Monday 30 December 2013

Patchwork Challenge

It's been a bit sparse on here of late. Three reasons - limited birding, lots of work and patchwork challenge admin. The first is limited by the second and the actual production of posts is limited by the number I have been doing for PWC. Despite this I have managed to get down to Barmston a couple of times in December. The best stuff included a patch year tick in the form of a Black-throated Diver, 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and after the big blow some unseasonal waders including Knot and Ringed Plover. I finally caught up with the returning white winger which has proved conclusively to be a Kumlien's Gull. That would make me right then... Smug fail coming soon no doubt. There were also loads of buntings in a cover crop including a few Corn Buntings. It was too windy for a thorough search on the 27th so an early new year raid seems the best bet of a cheeky Little Bunting or better yet Pine... 

My year at Barmston has got me my first Kumlien's Gull and a lifer Richard's Pipit which was also a find for me (the gull was merely a relocation). For Patchwork Challenge I managed a total of 121 species and 155 points which considering the paucity of coverage I was able to do in spring and autumn isn't too bad IMO. For the coming year it's going to have to be about targeted visits to beat the totals. I also managed 930 records and 28 complete lists for birdtrack which cheers me no end as I wanted to improve my birdtrack contribution. Other good bits included the Pale-bellied Brent's which have returned, a smart adult Med Gull, winter Little Gulls after the big storm, lots or Littoralis Rock Pipits and Jack Snipe in the spring, juvenile Euro Y-front, Spotted Flycatcher, Water Rail on the beach, Common Scoter on the drain. Lots of awesomeness and loads of potential. 

Monday 2 December 2013

Avalon Marshes

I have been working in the South West and we were flying back to Newcastle on Sunday afternoon so the only way to get rid of our fuzzy heads was to do a little birding. Being closeish to Bristol airport, the Avalon Marshes seemed ideal to get stuck into and so we did. One of our triumvirate hadnt really been birding in the south before and wasnt a twitcher in any way shape or form so we were hoping that Cetti's Warbler, Great White Egret and Glossy Ibis would possibly be on the menu. Sadly the Ibis was nowhere to be seen but we fared a little better with the other two.

We wandered up the footpath between Ham Wall RSPB and Walton Heath and every few yards a Cetti's Warbler piped up. Needless to say we didn't see them but for me the song is all you need really. Every ditch and reed cut held Gadwall and Shoveler but little else. Stumbling across a decent expanse of water sat bang in the middle was a handsome Great White Egret foraging. Certainly some of the best views I have had of this species as it gave some really cool behaviour bouncing its back end whilst feeling with its feet.

A Kingfisher tootled up and down repeatedly and there was a better selection of floaters but little else to get the heart going so we turned round and headed onto Shapwick and Meare Heaths. Aside from a Marsh Harrier and Pike chasing fry in the shallows there wasn't a huge amount to get excited about but I very much enjoyed the constitutional.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Yorkshire 300 Club

As John said 'What took you so long?' I finally managed to scrape my meagre Yorkshire list over the 300 mark with the very smart 1st winter male Serin at Flamborough, currently spending time in a set aside crop next to Millenium Wood with a bunch mixed finch flock. I have barely twitched a thing all year and very little in Yorkshire but this was too good to miss - I half expected to have a flyover at Spurn or something, not a settled bird in a flock. The views were a little brief but after 45 minutes waiting for it to show, a couple of minutes sat in a bush will do me. I even managed some dross pictures and video.

It was good to bump into Steve and Diogo, with Diogo adding his 60th new bird of the year. Great going! Also present in a reserved throng were Simon and Karen Spavin telling tales of their upcoming trip to Kenya. Birdwise there was also a Lesser Redpoll amongst the finches and 2-3 Peregrines knocking about with a juvenile begging loudly above the twitch.

In the past week I have done a very limited bit of birding over breakfast at my hotel in Ayrshire. A Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Scaup and 2 Whooper Swans present on a small lowland loch has been pretty cool although the Ring-necked Duck wasnt present as hoped for. Here are a couple of fuzzy photos...

Saturday 2 November 2013


That was the first thing I noticed about the third pipit. The call. I was walking along the southern fringe of the marsh at Barmston when I kicked five birds out of the short grass. Two Skylarks, two Meadow Pipits and a third pipit, 10% bigger, 20% longer tail but that didnt register until it went shreep. Straight away I realised what it was - it is something I have been hoping to hear for a while. Two further calls and then the party made their way south, not with much purpose but with enough to take them too far to follow. Richard's Pipit in the bag in every sense, life, patch etc. About time too... Not much else to report although a small bunting that didnt call which was being chased by two Reed Bunts refused to show. Probably just a runty reed...

Thursday 24 October 2013

Patch Polygamy

I spent much of the afternoon having a nose around Barmston. The wind was in the west and it was warm and clear. Not ideal October birding weather but I perservered. Plenty of Skylarks making their way southward and gull numbers seemingly on the increase. On the sea a small band of Common Scoters failed to reveal a velvety brethren. A smart female Stonechat was in the reedbed but it was pretty quiet.

A begging call from a raptor revealed a juvenile male Peregrine dive bombing a Buzzard with another two Peregrines playing cat and mouse somewhere up in the stratosphere. Out over the bay a couple of Sparrowhawks were making headway south. It felt like a proper raptor day but sadly no new patch ticks in that department were forthcoming. Despite this I did manage a new bird for the year today with a couple of Grey Wagtails heading south amongst the larks and sprinkling of other bits.

After a while it became tricky unearthing anything new and I gave in and headed to Flamborough. My plan was to have a look at Whelkie Wynds to see if the Little Bunting was still present. No sign but then I didnt get very far as I bumped into both Martin Garner and a couple of smart Mealy Redpolls amongst a band of Lessers. We watched these for a good while and I managed a few record shots of the paler bird.

And here is Martin's effort

Certainly a bit better than mine... And why patch polygamy? Well the Mealys were on Martin's patch.

Wednesday 16 October 2013


I'm down in deepest darkest Lincolnshire working in Skegness. Unusually it's not all top secret and I have been able to do plenty of birding both work focused and casual which has been great. Last week we had loads of movement on the sea without scoring Leach's but I have managed half a dozen Poms plus a handful of Arctic and Great Skuas. 

On the land we have had some excellent vismig without any scarcities but a handful of Crossbills and Siskin have kept interest up. Grounded migrants have been a bit thin with a couple of Greenland Wheatears, Chiffchaff and a drake Ring Ouzel the highlights but hundreds of common thrushes have been good. Wildfowl have moved in reasonable numbers and I have been gripped off with a few Velvets before I rolled up with my pick so far a group of 4 RB Mergansers south. 

I have a couple of days left and it has been howling SE with drizzle all afternoon and evening so here is hoping that I finally manage a nice bit of scarce tomorrow.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Collared Fly

Originally I was very dubious that the 2010 Spurn Collared Flycatcher would turn out to be pure (check out my hybrid theory post from near the time). Despite this I took a couple of hours from work on the 1st September 2010 and caught up with a cold looking Ficedula juv. I'm mightily glad I did as it has been accepted by the BBRC. Not a spring male but on my Yorkshire list which is now just 2 shy of 300. Additions are proving tricky with small kids but I will keep batting along when I can. As the bird progressed towards acceptance the articles which appeared on Birding Frontiers very much turned my opinion which was quite strongly in favour of one of the Goteland hybrids rather than the real deal due to the nape feathers not being up to scratch. Apparently this is the feature which has slowed the birds progression but the belief that it shows no pro-hybrid features that caused it to eventually get through aided with the DNA analysis showing at least 50% Collared Fly alleles. Happy? Delirious.

Saturday 21 September 2013

More AGP

I went back for seconds of my American Golden Plover at St Mary's yesterday morning and was joined by about 20 twitchers including a few of the fellow patch workers. It was showing beautifully on the far side of the island in the morning sun amongst hordes of its congeners.

I also found a Coot on the wetlands which is probably a rarer bird for the site (I'm told 8 records in the last decade...). All round pretty good morning.

Thursday 19 September 2013

American Golden Plover at St Mary's Island

Found this tonight amongst the 1200 or so Goldies loafing on the rocks. Nice. Also got Purple Sandpiper, Wigeon and Snipe new for the patch...

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Autumnal Additions

A trip to Barmston on Saturday morning wasnt quite as hoped as the forecast easterlies and rain failed to materialise and I was left with southerlies and sun. I gave the patch a good thrash but didnt manage a huge amount onshore (three Whitethroats, a handfull of Yellow Wagtails and erm, thats it). I bookended this with a couple of seawatching sessions which were more productive. The lack of easterly meant most things were passing distantly but loads was out there. No shearwaters ventured close enough to be picked up from shore but a few skuas moved early on with a flock of six Great Skuas harrassing everything as they headed south. A couple of light phase Arctic Skuas harrased the Sandwich Terns just offshore and a dark phase bird hammered through. Apparently a Pom was seen from Barmston at the same time I was watching but tis seems unlikely as I was the only person there so unless somebody was doing it from the comfort of their caravan I'm very dubious.

Quite a decent number of commic terns were a good way off and none came close enough to resolve which is a pain as I need both of em... One tern did come close enough to ID and I picked it up because unlike its relatives, instead of hovering and then plunge diving, it just kept chucking itself into the water. Better views resolved a capped head with 'earphones' and dark upperwings confirming my first though - juvie Black Tern. I was delighted and was unsuprised when further reports of these smart marsh terns started to arrive from all and sundry not long after.

Other bits and bats included four Red-throated Divers and plenty of Anas ducks, largely Wigeon and Teal but the last flock held a pair of Pintail which is another full blown patch tick. A handful of Common Scoter also bobbed past and had a female Eider tucked in at the back - my second of the year, the first being an adult drake south in the spring. As I didnt get any decent photos of birds have a Common Darter...

Sunday 8 September 2013


I probably should write a trip report for Kefalonia as there are so few, especially from the classic package holiday period. Kefalonia doesn't have tonnes of birds due to a paucity of wetlands (I didn't make it to Livoli marshes so can't comment on there) but it does have some decent bits and pieces, especially in the uplands. There are olive groves throughout the island and excellent weather means migrants can be well dispersed. I went for a fortnight in mid August which isn't ideal in Southern Europe. Despite this I managed some great stuff including 4 lifers.

The best places I found were Mount Aenos and the area around a small pond at Agios Nikolaos. Around Skala was pretty rubbish but Bee-eaters came into roost a few evenings including one night where 500 or so birds roosted. Alpine Swifts were often seen associated with the larger flocks and there were a handful of both Pallid and Common Swifts seen. Around the hotel (and throughout the island) there were hoards of the local race of Jay which had muted plumage tones with a grey wash to the pink. Also seen round and about were plenty of Sardinian Warblers, a few Hoopoes and Buzzards. 

Wood Warblers were seen at all elevations and seemingly breed on the island. A single Black Kite was seen migrating over Old Skala and a single Crested Lark was duly ignored in a field. There were loads of Chaffinches, Great Tits and Blue Tits in the bushes and overhead Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows were omnipresent. A couple of Sparrowhawk sightings failed to produce the hoped for Levant Sparrowhawk. There were no Black-headed Buntings, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Eastern Orphean Warblers or Olive-tree Warblers and seemingly it is too late for these species. 

Up on Mount Aenos there were the usual Tits and Wood Warblers plus Firecrests and Coal Tits. As I was driving up the first time I had a Short-toed Eagle a few metres over the car and a family of Northern Wheatears. The second trip up produced a brief Rock Partridge across the road plus a much awaited male Black-eared Wheatear with a dark throat. There were also a family of Whinchats in the same area plus a couple of Long-legged Buzzards around the peak.

At the pond at Agios Nikoloas there were plenty of birds knocking about although getting decent views was tough. A juvenile Cirl Bunting was a surprise but Cetti's Warbler and Golden Oriole were more expected given the damp olive grove habitat. A Honey Buzzard passed briefly over the wood on the slope above. I'm sure given time more would be found in this area. In total I managed 43 species and I am sure a visit in April would be far more profitable. The prize for most surprising bird goes to a Teal I found on the sea at Katelios.

Thursday 29 August 2013

St Mary's Tonight

I tried to winkle out a Greenish Warbler at St Mary's this evening but in the event found so little that the highlights read adult Mediterranean Gull  and adult Common Tern. Plenty of common waders but jack all else. Not even a Curlew Sandpiper.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Kefalonian Insects

Blue/Brown Argus sp?

Grecian Copper

Great Sooty Satyr

Long-tailed Blue

Violet Dropwing

A headless but still flying Two-tailed Pasha


Mallow Skipper

Scarce Swallowtail
Any help with IDs gratefully received

Thursday 22 August 2013


Got quite close to this guy today...

Sunday 11 August 2013


Some may or may not have noticed that I am the person behind @rarevine. I don't really promote it and people can follow or not follow as they please but I enjoy relaying rare bird news, for free, on twitter and it seems this is pretty widely appreciated as the account has nearly 2,500 followers. I don't think that is too bad for a bloke and an iPhone. 

I'm not usually one for having wave-cresting ideas so I was quite proud of the one that I had in February 2009 - a free, twitter based, rare bird network. At the time I had only just started getting the hang of the medium and my early ideas were flawed but essentially I tweeted bird info and people followed me. I soon discovered that this was way too much scope. I couldn't possibly live tweet all the news so I downgraded to daily summaries but this too wasn't much cop and I decided to run with just proper BBRC rares and selected other bits of interest. 

Occasionally over the last 4 years I have phased and this is certainly a weakness in the service. It is a bloke and a phone and motivation can be difficult so when I got my first iPhone, 3 years ago it made providing the service simplicity itself. More recently as twitter has been properly embraced by the birding community other 'rival' accounts have come into being. Some persisted and others did not but by far the best is Rare Bird Network. I don't have the time to run something on this scale so what is achieved is immense BUT the truely groundbreaking idea was crowd-sourcing info and filtering it with local and mega hashtags. If properly taken up this approach is the future of rare bird news. I said it 4 years ago and this is the next stage. If you are using twitter for posting bird sightings then I urge you to use these hashtags. They are great and a superb way of creating a community where open input is mutually beneficial. And it is free.

Of course there have been criticisms of this type of venture (which certainly for me has no financial benefit and nor is one sought). The main two centre on the reliability of the news and the effects on the wider bird news community i.e. if I just parrot the news, how can I filter it effectively- I could in effect just perpetuate rumour and innuendo and secondly if I provide news for free surely that undermines those services that are paid for, especially if the news originates from them.

I have thought about this long and hard, especially since a barbed conversation with LGRE on twitter and I feel I can answer more fully in this format - hence the post. Firstly I don't think that news on twitter in its wider form needs verification formally. The informal nature of the medium means that context and evidence can be inferred and exercising judgement and qualifiers are probably the best way of proceeding. That said, a network of trusted sources develop and information is graded on that hierarchy initially. Feedback is instant and a mistake can be readily rectified so it is important to be happy and able to admit mistakes in real time to avoid unwanted petrol bills. If people didnt think that I was in essence genuine and thus trustworthy then they would not believe my news and rarevine would be redundant. If somebody is a stringer and tries to hoax me I block them or in other cases laugh at their thoughts. I will get caught out but then all have. I don't just parrot the news but use bird info services and twitter to garner information and if its from a trusted source why would I waste time further vetting it?

Linking the two issues is that of getting news out quickly - Lee accused me of being too indiscriminate to get news out there and as such the bird alerts now go with stuff too soon. Frankly this is laughable - the 2-3 big boys are all in competition to get news out early and they all monitor twitter. I have no advantage other than being up early in the morning with my kids... I am rarely the first to get news but it is nice when it happens. Linked to this was an accusation that twitter feeds will cause RBA and the like to go out of business. Twitter is a medium that relays information that is difficult to manage. Therefore if I hadn't started doing this, somebody else would and in a free market, information with no initial monetary value that is volunteered can remain free with little guilt. I made the point to Lee which largely seemed to bypass him that due to the way business and commerce works then the rare bird news outlets could purchase the hashtags of those free accounts which have large numbers of followers. The retort was that it wasn't worth it. I know this - even if my account was of sufficient quality to make this viable, somebody else would be doing the same in a few weeks and would soon get plenty of followers in a narrower market. I didn't wish to imply that @rarevine was commercially valuable which is seemingly the impression that was taken away. Just that in a free market the wish for the status quo to remain is unlikely to be granted and I imagine the bird news companies understand this.

I don't feel guilty if I cost Birdguides or Rare Bird Alert a penny - I have paid plenty to these companies but using Rare Bird Networks hashtags crowd sourced information on twitter renders the models relied upon obsolete if birders engage. Increasingly they are doing so. If Birdguides, Birdnet and RBA wish to survive another 10 years then adaption of their business models will be important as bird news becomes free. Sharing information will only get easier and as new platforms move on from twitter so will bird news. Protecting rare bird information behind passwords and gateways will no longer keep it hidden and the big boys realise this - often tweeting about megas from their free accounts on twitter. There is simply no point hiding them as people will go elsewhere for their news. The ace that subscription services hold is sub-rares and scarcities. The only way these can be well covered is with nearly every birder on twitter using the hashtag filtering systems to negate the need for retweeting by the mother account. A mere search for #rbnNBL would give me everything seen in Northumberland recently IF people used it. Do it. Make bird news free.

Monday 5 August 2013

Sea Watch St Mary's

Increasingly I am finding myself spending an hour or two at St Mary's staring at the sea amid grilling the waders and gulls. This is proving to be A GOOD THING. Also my colleague Pete has noted that it appears to be a productive pastime and if you can avoid the doggers, the boy racers and the tramps then it is a pretty decent way to pass the time and see decent birds. I called in on Wednesday evening and there was no movement on the sea but on Thursday it was a somewhat different story. The myriad of calidrids and larids were beyond my scope as there were an adundance of grockles but movement on the sea was evident as the first bird I saw was small black and white thing bobbing like a tern. It had a long streamer and no notable white on the carpal. It was a bleached adult Long-tailed Skua. I was naturally delighted but even more so that this bird flew south at about 50 metres out. Very decent views on what I initially expected to be a Lapwing due to the increasing plover flock.

As I came off the skua I noticed this chap sitting amongst the Black-headed Gulls. It is of course an adult Mediterranean Gull which disappointingly had lost most of its hood. It was a little distant and to be honest I couldnt be bothered to render it properly hence its resemblance to a Monet.

Not long after this and the first of three flocks of Whimbrel headed south with a total of 39 birds all said. The largest of these flocks coasted and was extremely vocal. A handful of Common Scoter, Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas also went south. All in all an excellent evening. Sadly rain stopped play today and I am in Scotland until thursday so whether I get out before I go on holiday to Kefalonia next Tuesday remains to be seen.

Thursday 1 August 2013

The Gull

This was the apparent Caspian Gull at Fairburn. I am somewhat dubious.

Monday 29 July 2013


A seawatch with my fellow ornithologist Pete this evening was extremely productive with 11+ White-beaked Dolphins playing offshore with tail-slapping, towering and allsorts of cool acrobatics. No photos but a short video here:

Apologies for the gormless amazement but it really was cool!

We also managed a good selection of waders with summer plumage Knot, Sanderling and Dunlin plus 4 Whimbrel. Amongst the gulls was a skanky 1st summer Mediterranean Gull and offshore yielded single Arctic Skua, Great Skua and a juvenile Little Gull.

Tuesday 23 July 2013


Currently I am sat in my hotel in Scotland hoping furiously that the thunder and torrential rain stops before I do my dusk surveys. I thought I would spend my time sensibly by updating on the last few weeks. I have been busy dipping Minke Whales with the family this weekend at Filey and also meeting my new nephew which was super cool and in the week I managed a couple of seawatches up at St Mary's Island where once again I missed cetaceans (and Poms) with the 25 White-beaked Dolphins nowhere to be seen. I did however soak up the sun and in the 28 degree heat managed a Cuckoo, Arctic Skua and a dozen or so Manx Shearwaters on Thursday with an adult sum plum Mediterranean Gull on Tuesday. Needless to say I missed the Little Egret and Black Tern which bookended one visit. Neither did I get a possible Zino's Petrel which went through the area yesterday.

A few digitally rendered flybys. Prior to this I was very aware that there were plenty of insects about (sooo many bites...) and I managed a few pics.

Small Blood-vein
Chimney Sweeper
Silver-ground Carpet
Sericomyia silentis (BIG HOVERFLY)
And finally yesterday I saw a new butterfly - Scotch Argus. A cracker!

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Bridled Joy!

I think every blog post about the Bridled Tern is going to be called something similar so here is my attempt. I bit the bullet last night and book on the Serenity for the 06.30 sailing with Andrew Douglas. Aware that an earlier boat was going I arrived at Seahouses to see them leaving. News filtered through quickly that the bird was still present and before I knew it I was on the causeway of Inner Farne looking at the awesome pelagic wanderer that has entertained over the last couple of days. I managed to squeeze off a few shots before the bird left, presumably to fish, at 07.10.

Not a great variety of postures but it sat on this rock for 20 minutes before leaving, occasionally preening or looking round. Before long we were back at Seahouses and I was away to work.

I managed a brief video here:

As always - best in HD

Sunday 30 June 2013

Smurf Floater

I finally dragged my sorry arse down to Filey to see the rather smart male Surf Scoter today. Lovely weather and a bit of luck saw the bird flushed under the brigg by some WAFI's. My window for espying the quarry was small so when the I picked up the scoter flock heading straight across the bay towards me I was pretty chuffed. With all tickage duly undertaken I had to swiftly retreat but not before getting some digital mementos.

I also managed a brief video - as usual, best viewed in Full HD.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Redpoll Revisited

Correspondence with ID guru Martin Garner allayed my fears that the Dumfries Redpoll is just a lesser. Unfortunately he could go no further really as both Mealy and North-western are still in the frame which is where in my head I got to but I daren't really admit it for fear of being way off base on a bird which was an extreme Lesser. So not a lot more to say on that aside from bugger. Spring Redpolls eh? Last couple of weeks have been entirely site based so no birding. Not a lot to say about work aside from I have a super tan although I have it really seen much. I managed a couple of shots of Whinchat yesterday which looked better on the camera...

Oh and an in hand photo of the Tophill Cetti's Warbler which I can put up now...

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Hole in the Head

Actually I managed a brace thanks to the Arctic Terns of the Farnes. They are really aggressive and because I went on spec I didnt have a hat which I lived to regret. Fabulous birds though and amazing views. Also with my work hat on I found this Leveret which didnt shift an inch when I nearly stepped on it.

Here are a few from my afternoon...

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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