Friday 16 December 2016

Dusky Thrush

Last friday I made the pilgrimage to Beeley to see the rather excellent Dusky Thrush which was discovered in similar circumstances to the Northumberland Eyebrowed Thrush. A beginner birder, Rachael Jones in this case, posts pictures to facebook for identification and they show a Starling, a Blackbird and the 11th Dusky Thrush for the UK. She hastily arranged access with the local estate and boom, one of the most successful twitches in the UK happens with thousands raised for a good cause and widespread patronage of the village amenities.

Due to my Dad being in hospital I had some time to kill and some thinking I wanted to do, similar to the Whitby Black-throated Thrush nearly 7 years ago so I headed towards the edge of the Peak District to pay homage to the Siberian gem. Arriving in Beeley I gravitated towards the orchard. The bird was absent and I heard rumours it was in the pasture behind Dukes Barn, the activity centre that was generously hosting the twitch. I made my way to the back and the bird was very distant. Under the belt but I could see a permissible path up to the pastures and quickly ducked out that way. A handful of other birders had similar ideas and a small but growing band set up halfway across the field from the bird. It was foraging unconcerned with half a dozen Blackbirds and showed brilliantly for 10 minutes before moving through the hedge at the back. It was time for me to go see Dad but I was delighted with my views, if not photos of this great bird.

Thursday 15 December 2016

My Hero

The last 10 days or so have been awful. My Dad's lung cancer has returned and our worst fears have been confirmed. I am going to lose my father in 2017. It feels unfair as he is only 63 but really he got an amazing second chance. In 2010 he was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer and given less than 12 months. Izzy was four months old. Neither my brother or sister were married and my career was still awaiting lift off. And Dad was mad. Mad as hell. He didn't want it, couldnt afford it and couldnt accept this intrusion. He got so lucky because he went into remission for a disease which you dont get that chance thanks to experimental treatment.

Dad playing with Abby in Thassos in 2014
The last six years of remission have had their ups and downs for him. He had radiotherapy of his brain which gave him memory loss but he managed to hold down a full time job again over the last few years. We went on holiday with him and my mum to Thassos which is stacked with amazing memories. He gave away my sister at her wedding, a chance he thought he had missed. My brother married. Dad turned 60 and 61 and 62 and 63. He was well. We had Abby and my sister had Flynn. Finally Tatum, my brother's wife had Patrick in Canberra and Mum and Dad got to visit. Dad had a bad back the whole time. Turns out now that it was a fractured vertebrae due to the cancer. But Dad came back raving about the holiday of a lifetime. He isnt angry now, or suicidal or anything. He is sad as are we all but Tom, my brother, has come back to England and we are going to have one last family Christmas. My wife, another daughter as far as my Dad is concerned, is hosting and we look forward to a warm time of reminiscing and fun for the children. One last hurrah for my hero who has taken his terminal diagnosis with the stoicism of one who knows his job is done, his race is run and his legacy is in place. Steven James Spencer you are now and forever my hero. My girls will remember their Grandad always and I will always carry my loving, supporting, curmudgeonly father in my heart. You are my hero. xxx

Sunday 11 December 2016

Pallid Party

Pallid Harrier had the biggest hex on me from the British list as I missed them, dipped them and generally avoided them but their ongoing spread as a passage migrant meant this couldn't last forever and I have duly seen the wintering bird at Welwick. Through work I am in the privileged position of seeing plenty of Hen Harriers and the boyant nature and driving flight combined for a very different flight action. I arrived at Welwick this morning at 08.15 which is generally the time the bird leaves roost. It had just emerged when I got there and it showed wonderfully, chasing Redshank and floating between posts. As time moved on it wandered over a larger area and occasionally went over onto Patrington Haven. In fact I still think that viewing from the Pumphouse is the best option for close views.

Other birds of interest included a female Merlin, a couple of Peregrines, a Sparrowhawk, a male Marsh Harrier and a plethora of waders and farmland passerines. A candidate Water Pipit called and dropped into the marsh but views on the deck weren't managed.

Not the greatest selection of photos from the gloom but it was all a bit beyond the reach of my cameras in the dark... It was number 312 for Yorkshire which is starting to look respectable.

Friday 11 November 2016

Waistcoat Wearing Crow

Hooded Crow - Barmston
After distant views a fortnight since I managed some close views of the Barmston Hooded Crow this morning as it fed just north of the caravan park. A few commentators noted that perhaps a hybrid couldn't be ruled out from the distance it was viewed from initially. Whilst I didn't have too many doubts it was certainly nice to get close views and some workable photos. The bird was silvery grey although the tone is hard to work out in such strongly lit shots. The crow also didn't show any flank streaking or in the UTC's thankfully.

I caught up with the crow just as I was leaving. As I arrived on the beach however I was surprised to see a large, all white gull. It was a beasting 1st winter male Glaucous Gull which was just my second record for the site after a second winter from before I visited regularly. Sadly this slightly skanky example of hyperboreus decided it liked being between me and the sun so there are no photos. Anyhow thats quite enough for today. Onward!

Sunday 6 November 2016

Patch Seawatching

Over the last two weekends I have managed to get three sessions of seawatching in at Barmston which has been awesome. It has been really rewarding with different conditions on each occasion leading to different assemblages of migrants.

Pomarine Skuas
Today I was allowed out at the last minute for the afternoon and as it was blowing a NNE 5-6 with loads of rain I headed to the car park to hide between the unused caravans. Straight away it was obvious Kittiwakes were moving and in total 893 went north in just over 2.5 hours. Allied with a steady movement of Guillemots and a sprinkling of Razorbills I was hopeful of a few Little Auks. Alas there was just one but it was my first here for a few years (more than a few actually...) as it threaded its way north through the breakers.

Arctic Skua
Out harassing the Kittiwakes were a few Poms and the three groups I saw all started way out in the bay before coming inshore to work north. They totalled 10 birds in groups of 2, 4 and 4 with the middle group also containing an adult Arctic Skua which was trying to keep out of the way. The Bonxies were not playing ball and 6 of the 7 headed south. There was little in the way of wildfowl movement with just a few Wigeon, Mallard, Common Scoter and Goldeneye.

Four Poms
Yesterday was a similar set up with a watch from Barmston car park but this time it was during the morning. The wind was from the north with perhaps the merest hint of west in it. Again squally it was much better for wildfowl. The highlights were two Brent Geese, one each of Dark-bellied and Pale-bellied. There were single Great Northern and Black-throated Divers north and a good number of their commoner Red-throated breathren. One that seems to have got away was a small gull that flew through. Initially reminiscent of a 1w Black-headed Gull it had a more compact look and had an all white underwing with a black trailing edge. I didn't have my camera but I think I jibbed a Bonaparte's Gull. Interestingly there was a similar issue with this species at Flamborough earlier in the week. Perhaps it will get pinned down close by.

Last weekend I was out on Sunday morning for a vismig watch but with little happening over the land due to mist I contented myself with an excellent duck passage offshore. As I rolled up I could hear Pink-footed Geese trundling south unseen overhead. My first patch Fieldfare of the year managed to make it to land but only just. It 'rested' on the sea just 50 yards offshore before struggling onto the sand with four Herring Gulls who tried to eat it before it put down on the beach. I went to rescue it before it became gull fodder however it was no damsel in distress and as I went in for the catch it flew to the cliff face where it recovered in safety. Ducks were numerous and none more so than Scaup which made its patch debut with no less than 21 birds passing by. Amongst the chubby Aythya were a couple of its sleaker cogeners with single female Pochard and a male Tufted Duck. The Pochard was a patch tick as well.

A Little Egret flying north was the first this year and my second all said on patch. A small party of 5 Golden Plover made their way south along the cliff top and a Woodcock came in off and nearly took my head off. Finally a Shoveler flew south with some Common Scoter to complete the year ticks for the patch. Hopefully more wildfowl will be in evidence as the year comes to a climax.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Please Object to the Proposed YWT Spurn Visitor Centre

Some folks may be used to my usual inane witterings but please take a moment to consider objecting the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts visitor centre at Spurn which they have submitted for planning consent to EYRC.
It may seem like something I would support but this development will destroy habitat, displace users and be an eyesore out of keeping with the Holderness coast whilst being at risk of flooding constantly in order to monetize one of the most special places in Yorkshire.
The project is a work of ego for Rob Stoneman of the trust and whilst I am a member I object whole heartedly. I want a visitor centre at Spurn but not this design in this location. I like a latte as much as the next person but it should be in a suitable development, working with stakeholders not alienating the anglers, birdwatchers and residents of Kilnsea.
Please take a moment to object as consultation ends on the 11th November and the trust continue to whitewash those of use who care deeply about the area.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Shorely Not

Shorelark - Jim Welford
After being gripped by the bright blue bluetail at Spurn yesterday I decided to use my day off to go birding on the peninsula. I knew the winds were going South-west but still. In it to win it etc... I didnt get off to a particularly prompt start and only arrived at 11 when I bumped into Geoff Dobbs. I decided to yomp down to the point for the Stejneger's Stonechat that is knocking about. It was evident that a few migrants were still about as knackered Goldcrests fluttered through the buckthorn and a sad looking female Siskin could barely lift off the road. Common diurnal migrants were very much in evidence as birds filter over the Narrows. At Wire Dump I bumped into Jonny Holliday who had managed to see the Stej and later found the Shore Larks at the breach. I pushed onto the parade ground where a duo of Black Redstarts were giving a good show.

Jim Welford was waiting for me at the Green Beacon when I finally arrived and we had a wander round to the Stejneger's Stonechat which was 200m or so away on the Humber side. I was struck by how bright the bird was - very orange and the fact it had a matted head made it look very contrasty. The bird was flycatching and generally stayed more than 50m away. Eventually good scope views were attained and we moved on.

We mostly gabbed on the way back, interrupted by a Blackcap here and Fieldfare there. Crossing the breach we heard that two Shorelark were kicking about. I took the tideline on the seaward side while Jim covered the beach. A false alarm over a Wheatear was soon forgotten as we got fine views of two adult Shorelarks, horns and all with fab light. This isnt my closest shot but it is my favourite.

As we were leaving a dozen Whooper Swans were seen flying south so we took a peek only to see them floating about half a mile or so offshore. A decent end to an enjoyable day!

Thursday 20 October 2016

Bittern by the Bug

On Tuesday, due to a late flight to Somerset for work, Pete and myself had a day of birding in Northumberland. We started by hitting St Mary's Island. Despite looking through a horde of migrant Goldcrests we failed to uncover anything exciting. A perfunctory check of the wetland gave us the usual ducks when Pete shouted 'Bittern!'. Hiding in the juncus was a very smart, poorly hidden Bittern which was evidently fresh in. Much merriment followed as it played hide and seek before we relocated round to the screens to the side giving superb views. This bird is probably the first record for the site.

After we had our fill of the Bittern we had a crack at the Prior's Park Dusky Warbler. After drawing a blank initially we started to leave, despondent at the high winds that made searching next to impossible. Just as we got away from its favoured hedgerow it started to call vigourously. Pete soon had a brief view but I was struggling. Both hoping for better we got to the end of the hedge where it was seen badly on occasion. We were joined by Pete's mate Toby who was convalescing at his Mum's nearby post broken leg and he hobbled over to greet Pete. At this moment, with Pete's back turned, the Dusky did the decent thing and climbed to the top of the hedge to show beautifully for a few seconds before resuming its skulk. Perfect views for me but alas Pete didnt manage to see it any better than the glimpses through the bottom of the brambles.  

After a hearty soup we headed to Druridge Bay hoping for some migrant action. We struggled a little on that score aside from yet more Goldcrests but a trio of Swallows were decent recompense at Druridge Pools. We started at Cresswell and a Jack Snipe flushed with a small flock of Snipe whilst we were in the hide. The usual assemblage of waders and wildfowl abounded but there was a smart 1w drake Scaup with a couple of Tufted Duck.

We soon moved onto Druridge Pools and it was very samey with a Chiffchaff and two dozen Goldcrests. Plenty of Black-tailed Godwit were seen from the Budge Screen. We headed down to the hides and no otter was observed but a small selection of duck and a brace of Grey Partridge. In the middle of the pool was a rather smart Common Scoter which whilst common offshore isnt overly common on freshwater.

We moved onto East Chevington and soon were at a trio of seaduck as I plucked a Velvet Scoter from the back of North Pool which was a cracker. A handful of Pink-footed Geese were knocking about and a few Pintail were amongst the Shovelers. Out on the island there were a couple of Snipe and a smaller wader which eventually transpired into a Little Stint which we couldnt turn into something rarer.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Starting to look like Autumn

I got released from parenting duties this afternoon to ramble round Ulrome. There were obviously loads of birds knocking about. Goldcrest flocks were a new addition and thrushes and Robins remained very much in evidence. The star was definitely the 1w/female type Redstart which was my first for the patch. It was hanging around in sycamores close to the bush of dreams and after playing hard to get eventually settled infront of the camera. A greyish but standard Chiffchaff wasnt weeping.

A ramble round the southern half of patch failed to turn up anything else of note and I returned home a happy boy. This is patchtick 165 and also takes me on to 150 points this year for Patchwork Challenge. My best ever is 126 species and 156 points and I still have some low hanging fruit to aim for so fingers crossed.

Accent-uate the Positives

Courtesy of Jim Welford
I arrived at Easington half an hour before dawn and already a scrum had formed on Vicar's Lane. I decided to take a different tack and got a position along the lane where I could see the hard standing which the Siberian Accentor had been seen on the day before. As the light started coming up a few others had similar ideas but I had prime position when just before sunrise a bird hopped up on to the edge of the skip outside someone's house. On the bins and yes, it was the bird. On the scope and it gave lovely views before dropping into the skip. Like a Dunnock.

Courtesy of Jim Welford
A two minute wait was punctured by it reappearing head on and the light had improved. The throng massed through the trees at this point seperated by a chainlink fence. Sadly this prevented my digiscoping efforts but I have managed to borrow an image from Jim Welford. The stripey headed dunnock shot off to the left and only a few could still see it. At this stage a queuing system was initiated and I decided that rather than hang around 400 blokes in the gloom that I would go birding. As I left Bramblings and Goldcrests were providing the ambient backdrop.

The Throng 30 minutes before dawn
I headed to patch at Barmston determined to turn something of my own up. I had little success but a Kingfisher in the reedbed, 3 Pintail in a flock of Wigeon and a Dark-bellied Brent Goose on the beach provided compensation. Sadly work beckoned and I abandoned my sibe hunt but a bloody decent morning was had. Just a shame the Paddyfield did one!

Friday 14 October 2016


I met Pete up at St Mary's Island on Tuesday morning before work in the hope that it would be us that turns up the next Siberian Accentor. Alas it wasn't to be but we did ok as a Long-eared Owl appeared briefly. We also flushed a Woodcock whilst grilling the same 3 Goldcrests on loop. Rather surprisingly a flyover Lesser Black-backed Gull was my first and no doubt last of the year down there. A couple of Grey Wagtails flying south hinted at the vismig delights which are doubtless in store soon whilst my first local Redwings of the autumn were expected fare. There was no Yellow-browed Warbler today but a trio of Blackcaps and a solo Chiffchaff kept the insectivore quotient at adequate levels.

Note remains of jess on left leg and colour rings.

A second bout of accentor hunting occurred on Thursday morning as we tried the same tactic. This time we were less successful and whilst there were plenty of crests and thrushes about we were largely despondent. Walking back to Hartley where we had parked Pete happened to notice the bakers dozen of Pink-footed Geese in the field were getting very flappy and he soon shouted 'RAPTOR'. I got on it and it looked like a giant falcon. Because that is what it was. No jesses were on show and we got quite excited although it was hard to work out what we were looking at. Bigger than a buzzard the bird went on to harass Eiders, GBBGs, Mallard and soaring over the cliffs before shooting off after a Guillemot and getting a talon on it before the auk escaped to the water. At this point we had seen a transmitter on its back and we wondered if it could be a tracked intermediate morph Gyrfalcon. The bird disappeared to the south and we examined our photos. The bird looked ok for Gyr but better for a Gyr x Saker of some description and undoubtedly an escape or a hacked bird. It was a highlight and the lack of jesses got the pulse racing for ages. We discussed the birds origins extensively until news broke of something rather special at Spurn...

Is that a transmitter on your back or are you just please to see me?

Sunday 9 October 2016

Tipping Point

No photos Im afriad today as the birds have all been too quick for me. Today was an adventure. It had highs, lows and endurance but ultimately a touch of frustration. Much like Friday at Flamborough it was chocka with decent birds and I saw a good few friends this time. I arrived at Easington Cemetary for 7.45 and there were Redpolls, Siskins and Bramblings aplenty with the ever present Robins and Chiffchaffs. Briefly working through the canopy at the back was a Red-breasted Flycatcher which in all likelihood was one of the two which was there the previous day. Its co-conspirator was at Willow Cottage apparently as John Sadler came into view bearing the news. Peter Williams was also about having been watching Redstarts in the hedge across the road. They headed off for the OBP at Vicars Lane whilst I moved on to Church Field hoping for the Rustic Bunting which had alas done a flit by the time I got there.

John and Peter brought news that the OBP was showing nicely when they rejoined me. A Hobby zipped low right across the back of the field and birds thronged but alas not the target which we found out had taken a visit to the triangle and has yet to be seen since. A Yellow-browed Warbler was nice to see in the Crown and Anchor as a second bird called unseen. We moved round to the Obs garden but alas no new birds and headed into the triangle. Lots of Redwing and Blackbirds were obvious but a Blackcap at Rose Cottage was the highlight until Tim came over the radio to say he had a new OBP at Clubleys. We were at Canal hedge at this stage so we bombed round and got close and nice views but they were sadly brief as the bird flew to cover on the clifftop and called as it left.

News came out of a possible Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler as we were getting views of the OBP and we gravitated toward the breach. And then across it and before you know we are at chalk bank. A Short-eared Owl flew over wire dump. There followed blank couple of hours trying to find the bird and Peter had to leave. I even got halfway back to the breach before the reinforcements came in the shape of Steve Routledge and Garry Taylor. Fresh faces gave all optimism but we still couldnt refind the bird let alone identify it. A Tree Pipit was a decent sight at chalk bank and I missed a Redstart. Alas the effort was forlorn and the bird was never seen again.

The long haul back to Kilnsea took a good while but eventually we got back and saw another Yellow-brow on the rocks as we bumped into Pete Mella. I finally saw a Redstart as 2 fought in the same area as the YBW. A final attempt to see the Rustic Bunting was interrupted by a mass exodus as news of the Siberian Accentor broke and then I gave up and headed home.

Friday 7 October 2016


Star billing goes to the Yellow-browed Warbler which has been at Ulrome for the past couple of days. It is a handy 6 points for patchwork challenge and was an easy bird to find - in the same place as the previous one, calling away. Other birds at Ulrome included a Treecreeper and a Stonechat, both of which were new for the year. A Short-eared Owl which flushed into a kale field was also new and peered around as it I couldnt see it once it had pitched in. Aside from this a brace of Blackcaps and lots of Robins and Blackbirds have been the sum total which is a touch disappointing.

You cant see me, right!
After a similar turn out today I upped sticks and headed to Flamborough where I seemed to miss all the scarce stuff but a brief Ring Ouzel in the gorse field was nice. I had a thoroughly pleasant perambulation round Old Fall which resulted in a brace of Brambling in the hedge and plenty of chiffs and crests. A Jack Snipe was 'hiding' in plain sight by the pond in Old Fall plantation and was duly scoped to bits. I briefly heard the Yellow-brow which is in there before heading to Lighthouse road. Weirdly along with a couple of other gents I noticed a few bits moving on the sea and picked up Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Black-throated Diver whilst several hundred meters from the cliff edge.

Not hiding
 A scan of the North Marsh from the road revealed 9 Pink-footed Geese but the Greylags were on the pond. Happily they decided to get up and land with the pinks in a stubble field and they were joined by the mighty Taiga Bean Goose which was a county insurance tick having only previously seen them in Norfolk. As I was leaving it was evident stuff was arriving as half a dozen crests worked through Bay Willows.

Goldcrest in Bay Willows

Thursday 6 October 2016

Bempton Borealis (and an ECW)

I managed to resist all the interest at Bempton until this afternoon post submitting a report at work when news of an Arctic Warbler came out. One of my biggest tarts in Yorkshire and a bird I have missed a couple of times. I went, Quickly. Upon arrival the Eastern Crowned Warbler was showing delightfully and I soaked up my fill as it flitted alongside a host of Chiffs and crests including a very decent Siberian Chiffchaff candidate. Bramblings wheezed and a Yellow-browed Warbler called.

The Eastern Crowned moved rapidly across the sycamores and hawthorns so that everyone got superb views, unlike the Brotton bird a couple of years ago. I decided to go looking for the Arctic Warbler and the gathered crowd 100 yards away looked disinterest. I decided to head to the shelter belt beyond where a few other people were looking hopefully. No sooner had I arrived than the gent to my right had it showing in the top of a bush. It showed in the open for 15-20 seconds before diving left but was exactly what I had wanted to see. Slightly uncooperative after this glimpses were had but a Spotted Flycatcher shot out. A crowd gathered and I decided to go and have further looks at the ECW. This yielded a brief Yellow-brow and a Greenish Warbler which everyone ignored for the more glamorous relative. I reeled off a few more photos in reasonable light and made my leave, very happy.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Breaching Basker

Today I managed to grab a precious few hours at St Mary's Island hunting for migrants and patch ticks. As I set up the scope to have a brief look at the sea instantly half a dozen Dark-bellied Brents sweep north up the coast. As the sun starts to rise over the horizon I was scoping the buoy in the bay on the shearwater line when one of the most fantastic sightings I have ever had occured. A large animal breached, perhaps 10 foot long. In my head it went 'dolphin, no the tail is on wrong and it isnt rigid enough, shark, basking shark, omfg!!!!'. A breaching Basking Shark is not something you expect on the east coast. A breaching Basking Shark isnt what you expect at any stage. One of the most fantastic wanted things. Awesome animal and not a sign after it made a rather large splash. It towered vertically before crashing straight back down rather than falling to the side.

The wind continues to ruffle my hair as it comes in stiffly from the east and before too long the absence of Sooties starts to nag. A ragtag flock of six ducks heading north held two Eiders, two Teal, a Common Scoter and best of all a Velvet Scoter which was new for the year. As I packed up to bash the bushes a small skein of Pink-feet went south silently overhead.

Best of a bad lot
The bushes were my next port of call and the first bird I saw was a Yellow-browed Warbler. A second called from a crest flock further along the bushes that surround the pool. All of a sudden there were further calls from Yellow-brows in the gully 50 yards away. A further three birds were calling away. Pretty soon a couple melted away but one showy individual moved through the willows and sycamores without settling. A handful of Song Thrushes moved through the gully but little else and soon it was time to head off to work.

At the end of the day I returned to somewhat poor returns although Goldcrest numbers had swelled and a couple of Chiffchaffs obviously arrived through the day. I tried to pull out something from the mounds but returned with just a brace of Stonechats and a dozen Herons roosting in a field.

On Sunday I headed to Spurn, teaming up with Pete, my PWC co-conspirator. As I waited for him to arrive I watched a few Sooty Shearwaters skimming north and missed an apparent Balearic Shearwater. Once Pete arrived we headed into the triangle seeing my first Redwing and Fieldfare of the autumn. A number of Bramblings wheezed overhead and visible migration was evident with mipits and finches pouring through. A Yellow-browed Warbler called unseen from Kew Villa despite our best effort and those of my friends, John and Jim who were busy flushing Snipe when I bumped into them. Steve Routledge was also being taunted by the YBW and he elected to wander the triangle with us. We had little success as a possible Ring Ouzel dived into a hedge never to reappear. Two more Yellow brows evaded us in Canal hedge and we split up. Pete and myself had a brief seawatch as the end of the mornings movement dried up. We caught the last Sooty of the morning and called it a day at that. Obviously there was a decent fall of stuff in the afternoon but hey brownie points earnt!

Crap snipe photo from Canal Scrape

Sunday 11 September 2016

Somerset and beyond

Last week I had the pleasure of counting Shelduck in Somerset for an infrastructure project and whilst I was there I managed to get a little bit of birding done. The nearby Steart WWT reserve was a boon as there had been a Grey Phalarope in the pools by Steart Gate and also a Wryneck on the Coastal path.

As well as Shelduck I managed 6 Curlew Sandpipers and a Little Stint amongst the throngs of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. Once work had finished on the first day I walked back to the car via the coastal path and saw the Wryneck scrubbing around on the deck. It was really relaxed as people werent pushing it for an excellent view so most of the time it was head first in an ant nest with just its arse showing as in the picture below but on occasion it would hope up and give a lovely pose before settling down again. From what I heard it got booted a lot of the time so I was lucky to get such extended views.

Typical view of the Steart Pangolin
After work on the Monday we headed to Cornwall as there was a window of opportunity for a few large shears and we hoped to get a couple of hours at Porthgwarra before it got dark. Roadworks nobbled our time but we arrived in Penwith with 90 minutes to go before dusk when the fog closed in. Its a long way from Somerset to the end of Britain and three hours is a long time to journey for nowt. Thankfully the local Chough kept us entertained as we got marvellous views despite the dodgy visibility. Sadly the seabirds didnt play and we could hear but not see the runnel stone and a handful of Gannets, Fulmars and Shag were our only reward.

On the Tuesday after work I was knackered and slept for an age waking up just before dark giving me just time enough to connect with the Grey Phalarope at Steart WWT. It was point blank near the Wall Common Borrow Pit and didnt care about my presence feeding merrily in shallow pools littered with invertebrates. Myself and Paul who I work with decided to do some invert searching on the walls of the B&B we were staying in. As it is an 11th century manorhouse there was plenty to be seen. Spiders galore with Steatoda nobilis, Zygiella x-notata, Walnut Orb-Weaver, Clubiona sp and plenty of Amaurobius similis and A. ferox plus the odd Eratigena atrica. Other invertebrates were in short supply but there was a fine Oak Bush Cricket which was new for me and a large bat species was in one of the bushes and scrabbled out of the spotlight before identification.

It had been a profitable August on patch with additions including Coot, Merlin and Hobby. As my youngest was starting school this week and was only in for a couple of hours in the afternoon I filled the time between dropping her off and picking her up with some casual patching. This paid dividends as a Red Kite drifted over the village at Barmston as I arrived before continuing south over the fields. A Snipe was a belated year tick and I also managed my second patch record of Gadwall with a pair in the bay. Coming back the following day was more challenging but a smart adult dark morph Pomarine Skua battled south against the wind close in with sad looking spoons which were very battered. A few Teal and Common Scoter were also moving but my visit was brief as I had to pick up Abby from school.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Climbing Scafell Pike

A non-birding post! I have been working in West Cumbria for a few years on and off and I have been keen to get up Scafell Pike but time, weather and work have never aligned to allow this to happen. Last week I was doing some dusk work starting at 6pm and the forecast was for a sunny but cool day with highs of 18c. It was ideal and so I found myself at the foot of Scafell Pike in the National Trust car park starting to ascend at 09:00. I had been warned this was a particularly steep approach and not the most interesting. I did a bit of reading and it became apparent that a reasonable walker should take between 2-3 hours. Now I'm a lardy bloke but I am definitely walking fit so I felt I was aiming for inside three hours up. As I was on my own I wanted to go slow and steady.

It was a cool 15c when I arrived and I made steady progress to 200m although this seemed to take ages as the legs warmed up. There weren't that many folks about so I was determined to get a jump on the masses who would surely follow. I walked along side Lingmell Gill as the treeline disappeared. The gradient ramped up quickly and the crossing of Lingmell Gill was a welcome respite in the middle of perhaps the toughest section of the climb. The gill was in spate after overnight rains which were the reason for the cool temperatures. This made it a little hazardous crossing over and a small queue had formed as people scrambled with either little dignity or wet feet. When it got to my turn I plotted my course only for a mis-step to leave me stuck with my feet the wrong way round and I decided wet feet were a better option than falling over. My boots are leather and goretex so they werent likely to dry out anytime soon and my car boot now has an aromatic flavour!

Beyond the gill it is a steep staircase of rocks and from here to 400m was perhaps the most demoralising as it was over an hour since I had started and yet it was very challenging. The National Trust are continuing with repairing the footpath to prevent erosion in this section. A few other walkers were about in this section and one family in particular were good for pacing against. I finally crept in front as I got to Lingmell Col and the Hollow Stones which have travelled down the col from a cliff on the peak. Here I was at 550m and I had made good time over the last 100m ascent or so despite the gradient. After eating my Malteaser Cake from the excellent Gosforth bakery I suddenly felt jet propelled and the gradient eased significantly.

I climbed from 550-700m in next to no time as the peak of Lingmell appeared to my left and then the path veered violently up and right towards Scafell Pike. The family I was walking near had disappearred behind me and I felt good. However the remainder of the walk was both steep and rocky. A fell runner flew past me and I started to slow and flag. Physically this was the hardest part as I was tired as well as the difficulty ramping but my spirits were good. The grind from 700m to 800m was long and slow and this took well over half an hour as I found I had been going for nearly 2 and a half hours. I didnt think that I would make it in my planned three hours but I was phlegmatic. The walk had been much more enjoyable than I imagined and I was sure I would make it to the top.

A cheery voice piped up from beside me encouraging me as a man from Lincolnshire extolled what a glorious day for a walk. I smiled and we walked together for a while. It was now a cool 10c and the gradient suddenly slackened just a little. We were recounting our experiences of the walk thus far when all of a sudden we were there. Just fifty metres of walking remained. I had flown up the last 150m of ascent in about 20 minutes and I hit the peak at 11:57 having taken 2 hours 57 minutes. I was very chuffed and I thanked the gent for the distraction on the final approach. A few photos and it was time to descend.

After 100m and 10 minutes of descent it was obvious that I had just beaten the masses up the mountain as people of all shapes and sizes huffed and puffed up the final approach. The crowds only got worse as I went down. Going down was extremely difficult as my quads rebelled and I remained pretty slow. The descent was less exciting and by the time I was down to Lingmell Gill I just wanted to finish as I was knackered. The water had dropped a bit and I crossed without further flooding of my boots. The temperature now well exceeded the predicted 18c and was well into the mid 20s making hot and sweaty work.

The final half an hour was just painful as I maneuvered my sore legs over the steep gradient and finally I arrived back at my car. I was delighted and a little overwhelmed. I was extremely proud of myself and the endorphins were rushing. Doing it solo was also great fun surprisingly as I shared my experience on the journey with fellow walkers rather than a couple of mates. People were almost entirely gracious and pleasant and the achievement was palpable. As a certain Jonny Rankin posted on my facebook post, Live To Win! I certainly did.  

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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