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.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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