Sunday 24 August 2014

A Cheeky Seawatch

So today I decided to sleep in, do nowt and then play away from home with a trip to Flamborough. Old fall flash revealed nowt so I went for a seawatch between 1520 and 1930. Aside from a sore back and cold arse I managed a few decent birds. First up was a dark morph adult Pomarine Skua giving a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull hell. Aside from that very little was doing other than triples of Arctic Skua and Manx Shearwater. Craig Thomas then found a Caspian Gull on the sea in front of us. A very sexy juvenile and a much overdue Yorkshire Tick...

Then Brett came along and 2 different Cory's Shearwaters went north. It is almost five years to the day since my last Yorkshire Cory's in the same place. Below is perhaps the worst picture of a large shearwater ever... In my defence it was about 2 miles out.

Both birds tracked north slowly and were on show for 15 minutes each although the second bird kept putting down on the water. All said a successful day!

Saturday 23 August 2014

Stilt Sandpiper

I managed to catch up with the Cresswell Pond Stilt Sandpiper the other week. This bird gave me the run around with a dip early on in its stay followed by it going missing for 45 minutes whilst we were at Cresswell. My photos are crap so I have just stuck the video up here. It was found roosting between a Lapwing and a Redshank which were stuck together. Sneaky bugger.

Also knocking about were plenty of other waders including Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper and lots of Dunlin. The Stilt Sandpiper was UK tick 348 - can I get to 350 this year?

Bonkers at Barmston

I came home from work yesterday after surveying in D&G. Ma famille are in Spain so I went for a seawatch. It was bonkers. I watched from Ulrome and the whole of Bridlington Bay was full of terns and gulls. A Manx Shearwater early on was not a portent of a big movement. Instead it was the commic terns and Sandwich Terns which were the stars. My first Barmston Arctic Tern was followed by loads more... A juv Black Tern was amongst the Sarnies with its headphones on. The first of three Arctic Skuas was nailing terns out in the bay and the second, a dark morph, flushed plenty of gulls including three Little Gulls. After this Little Gulls seemed to enter the bay in huge numbers. Several hundred were noted in all directions and distances. One even managed to evade the third Arctic Skua by doing tight circles and rising higher. The skua gave up, mobbed a Kittiwake which eventually disgourged its fish only for another skua to snatch this. The Arctic got on its bike and chased the second skua which was a light morph obviously, 4/5 the size of the Arctic and with a single long tail streamer. Long-tailed Skua! Brilliant. Late on an obviously brutish juvenile gull with a white rump and a masked head went past. My first Barmston Yellow-legged Gull. Sadly the camera was charging so I havent got any shots. The YL Gull, LT Skua and the Arctic Tern were all full patch ticks.

This morning at Ulrome was also pretty productive. The bay still had some terns and Little Gulls as well as plenty of larger gulls. Not a lot was passing though and so I started looking at the bushes. A Yellow Wagtail  was expected year tick and a number of juvs flew over. A small bird was calling from a sycamore - naked eye views suggested a warbler and the sound recalled a swallow or pied wagtail. I got the bins up and it had disappeared. It called a few more times but never showed and the incumbents of the caravan and tent started giving me grief so I gave it up. Potential Greenish Warbler binned. Aside from a few more wagtails there wasnt much more until I got to Barmston drain. Here an adult looking Cuckoo sat in vegetation before flying north. I managed to rattle off some shots and got one that showed mealiness on the upperwing showing that the bird was a juv.

As I walked along the drain a Greenshank flew over calling. My second record for the site after one migrating north in 2013 along the beach. Some kids playing in the woods at Barmston ensured there were no migrants resting up there as they had stick fights but the sight of 6 Buzzards circling overhead indicated that it was a successful breeding season here. The rape had been harvested around Barmston and birds were busy feeding in the margins of the field. Amongst the Tree Sparrows, Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds a smaller bird worked through the ivy adjacent to the methodist church - a Lesser Whitethroat. Yet another patch tick! Rain was starting to threaten so I pegged it back to Ulrome but not before I picked out a juv/1st winter Yellow-legged Gull amongst the large gulls. It is seemingly the same bird that was at Flamborough over the last few days. Now if I could get one of their Caspians it would be good... This slightly crackers run of 9 patch year ticks including 5 patch ticks takes me on to 109 species and 133 points for Patchwork Challenge. Last year I finished on 121 species and 155 points and by the end of August I was on 111 species and 136 points at the end of August so still a chance. It is the first time this year I have been within touching distance of last years score and the low effort level from the autumn means I am in with a chance of beating the 100%.

More Somerset

Here is a crappy shot of the Noah's Lake Black Tern and a Ham Wall RSPB Bittern from the other week.

On my last visit I visited a butterfly reserve called Green Down. Here there was a plethora of butterflies and despite failing to see the Large Blues and Brown Hairstreaks there was plenty to enjoy. Clouded Yellows were all over with plenty of Common Blues and my first UK Brown Argus. Cracking - I will be back when the Large Blues are flying.

Saturday 16 August 2014


Last week I was working in Somerset which is again set to be a regular occurrence. I had a little downtime and managed a couple of visits to Ham Wall/Shapwick and also my first visits to Blagdon and Chew Valley Lake.

As per usual Great White Egrets were in abundance at Ham Wall with several seen. Estimates of numbers are tough as the most I have seen simultaneously is 5 but I would be surprised if the true number wasn't in the teens. No bitterns but a Hobby over Noah's Lake was pretty decent. No sooner had I told a colleague that the conditions looked perfect for a Black Tern then one appeared, a juvenile which seems to have stuck about. 

A Lesser Scaup was at Blagdon as was a male Ruddy Duck. The Lesser Scaup was in almost identical plumage to the surrounding Tufted Ducks aside from some grey scaps just moulting in and a chestnut sheen to the breast. The small nail and half wing bar confirmed it's ID but very subtle. The Ruddy Duck was my first for 4 years and testament to the success of the cull. A very smart duck but undoubtedly a threat to White-headed Ducks.

One surprise was a handful of Clouded Yellows flying over the meadow from where the Lesser Scaup was watched. Aside from a Greek one a couple of weeks ago these were the first I had seen since one at Flamborough when the first Brown Flycatcher was there.

Wednesday 13 August 2014


Whilst on Thassos I noticed plenty of non-avian delights including a few butterflies. I have a passing interest in this sort of thing at home and so took a few shots. There were a handful of Swallowtails knocking about and a large white type was regular in the gardens. On the flowers were two main species - Long-tailed Blue and Grecian Copper. The other species that I noted around and about was Clouded Yellow. Here are a couple of shots of the Long-tailed Blues and Grecian Coppers.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Bird Fair 2014

The Bird Fair cometh and I rather unbeliveably am working there on the Sunday as part of the Patchwork Challenge team based on Forest Optics stall. I will be there to talk all things PWC and hopefully meet some of the contestants from this season and encourage others to take part. I will also be having a go with some of the optics on display and having a general mooch. If you fancy it come and say hello and if you are interested in taking part in 2015 then let us know and we can fill you in about the competition.

Sunday 10 August 2014


I spent the second half of July on the rather lovely Greek island of Thassos. Not an obvious birding destination due to a lack of standing water but the extensive rainfall off-season combined with marble and chalk bedrocks leads to plenty of ground water and a wastefulness that has to be seen to be believed. This all leads to plentiful habitat with olive groves at low levels leading into deciduous and pine forest further up. Access to the higher elevations is tricky due to a lack of paved roads and I only managed to get to 800m asl. There wasnt a lot of diversity of passerines with Spotted Flycatcher, House Sparrow and Great Tit the standards. A few decent bits and pieces were encountered and I managed a couple of lifers which is always a bonus.

We flew into Kavala on the mainland and the short trip to the ferry at Kirimoti took only 20 minutes. There were a handful of White Storks seen on the way through with some nesting on rooftops. The first Red-rumped Swallows were feeding over the Nestos delta. At the ferry port a few Little Egrets were seen amongst the plethora of Yellow-legged Gulls. The journey across was quiet as was the transfer to Skala Rahoni.

The first afternoon I went for a quick walk up toward Rahoni. This was equally quiet but a Honey Buzzard decided to liven things up when it showed for an extended period.

The following morning an early walk turned up Hoopoe, Icterine Warbler and Blue Tit. Further afield a Nightingale briefly sang and then there were Red-backed Shrikes everywhere. A flat Eastern Montpellier Snake on the road pointed that there were some in the locale and a large example snuck away into a brush pile. Some raptors on the other side of the valley to the Honey Buzzard turned out to be Common Buzzards despite my best stringing efforts.

A boat trip gave me my first lifer of the trip as an Eleanora's Falcon hunted over the sea cliffs was the first of several during the trip. Three Avocets were seen in flight heading towards Turkey from Panagea island off the south coast.

We went up to Panagea after a visit to the beach between there and Thassos town. A raptor was high above the town and about 40 Raven soared over a ridge. A Hobby was hunting hirundines and swifts with the first Pallid and Alpine Swifts seen.

Further exploration around the hotel later in the holiday turned up Goshawk being mobbed by two Hobbys. Another Honey Buzzard was on territory near Rahoni. Eleanora's Falcon's were seen almost daily over the hotel including two hunting hirundines one evening which were mobbed by the Hobbys nesting up the valley. A small group of Bee-eaters flew over the hotel on an afternoon and were the only sighting of this cracking species. I heard Sardinian Warbler on a number of occasions but views were usually of the back end heading into a bush.

On the final Friday there was a torrential rain storm and this led to a few interesting sightings including a number of Scopoli's Shearwaters offshore plus a few Green Toads and a Balkan Pond Turtle. The second lifer of the trip was a Black Woodpecker which flew across the road whilst we were in the forest en route to Golden Beach.

The return journey across to Kirimoti turned up a few Mediterranean Gulls, an Audouin's Gull and a couple of Black-headed Gulls. Shags were frequently seen on the sea.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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