Sunday 28 February 2010

Birdforum 'Wykeham' Bash

The reason I have put Wykeham in apostrophes is because we lasted about ten minutes there. Rain and mist = no raptors. We instead headed to Filey via Forge Valley feeders and Holbeck Car Park. The two waypoints mean nothing to birders outside Yorkshire but here in God's Own they mean one thing - year ticks. Forge Valley is a well known site for the brutally range restricted Nuthatch which occurs commonly on the southern fringe of the North Yorkshire Moors and then in patchy distribution from York westward. It is absent pretty much from East Yorkshire. Also there are a really easy load of Marsh Tits with no interfering Willows to confuse you. Both species were seen well after a wait and a Long-tailed Tit was pratting about feeding like a blackbird on the deck.

Holbeck means Mediterranean Gulls and a 79p Spar loaf gave us tremendous views of a minimum of 5 indiviuals including adults and 2nd winters. This extended session even led to my point and click getting in on the act.

Our final destination - like a bad B movie was Filey where we ran into several proper good birds. As we left the car park a group of waders gave up on aerial roosting and decided they fancied feeding on a flash in the country park. Mostly Oystercatcher and Redshank with a touch of Turnstone, also present were a few Knot, Dunlin and a single Bar-tailed Godwit.

Wandering down Arndale to the sailing club we were notified of a male Black Redstart but we failed completely to see it. Shame as I havent seen an adult male. I did manage to find a Black-throated Diver out in the bay. A lifer for a few of us and a very good east coast bird. I was chuffed to bits. Also kicking about were several Eider, Shag and loads of Common Scoter. Marks eagle eyes pulled out a Great-crested Grebe and an unresolved dark looking large Grebe in choppy water.

We decided to scope the bay from the upper-cliff to get better views and were rewarded by courting Great-crested Grebe on the sea off Primrose Valley. These were surrounded by FIVE Slavonian Grebes. An amazing count and a high for the bay this winter I believe. We headed round to Carr Naze to give the scoters a good viewing. The Black-throated Diver flew north out of the bay... and yet it was still where it was originally. Hang on - in its place was a Great Northern Diver. Another really cracking bird. As we examined the scoters there were no obvious male velvets but prolonged watching revealed a female Velvet Scoter that only revealed its white secondaries as it crested waves. Cheeky cow. It was cold now and time was marching on so we abandoned. You may notice that my only pics were of med gulls. My battery died. What can I say?

p.s. Thanks to my partners in crime Paul, Mark and Keith

p.p.s. Mark and Paul saw the Black-throated Thrush early on making it number 200 on the BF meet list

p.p.p.s. Black-throated Thrush, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Velvet Scoter are all new additions to the meet list and take the total to 203.

Friday 26 February 2010

Paull Home St...hang on where has it gone?

Was surveying Paull Holme Strays yesterday in the mist. The usual suspects were present with plenty of Knot, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits and the like. I was counting the first sector. Just finishing the Lapwing, all 3,700 of them when the fog rolled in so thick so that from the floodbank between the estuary and the refuge i could see neither. Needless to say I quickly abandoned. Not much else doing although the Yorkshire Listers league has been updated with a new entrant. Me! Second last at the moment on 273 with Amur Falcon to be added. Hopefully. Anyhow with the Ring-billed Gull in West Yorkshire knocking about im optimistic about adding to my tally.

Saturday 20 February 2010


I was ou surveying in the badlands of Holderness with a WeBS style survey of Patrington Haven and saltmarsh. It involved my boss sitting in the car doing point counts of the Haven and the flats outside from high tide from the hire car whilst I walked the floodbank 1-2 miles away as a control site. After 9km of walking (our GPS told me) I was tattered and we switched so I spent the afternoon in the car and my colleague walked the bank. Boy was I glad at this as band after band of hail and snow zipped through.

The best birds of the day were incidental and were noted early doors. As we turned up the Haven was packed - over 2000 Bar-tailed Godwit and 800 Knot with lesser numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Redshank. Dark-bellied Brent Geese bombed about with Shelduck all over.

Not many raptors were seen but a bird flushed from the floodbank confused and when it perched on top of a bush both of us reckoned on Merlin. We were wrong though when a subadult female Sparrowhawk was the real id. My boss did see a Merlin whilst I was on my travels but bird of the day was the wintering male Hen Harrier which flushed the Sparrowhawk. As I was walking the floodbank I flushed two Short-eared Owls from the plantation 1.5km along. Little else was in the plantation but super views were had. A few Reed Bunting, Skylark and Fieldfare knocked about with a small group of Twite moving across the saltmarsh. These were a regular feature of the day and were a long awaited Yorkshire tick. Yay. A Little Egret moved between ditches behind me surrounding the fields. I was glad when midday came as 3.30 hours in 1 degree was quite enough for me.

From the car good numbers of the waders were seen with Curlew numbers hitting close to 100. A few Wigeon and Mallard fed on the mud flats. Godwits of both species moved back into the Haven with a number of Redshank, several Brents a Greylag and most pleasingly a single Ruff. The Twite bombed about the floodbank with Lapwing and Golden Plover loafing looking bored. No more raptors were seen but after scanning small numbers of Roe Deer and Hares grazed on Welwick saltmarsh.

Michael Flowers and his students appeared and had the dubious distinction of being noted as low-level disturbance...sorry! We finished up at 3 after a long but rewarding day in the field.

Saturday 13 February 2010


Got back last night after an immense week surveying off Islay and Kintyre. Some good birds and super sights. Seas were less choppy on wednesday and thursday. Our Wednesday survey was between Kintyre and Islay and had some Tysties inshore. Not a great deal else but finished up with 11 species with a Black-throated Diver just off transect. Steaming back to harbour produced several Great-northern Divers. We had just one marine mammal contact, a close Harbour Porpoise. On the rocks entering the harbour were a few Common Seals. A bull Grey Seal was busy acting like a dog, begging for cast offs in the harbour from the local cobbles. A few Eider pottered round the harbour.

The final days surveying was pretty pants - 8 species but we did manage a migrant...a Starling headed from the direction of Barra low over the waves toward Islay. Super views were had of Antrim, Rathlin Island, Mull and the paps of Jura as well as Islay. Infact we could see snow covered peaks between Colonsay and Mull...our skipper thought it might be 'the ben' although the peak didnt look plateaued enough to me but we were a LONG distance away. The journey back to port was much more productive with an aborted attempt to land at Port Askaig bringing 8 Black-throated Divers and 3 Great Northern Divers plus a few Herons, Buzzards and Eider. Loads of Red Deer were seen on both Islay and Jura as we passed through the sound of Jura. Black Guillemots were everywhere. A nice surprise was an adult Iceland Gull which overflew the boat and disappeared. It was reported twice on the news services - once from my submission to birdguides and once 'cos they robbed my twitter feed (I know because of the numbers of divers on the report!). We then steamed another couple of hours round the island to Port Ellen where there was no rip tide. A very tasty dinner then followed at the White Hart Hotel.

The final day involved a ferry ride from Port Ellen to Kinnacraig on Kintyre before driving home. A weedy female Herring Gull with weird jizz got me confused and a few Chough milled over the hill. 5 Greylag crossed the harbour. Curlew were on the rocks and a Rock Pipit called as it jumped the ferry. 4 RB Mergansers were in the harbour with a number of Goldeneye. Setting off saw the usual divers guarding the harbour with Common Seals aplenty. From here on it was quiet until we entered more sheltered water in the run up to Kinnacraig. A pair of Pintail flew over the ferry, a female Long-tailed Duck was seen at the shore whilst innumerable Divers of all 3 common species were throughout the loch. Tysties flushed left right and centre. I managed to call an Otter inshore which then dived. My colleagues then managed to see it haul out on the rocks and scamper off. Wigeon, Mallards and Oystercatchers were lining the shores of the inlet. A pair of Common Scoter flew alongside the boat before disappearing. Mergansers and Goldeneye were everywhere.

The last (interesting) part of the journey was through Argyll passing Inverarey with its herd of Wigeon on the bank and Lochgilphead with 3 Slavonian Grebe feeding close to the town. Loch Fyne was beautiful as was all the scenery - Im really sold on this area. Despite intense scanning of every ridge in the area in ideal conditions not a hint of a Golden Eagle was achieved. Next month maybe when they are displaying?

ps here are some gratuitous shots of Greenland White-fronted Geese in flight and the inside of a 'place of interest'.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

No Canadians here

Rather a weird thing this - having now seen Barnacle Goose and Greenland White-fronted Goose today on Islay I have now seen all the regular species this year without having seen Canada Goose. No loss there! The trip up here yesterday yielded several Red Kites, Red Grouse, Wigeon & Buzzards a plenty. Unfortunatly there wasnt enough space on the ferry for our car as we only made it with 3 minutes to spare so we lugged all the gear by hand. Nightmare.

Today we surveyed west of Islay and managed 6 species - Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake and Great Black-backed Gull. Not a great return. We had to abandon after 4 hours due to dangerous conditions for us working atop the wheelhouse. Steaming back to the harbour we saw spray from waves crashing on the cliffs reaching 10 metres. Impressive.

Once in harbour myself and 2 colleagues decided to go for a walk to the Laphroaig distillery, a mile or so out of Port Ellen. En route a few birds were seen. :) Ringed Plover and Curlew were in evidence in the harbour and plenty of Corvids blogged about. Raven over the hills, Rooks in the town and Hooded Crows bothering the sheep. A group of 12 Chough wheeled over the hills. 5 geese blogged past - only Greylags (wild ones though). They landed just over the crest of the hill. Once we walked to the crest it was obvious that there were 250-300 Greenland White-fronted Geese with them. This is a lifer in waiting as they will surely be split in due course. A quad bike flushed them and they made the most incredible laughing noise. Superb. A quick trip into the Laphroaig distillery included a quick sample of the quarter cask which im pleased to say was delicious. I purchased a bottle of 10 year old for my dad and we hit the road. As we left the distillery 40 or so Barnacle Geese gave us a flyby. 2 Black Guillemots pratted about offshore as we walked back to the sound of Stonechats. Now im in the internet cafe contemplating grub. Good times. Will upload a pic of the Y-fronts in flight asap.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Bullfinch. Bringer of Spring

Bullfinches return to my garden every spring(?!?) to destroy the buds on the trees and shrubs alongside the dyke. They are already back and due to the bad light and awful camera equipment here are a couple of bad shots of one of the males.

p.s. there were 2 males and a female thus far - a female down on last year.

Friday 5 February 2010

Shag in Torrevieja

Using counting coots as a template I am going to shoe-horn enough buzzwords to get pervy teenagers to improve my hit count from innappropriate google searches whilst also providing the third instalment of my shag on the Costa Blanca series (previous entries were April 2008 & August 2009). Also I would like to celebrate Ornithological Idiocy's second birthday. The candles have sadly already been blown out so you'll have to make do with this trip report with de rigour bad photos. Unfortunately I only took two that even vaguely resembled birds and one of those was a frigging female Stonechat.

Anyhow an uneventful flight from Leeds-Bradford into Alicante was made as pleasant as possible by Ryanair who gave us priority boarding due to our enfant terrible. It was just after midnight on the 29th when we set off for the sleepy suburb of La Siesta for a weeks stay with Angela's slowly dementing aunt. My priorities were somewhat different with a couple of vagrants high on my agenda. The first day contained minimal birding opportunities but a morning walk provided the first of many Black Redstarts. These were to provide a constant companion whilst wandering about the scrub of La Mata along with the ever present Sardinian Warblers & Thekla Larks. Along the fringes of the salina were a a few Zitting Cisticolas and a handsome Dartford Warbler. Hoopoes were getting horny on the rooftops and chasing each other about whilst making some good awful noises. A few Crag Martins with the odd Sand Martin whizzed above the scrub. I called it a day when the only birds on the salina itself were a few Slender-billed Gulls with their Black-headed Gull co-geners. A few Yellow-legged Gulls blogged around the harbour in Torrevieja but that was the height of further excitements. Fortunately Saturday promised greater birding targets.

Albujon, Murcia was the destination on Saturday morning for the first Belted Kingfisher in southern Europe. A rather forlorn slog around the irrigation reservoirs led to a dispondent birder but as I was completing my wander around the reservoir a huge steel-blue and white apparition dived into the water on the small reservoir and then perched briefly before flying off - it was the bird I had come for and ecstatic I was too. Sadly the kingfisher was gone for good along the irrigation canal. All too brief but sectacular all the same. Also seen in the same area were scores of Chiffchaffs and White Wagtails with a couple of Grey Wagtail working the canal edges. Crested Lark calls and Serin song filled the air. A band of Black-winged Stilts were accompanied by a Little Egret. Super stuff. The family then went to Murcia for some cultural learnings. And coffee.

The sunday was spent in Benidorm and the less said probably the better but good numbers of Kestrel were hunting the roadside verges. A Cattle Egret nearly met a sticky end as it crossed the road infront of the toll gate on the AP-7. On returning to La Siesta huge flocks of starlings were assembling above Elche - presumably to roost in El Hondo.

Monday saw a fullday pass out and I hit El Hondo. Watching from near the North gate a few Marsh Harriers started hunting over the reeds. Chiffchaffs were everywhere and the first Cetti's Warbler of the trip was calling from near my feet. A couple of Buzzards were perched up on posts scanning for rodents. No sign was had of the Spotted Eagle which roosts in the line of eucalyptus trees crossing the view. I decided to change tacts and headed round to the West Gate. Here I had the fortune to bump into local birder and guide Graham Critchell. We gassed about the loal scene and he gave me some good gen. Booted Eagles mixed with the Marsh Harriers and a male Hen Harrier gave some grief to the other raptors. We both picked up a bugling sound...Cranes. 4 groups of threes and fours gave a total of 15 birds emerging from the marshes and joining up in the skies over Crevillent. They circled high and were lost to view after 20 minutes. Graham mentioned that they had been wintering on El Hondo and they occasionally looked as if they were headed off but return later. Not long after he said this and we could hear cranes from another part of the reserve. Super birds. A Southern Grey Shrike busied itself trying to murder Zitting Cisticolas & Sardinian Warblers in pursuit flight. The south gate produced c10,000 Common Starlings with a smattering of Spotless Starlings amongst them. A real surprise was in the field behind the gate - 4 Blue-headed Wagtails (a very early date). Whilst speaking with Graham I mentioned a larger streaky pipit amongst the Meadow Pipits at La Mata and he said that it was almost certainly a Richard's Pipit as about 10 were wintering at El Hondo and a smattering were in the dunes at Santa Pola so there was no reason for them not to be at La Mata. I had another brief encounter with a similar bird at La Mata just before returning home but couldnt get it nailed on the deck and neither time did it call.

Santa Pola was next up and an Osprey flopped over the road. Also amongst the thousands of Yellow-legged Gulls were a Common Sandpiper and a Turnstone. A handful of Stilts and Little Egrets bummed about and a couple of hundred Greater Flamingos fed up in the distance. By this time some due needed to be paid to ma famille.

On the Tuesday we headed to Cartagena and birding was neglected. Wednesday morning I headed to try and score the Spotted Eagle at El Hondo which opens the north gate for 3 hours each Saturday and Wednesday. Unfortunatly I was lumbered with Isabelle as Ange fell sick overnight. A slow amble was protracted by regular feeds. Eventually we reached a ower to watch over the marsh from, where we scared the bejesus out of a pale morph Booted Eagle and saw the only intermediate phase bird of the trip. An Osprey scooted across in front of the tower and loads of ducks were a novelty - Spain ticks galore - Tufted Duck, Teal, Shoveller and Red-crested Pochard . Two lifers then revealed themselves, the first was long awaited and the second much anticipated. A number of Cetti's Warblers sang at me and a few gave brief tickable views. These were surpassed by a showy individual which sat in the open whilst singing and was seen on and off for ten minutes. As I checked through the plague of Chiffchaffs one birds was immediately different - it had a bandit mask and a russet back. Finally three Penduline Tits gave cracking extended views. A male Hen Harrier floated through. Finally we reached the tower at the end of the trail and could hear a few Moustached Warblers but no veiws were had and these remained unticked. Bumping into Graham again along with two other local birders it was clear that we had been in the wrong position to see the Spotted Eagle fly off after it had perfromed all morning - dammit. Purple Gallinule and Water Rail grunted in the background. I missed a Golden Eagle over the distant mountains as I got on the wrong raptor - a Booted Eagle. Not too worry eh - two more raptors to come back too. On leaving I headed to the South Gate and got views of plenty of Reed & Corn Buntings including plenty of the latter singing.

A family walk along the promenade produced the final few decent birds of the trip - single Sandwich Tern, Audouin's Gull and SHAG! A Shag in Torrevieja - who'd have thought.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at