Thursday 29 November 2012

Patchwork Challenge

I have taken on another patching challenge for the coming new year. This time it is the brainchild of Aberdeen's finest. And Fat Paul Scholes. Over on the new blog Patchwork Challenge the details are in evidence but basically it is find as many species as you can using the birdguides rare-ometer as the scoring system and double points for self-finds of scarce or rarer birds. Unlike the foot patch challenge this seems to require actual decent birds so I have opted to use Barmston and have defined the patch to fit with their 3km limit.

View Barmston Patch in a larger map

So it is all of Barmston south of the road to the drain and the coastal strip north to Fraisthorpe and south to Ulrome plus the caravan site north of the road in Barmston. Previous decent finds there have included Rough-legged Buzzard, Glaucous Gull, Red-necked Grebe, Black-throated Diver, 1,000+ Little Auks, several Short-eared Owls and plenty of Snow Buntings and Twite so plenty of potential for something even betterer.

 Now there is a twist in that people with established patches will have their patch list score graded as a percentage of their average previous 3 years scores to enable comparability between patches (and patchers). I wont be able to enter that this year as I have no comprehensive data for the patch having watched it sporadically. Fingers crossed for the BB rare!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Patch Gold

Managed another cracking local bird today - my first Goosander for the village. I got the news of its presence via Michael Flowers on twitter at half 3 and raced up to the mere (the village pond) to find a fine drake sat on the grass in someones garden on the far side. A truely super bird and one that is pretty scarce in the local area - evidenced by very few at Tophill Low.

Sadly no photos as my camera is living in the airing cupboard to remove the moisture that got into the lens and fogged it yesterday but if it stays until tomorrow I will try to get some shots. Additionally, three species of Tit made it onto the footpatch challenge practise list with Great, Long-tailed and Coal Tit all visiting my feeders today taking me onto 47 in 2 days. Another 2 Cormorants passed within viewing distance of the house but sadly I wasnt home to see it. Must try harder! Apparently 10 Waxwings were in a private garden about 200 yards NW of mine but I failed to see them in situ let alone get them on the garden list. Numbers of winter thrushes in the locale are astounding with most of them being Redwing. Must keep checking for the Dusky Thrush.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Patch Footlist Challenge

Over the last couple of days the talk of twitter has switched from Munticorns to patching and more specifically, how many species can be seen in January on foot from your front door. As birders are competitive buggers there is a competition afoot - to see the biggest percentage of realistic target birds for your local patch by foot. My realistic maxima is 96 species with proper local rare in Smew and Water Rail amongst these. I generated this number by taking what was on Birdtrack for my 2km square and deleting the passage summer birds and those that are races or domestics but adding any that I had seen that weren't included (just Peregrine in winter).

In light of this I thought I would get some practice in and voila! 43 species including some patch gold. Casting my eyes on the feeders failed to get me Great Tit or Tree Sparrow but the rest of the usual garden fayre was present. I went for a wander to where the Waxwing was seen yesterday and quickly saw plenty of Redwing but no Jedward's Hypocolius. A Sparrowhawk buzzing someones feeders was a bonus (although I later saw another, both adult males by the looks of things).

The mere held the usual suspects plus a very fine drake Pochard and a Little Grebe but no Gadwall which for the first time in 4 years are absent. Walking along Nafferton Beck towards new bridge lane found no Kingfisher but a flyover Grey Wagtail was decent in the winter. The first of 2 Grey Herons was hiding amongst sheep as the rain sheeted down and I got very wet. A calling Great Spotted Woodpecker went unseen but very much ticked.

Crossing south of the railway and a few gulls were added including a stonking adult Great Black-backed Gull and a few Herring Gulls of varying stages of sub-adulthood. Here on the Carrs I am always aware that BoPs are potentially about and a Buzzard and Kestrel made themselves known in awful light. Finally the rain began to ease and rather forlorn I saw a Cormorant fly over the village - directly over my house. This much expected garden tick eluded me again (there is a daily passage along Wansford Canal too and from roost sites and the sea).

Just as I was heading home a call alerted me to the only Yellowhammer in Yellowhammer hedge. I did notice a large group of Fieldfare in the berry laden trees above the hedge and as I put down my bins my brain whirred...there were some smaller crested birds amongst them. Four Waxwings then gave excellent views as I tried in vain to get a decent shot with my rain soaked camera shooting into the sun. I gave up eventually and returned home very chuffed.

Species List
1) Mute Swan
2) Greylag
3) Mallard
4) Tufted Duck
5) Pochard
6) Cormorant
7) Grey Heron
8) Little Grebe
9) Sparrowhawk
10) Buzzard
11) Kestrel
12) Coot
13) Moorhen
14) Common Gull
15) Black-headed Gull
16) Herring Gull
17) Great Black-backed Gull
18) Feral Pigeon
19) Stock Dove
20) Woodpigeon
21) Collared Dove
22) Great Spotted Woodpecker
23) Magpie
24) Carrion Crow
25) Rook
26) Jackdaw
27) Blue Tit
28) Waxwing
29) Wren
30) Blackbird
31) Redwing
32) Fieldfare
33) Song Thrush
34) Mistle Thrush
35) Robin
36) Dunnock
37) Starling
38) House Sparrow
39) Grey Wagtail
40) Chaffinch
41) Greenfinch
42) Goldfinch
43) Yellowhammer

Which equates to 41.3% of the expected total (even though it hasn't started yet!)

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Counting the Cost(a) part 2

Sorry for the delay in posting part 2 of my epic family holiday to Spains coastal strip - Im working like a dog at the moment! Anyway - on with the story.

Day 2 had us heading into the mountains of mid Alicante (roughly inland from Benidorm). We were heading to a town called Alcoy which is sat in a gorge between two mountains which we were hoping to investigate. Heading out of La Siesta the first Hoopoe of the trip was inflight (several more were noted!) and on the Lemon Tree Road we had a flyover Cattle Egret. Not so common this far from El Hondo but ten a penny only a few miles to the north. The drive past Santa Pola salinas also revealed the first Osprey, Flamingo and Black-winged Stilts of the sojorn. Nothing earth shattering but nice to see.

A 45 minute run had us at Font Roja, a beautiful mountain south of Alcoy and my wife was very impressed. A baby related false start meant we were hanging about a little while but soon we were scrambling through the woodland tracks and investigating caves. Robins were wid spread as were seemingly Rock Buntings judging by the calls but I failed to lay my bins on any as I was carrying the baby and entertaining Isabelle who found a pretty cool little cave. With that duly investigated a Sparrowhawk drifted by. A party of tits passed through, mostly Coal and Great Tits but tagged on the back of the flock were three Short-toed Treecreepers. A lifer no less after missing them in the spring. Suitably underwhelmed as they cleared off calling but refusing to give bins views I went back to playing with the kids.

Back at the car park I looked along the spine of the mountain and I noticed 3 raptors circling distantly. These were big and as I raised the bins they resolved into Griffon Vultures. A bit more searching and 11 of these hulking brutes were found in total. They must have come from the colony the other side of the valley.

We descended the mountain hoping to catch lunch in the cafe on the cliffs close to the Vultures home but sadly this was closed as the season ended the day before (All Saint's Day) so I took solace in the impending number of Vultures and the male Stonechat that was sat on a plant stem beside the road. Arriving at the colony initially nothing but slowly up to 25 birds were seen from this vantage point. They were joined by my first Spanish Peregrine which was bothering them.

The kids were asleep but we needed feeding and my wife wanted McDonald's and I duly obliged by descending back into Alcoy and giving my best impression of Spanish to the obviously bored attendent. Once we had had our fill of junk food I glanced up at the Sierra behind and up to 50 vultures were circling over it. A remarkable sight for someone who hasnt been to South west Spain (yet!).

We headed back to La Siesta so the kids could have a nap and at a wee stop en route I noticed an Iberian Grey Shrike on wires. Expected but I didnt see many on the trip. The rarest bird of the trip was noted after we got back when two calling crests in scrub turned out to be Goldcrests. They hung around the whole trip and Im not sure if there have been any documented records for the province (rumours of 3-4 prior records but nothing firm). I finally got some record shots of them on the Friday before we left thankfully.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Counting the Cost(a)

So I am returned from another visit to Alicante province. November is not a time I have visited before so I was intrigued as to what I would see but this was weighed against the presence of our lovely new baby, Abigail who was three months old whilst we were away, and as such my birding time was cut in half. Despite this it was a successful trip with 93 species recorded including a couple of lifers and a number of Spanish ticks plus some local raritiesbrought down by the chilly weather.

View from the balcony
We arrived at La Siesta, Torrevieja at around 1am on the 1st November and the lack of any denizens of the night aside from several species of bat meant for a quiet start. The next morning and I watched from my balcony in 20 degree heat and sun whilst calming the baby. A Common Buzzard lifted off from the pines and headed south west whilst many Crag Martins hawked over the lake with a single House Martin amongst them. A single Slender-billed Gull over the apartment was the only one of the trip. It was also evident that the winter infestation of Black Redstarts had begun with a juvenile male holding territory on our elderly relatives roof. A few Robins were already in as well.

We headed into the town centre of Torrevieja to Potato City Park (park of nations) and a Swallow was alone amongst its Crag Martin brethren. A mixed flock of Spotless and Common Starlings were flycatching amongst the hirundines and the best find of the day was a late Subalpine Warbler enjoying the unseasonal warmth. I had to put the aircon on in the car...

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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