xeno-canto Water Rail page which has a variety of calls/song for water rail including the song. Its absolutely spot on and can sound like some Coot vocalisations.

Monday 7 June 2010

North Killingholme Haven

Spent the day at North Killingholme doing my BBS & WeBs counts. Not the most productive but a few good birds. Started with a flyaway Little Egret on the pits looking to be away ASAP. A funny noise turned out to be a singing (not calling) Water Rail. A second replied from within the reeds. Reed Warblers were back in the reeds where Sedge Warblers were plentiful but not singing. The only singers were in the scrub - I guess late-arrivers getting suboptimal territory. There were no waders on the pits. Pushing round a few fledged Pied Wagtails looked fresh out of the nest and there seemed to be tonnes of Goldfinches. The BBS was quiet with a flock of 35 Linnets the highlight along with confirmed breeding of Song Thrush, Magpie, Blue Tit & Great Tit. The estuary was also quiet as a mouse with a drop in group of 16 winter plumage Bar-tailed Godwits (probably summering 2nd cal year birds) with 2 Knot, 11 Ringed Plover, 1 Dunlin & 1 sum plum Black-tailed Godwit. These all promptly buggered off when the tide rose further leaving a few Shelduck and Black-heads. Nevermind...

Saturday 5 June 2010

Golden nO

Went down to spurn the other day - there had been Golden Oriole, Rosefinch and firecrest in the morning but apparently the oriole had flown across the humber and the others werent pin down. I started at Sammy's and picked up a late Wheatear, a very confiding Whimbrel which was stood in the middle of a paddock not flushing...nice. Also a couple of very nice Yellow Wags including a scruffy male singing. A Cuckoo could be heard on the wind but deigned not to make an appearance. What did show up was a male Marsh Harrier quartering the fields. Not often I get to see an adult male as most birds that hang around the humber are cream-crowns of some description - especially in winter.

I mooched onto the point at spurn and found nothing save a few Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat. Then I heard a Golden Oriole in full song a few feet through the buckthorn. Hoping it wasn't a Starling doing impressions I tried to get a better view of the area but this wasnt possible - it was now doing the jay-type alarm calls and i backed off. I bumped into another birder who I told about the bird and he replied 'oh you didnt see it when it flushed just now?'. No I didnt. Doh. Nothing else of note was noted.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Tuesday 1 June 2010

All Quiet

Sorry for the lack of updates but I haven't seen/done much. A possible Turtle Dove at Hutton Cranswick remained that. I remembered that when I returned from Scotland I saw a Badger down the road at 2am. Thats it...

Today I stopped at Swine Moor hoping for a late passage wader and got sweet FA apart from reasonable views of Reed Warblers and fledged Redshank & Lapwing.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Stormy Waters

Im now home and hosed after 8 days on the road thankfully although some chavvy scumbag has smashed my windscreen and dented half the panels on my car, the bastards...

Yesterday we had a short area left to survey and bar a few Manx Shearwaters and Puffins there was nil of note until the last two minutes when a Whooper Swan flew north high and there was a significant passage of Swallows. A swallow then went the other a white rump, Storm Petrel! One of my bogeys cleaned up! Rather bizarrely a House Martin was in with the Swallows so we had a chance to compare the two at sea.

As we headed home we saw very little bar a circling Golden Eagle over the cliffs of the Oa. This bad boy was a subadult shown by the white band in its tail. It indulged in a bit of foot dragging and tumbling before disappearing - superb views.

From Port Askaig waiting for the ferry we had a Goosander fly east high, a good record for the island. The journey back on the ferry had about 20 Great Northern Diver plus 3 Red-throated Diver all in spanking summer plumage. Magic. Onward!

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Amazing Wildlife Experiences

Ive been away for the last six days and I have had some mega birds and marine mammals. Travelling up we managed 3 Ospreys in the Spey Valley and a Goshawk. Up on the moray firth we managed 120 Bonxies, 10 Arctic Skuas and a few Arctic Terns as well as a single Minke Whale and some incredible aggregations of Kittiwakes and 24 Great Northern Divers off of Buckie. We then traversed Scotland toward Islay with a couple of stops in Speyside including Grantown Woods where Crossbills were overhead (seemingly big ones) plus plenty of Siskins, Mistle Thrush, Redstart, Tree Pipit and a Cuckoo, the latter three all year ticks.

A quick detour to Loch Garten saw some lovely Red Squirrels, Common Sandpiper, Osprey around the nest and best of all a corking Capercaillie feeding on saplings! No photos but magic. We then crossed over the highlands to reach Islay via Fort William, Oban and Kintyre.

Yesterday we toured Islay and saw plenty of proper Rock Doves all over. A morning trip on the Oa saw Whinchat join the yearlist plus a few sightings of Ravens. We walked up to the American Monument to commerate the dead sailors washed ashore in 1918 after being torpedoed. A large passage of Swallows was going on and a few House Martins joined them as they flew ashore in force 6 winds off the Irish Sea. We then explored Bowmore and Port Charlotte before the boss went to pick up the rest of our team. Myself and another colleague shot across the sound of Islay to visit Jura and got point blank views of Red Deer (photos to follow). Once we returned we headed up to Loch Gruinart.

Almost immediately upon arriving I heard 'crex crex' and was fortunate to get brilliant views of a Corncrake, my best of this elusive rail showing clear as day. Immense. A trip to the hide gave up Whooper Swan and Greenshank amongst other bits and pieces but a calidrid kicking around with the Dunlin was just a big indvidual rather than the recent pec sand. We pushed off very happy.

Today was a quiet survey but for the pod of 12 Bottle-nosed Dolphins that were bow-riding the boat for 5 minutes. Bad pics to follow although I could have touched them. Incredible. These guys had a small calf with them and were well marked with pale flanks and an obvious cape.

Just a super few for some small skuas tomorrow.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

2 Megas, 2 Days

Thanks to a text from a friend I heard about an Iberian Chiffchaff at Potteric Carr before checking birdguides. I was without portfolio as Im surveying this weekend so off I toddled with my baby girl in tow. We arrived and she had shit all over her car seat...everywhere. I tidied her up and fed her and we got onto the reserve an hour after we arrived.

We got down to the field at the south end of Huxter Wells marsh eventually and we could hear the bird calling away, chiffer like but totally different melody with a trill to finish. It didnt stop calling at any point I was there but wasnt showing to start with. It was hiding up alongside the motorway for 20 minutes before slipping quietly into a solitary tree where it showed quite nicely I managed to get good views of a scruffy phyllosc, midbrown with some colour to the throat, not much super and little in the way of green in the wing. Again like a chiffer but not... It came down into the hawthorn right infront and then I noticed... Izzy had puked all over herself and that was that. A good bird with a lovely song but completely different to the pratincole yesterday which had such obvious charms... As we were leaving a ************ called - nice.

Oh and then I dipped the Red-rumped Swallow at Rother Valley... Hate em. El Viva Espana.

Monday 10 May 2010

Smiles better!

I somehow found myself at Frampton Marsh this afternoon. In an unusual turn of events Mike Richardson was also there. Probably because we went together. We had a wander toward east hide and had a flyover Whimbrel. Avocets were everywhere. A slice of the med was present in a showy singing Corn Bunting beside the path. After a wrong turn to dudesville we got amazing views of a cold miserable ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE. It was drizzling and cloudy. We were cold. The bird looked rubbish. Then somebody calls a Montagu's Harrier over the flood bank and we get a decent view of a initially distant ringtail floating closer until it disappeared below the bank. A quality yeartick and fluke. And then without noticing its warm and sunny and the pratincole is flying like a giant butterfly across the marsh. No trailing edge, scarlet underwings and projecting toes beyond the tail with dark upperwings. The bird then moved toward the far end of the marsh so we moved along the path. It flew to the near edge of the marsh so we joked about checking the nostril shape before it flew straight at us and landed about 8 metres away. THE MOST AMAZING VIEWS. I smiled a lot as we returned to Yorkshire.

Saturday 8 May 2010


FUCKED 3rd time. Hate them.

Friday 7 May 2010

Nightingale pics

Here are some better efforts from Michael Flowers of the Whisby Nightingales. Visit Michael's blog at for the latest on the wildlife classes that he runs.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at