Monday 31 December 2018

Autumn 2018

I have been busy since my last post (ed: sort of as I've cross posted with yesterday as this has taken so long) as an author and bird recorder which has eaten all of my blog writing time. I have produced the draft of the Swans and Geese section of the 2016 Yorkshire Bird Report and collated the East Yorkshire RBBP information for 2017. Unsurprisingly it took ages! Autumn 2018 wasn't a classic by any means with weeks of mild south westerlies but it did manage to be better than 2017 (which was by most accounts the worst autumn of all time, penance perhaps for 2016). For me time was limited as I have moved offices to Leeds meaning more time at home and more time being a Dad, both things for which I am grateful. So swifts...

A non-birding weekend with my sister, brother-in-law, their son and my mother was pleasant and I had no time for rare birds should any arrive unless they were within 30 minutes and I could get there after 4pm and before half 5 on Sunday 14th October. Even then it would be tight. I walked in from the pub having had a cracking Sunday lunch when the mega alert went off as I crossed the threshold to the house: PACIFIC SWIFT: HORNSEA MERE. Holy cow Batman. I barely spoke to my wife before I bolted - she knew. I don't twitch at the drop of the hat often but this was within 30 minutes of home and was a proper mega. I was the first twitcher on the scene and was the only one to see it at point blank rain in the drizzle, hawking low over the second field before disappearing west. Mutterings of short wings and it not feeling right for Pacific and perhaps being a better fit for White-rumped were going on. The crowd built and no sighting in 20 minutes meant that people spread out and it was located over a shelter belt at the west end of the mere with House Martins. The crowd grew to 250 people - dusk was approaching. Extended views were had and as the weather improved the true jizz of the bird was appreciable, lighter and more darting than Common Swift although with no experience of any swifts with white rumps, what this meant was alien to me. It was no coming out on the pager as suspected White-rumped Swift and James Lowen's remarkable capture nailed the fine white trailing edge to the tertials. Amazingly a first for the UK and the second confirmed record for northern Europe. I slunk away as further photos from Tim Jones backed up what James' photo had captured.

I didn't manage much further birding until a week off but westerlies and no cloud meant bugger all birds and I put shelves up instead. On Thursday 25th October it looked as if the westerlies had a slight northern element to them and out to the north-west it was howling from Iceland straight into the North Sea. With it being late October I was hoping for a few Pomarine Skuas and I wasnt disappointed. I was greeted by Brett and a couple of Twite which kicked about all morning. Apparently I had already missed a pom which boded well. We had a handful of Arctic and Great Skuas and 9 Little Gulls went north distantly. A trio of the scarcer divers flew north with a single Black-throated and two Great Northern Divers. The real highlights were a Short-eared Owl which came in off and the poms, all adults, including several with full spoons with a total of 30 south and 4 north. The full count is on trektellen here:

Not the most amazing quality video (it looked better on my phone!).

I went back the following day and numbers of Poms continued to climb with 156 all heading south including a few juveniles. Over 1000 Fieldfare came in off with a Merlin, 2 Peregrine and 2 Woodcock. Singles of both Black-throated and Red-throated Diver flew north along with a Velvet Scoter south. There were 4 Mediterranean Gulls  of various age classes knocking about and 30 Great Skuas were recorded along with 9 of both Manx Shearwater and Arctic Skua. Another excellent seawatch but better was to come.

I missed the Saturday which was excellent and featured a few Little Auks and other quality bits and pieces but returned for the Sunday when it was howling out of the north and bitter. We huddled on the cliff top out of the wind and watched birds entering and leaving Bridlington Bay rather than brave the icy wind. Again there were good numbers of Poms with 45 north including the lovely dark morph adult with spoons in the video clip below.

We also had a strong passage of Eider heading north with 244 birds seen, singles of Scaup and Tufted Duck, a few Velvet Scoter, a couple of Long-tailed Ducks and some Dark-bellied Brents. Across the day there were 5 Black-throated and 6 Great Northern Divers north although I only saw a fraction of these as I left just after midday. The highlight for me was a Storm Petrel which flew north - my first at Flamborough and my second in Yorkshire. I was also fortunate enough to see a party of Crossbills head high south, a Sooty Shearwater, a few Manxies and Bonxies. Cold weather movement of Little Gulls and Little Auks was evident with 365 of the former and 175 of the latter moving north close to the cliff base. It felt like an excellent bird could pass at any time. I missed the Grey Phal and Black Guillemot but could live with my haul! I headed off to Barmston to try and get some site ticks...

I managed three hours at Barmston from 13:25 until 16:25 and the feeling that good birds were continuing to pass was supported by a couple of Little Auks over the beach within minutes of arriving. A female Pochard with 3 Eider was a surprise as was a Long-tailed Duck with a Razorbill. Pretty much everything was heading north. A couple of Bonxies and an Arctic Skua were good site records and beyond belief were the THREE Grey Phalaropes. One was present in the surf for over an hour whilst another two zipped through north. Eider continuned to move with 41 north and there was a total of 27 Little Gulls and 10 Little Auks. Sadly it was all curtailed by failing light. An awesome day!

There is also a Little story about some swifts that I saw on the way to work but that can wait for next time.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Plague of Corn Buntings

Today at Barmston there were about 300 Corn Buntings. This is an enormous total in a national context and truly an amazing sight and sound. I have only previously seen these sort of numbers on the meseta in Spain and with them flocked up the jangling keys sounded amazing. Trevor Charlton was already on site with another birder counting the buntings when I had a paddle along to the Earl's Dike. I had about 50 birds foraging around the Dike with Goldfinches and Yellowhammers and simultaneously Trevor had 226 perched in a single hedgerow. With foraging birds in the field and birds in adjacent hedgerows it seems likely that 300 or so are present in the general area. A female Merlin sliced through my flock by the Dike like a hot knife through butter but fortunately for the buntings missed everything. Settling for haranguing the birds in the next hedgerow.

Earl's Dike - the bunting flock were foraging on the corner and in the fringing reeds
Walking up the west side of the fields I got nice and close for a count and managed 177 including 165 in a single flock. The female Merlin settled in a tree keeping the buntings alert. Amongst them were plenty of Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow and Linnet as well as the aforementioned Goldfinches and Yellowhammers.
Part of the 165 I had together
Checking offshore was somewhat forlorn as there was little movement over the high tide and just two Red-throated Divers and a whopping 33 Great Crested Grebes. A few Turnstones and Ringed Plover were on the breakwater south of Barmston.
Silhouetted Merlin
 As I was leaving I noticed a Hooded Crow preening for all its worth, looking a bit tatty. Two had flown over earlier in the same general area and three were present today but I managed two sightings of singles plus one of two birds together so can't be sure I saw all three birds.
Hooded Crow
 In the afternoon I watched a reedbed area nearby and had four Marsh Harriers coming into roost including some epic display from a couple of males trying to entice a female to retire near them.

Monday 10 September 2018

Starting September

Cattle Egret - Tealham Moor, Somerset
September is just over a week old and already it has been a productive month featuring a trip out with small to Tophill Low and four Garganey, a couple of mornings seawatching with Pete including a brace of Barred Warblers, Migfest at Spurn featuring Corncrake, Common Rosefinch and Short-eared Owl and then today a brief detour onto the Somerset levels to see the post-breeding Cattle Egret aggregation and at least 38 birds present (of the 54 that are roaming the area at the moment). So lets start at the top...

Garganey - Tophill Low
Well it wasn't technically September when Abby and myself had a ramble round Tophill. Over the last few months she has really started taking an interest in my interests and will quite happily jump on my lap to watch the football or cricket and she along with half of England is a huge Harry Kane fan. The idea of looking at birds with Daddy is starting to take hold but at 6 she has a limited attention span. Working with this we did a whistle stop tour of some of Tophills scrapes looking for waders. She was particularly taken with a Black-tailed Godwit and the Little Egrets whilst my interest was piqued by 4 Garganey which appeared to be an adult pair and 2 juveniles but equally could have been three juvs and a male. It was great to be able to share a couple of hours with her and show her my passion for birds and nature but also to have the opporunity to pull the plug when she got bored.

Black-tailed Godwit - Tophill Low
Last week, as mentioned above featured some seawatching at St Mary's Island, Whitley Bay with Pete Clark. Pete is a mere fortnight from his nuptials and with a 5 month old baby as well its not been often we have got out birding this year so twice in a week was a bonus. It was pretty steady on the first day with a handful of Arctic Skuas and Manx Shearwaters but the second was terrible. Winds were wrong and there was nothing moving save for a few Red-throated Divers. We went for a ramble only to find ourselves beaten to the punch as from the screen on the wetland a host of Sylvias were foraging on some sunny brambles in the lee of the wind. Amongst 4 Blackcaps, a Lesser Whitethroat and 3 Whitethroats were a rather smart Whinchat and two Barred Warblers. We got extended views through our scopes of these jumbo warblers as the foraged, preened and slept in the sun before the need to go to work intervened. A properly decent start to the day.

Barred Warbler at SMI - a little distant.
This brings us to Migfest yesterday where I had the pleasure of bumping into many friends and acquaintainces but best of all seeing first hand what the birders of tomorrow are capable of. I saw Lizzy Bradbury waving frantically and it turns out her son Jack, winner of the Young Birder of the Year competition had just found a Corncrake in the field margin south-east of Cliff Farm. I jogged over and was fortunate to have a couple of minutes viewing the bird on and off in the shorter grass, zigzagging through away from the edge. Despite being joined by many more folks it evaporated and some juvenile pheasants in the centre of the field were called by a couple of optimists which clouded it all really. Jack should be held up and praised for such an astute find of a skulky bird, especially when it gets me a full county tick after hearing birds in the LDV this spring. It moved me onto 320 species for God's Own County, a long way behind the veterans! Down by Canal Scrape I had the Common Rosefinch briefly on wires before it cleared off with Goldfinches.

Peter Williams, my old Patchwork Challenge compadre was also on site and we went for a yomp up past Beacon Ponds and Easington Lagoons with a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Greenshank for company. A number of Sandwich Terns were roosting in fields with Black-headed Gulls which had been following the plough and a Short-eared Owl floated past. Try as we might there was little else out of the ordinary although some Pintail coming out of eclipse were decent. From Kilnsea Wetlands we headed back to Westmere Farm and parted company. I  popped my county recorder hat on and got to see a few folk including Scott Mayson, Birdtrack co-ordinator for BTO and Jill Warwick, former secretary for the birds section of the YNU. It was also good to catch up with Garry Taylor, Nick Moran, Tim Cowley and Martin Standley and finally meet John Law for the first time after many conversations online. I even got an entry into his Yorkshire Birders caricature sketch book for a donation to the obs. Apparently photos of this exist but you wont find them here...

Today and a trip to Somerset for work. I had a quick peak into Tealham Moor as I'd heard there were UK record numbers of Cattle Egret present. I didnt manage 54 but a group of 3 were soon joined by 18 more whilst half a mile away another 17 were in a field and working a ditch amongst the host of bovids that were kicking about. I couldnt get to more than 38 but with so many ditches and such mobile birds in a massive area there could be loads more present.   

Monday 27 August 2018

Sunday Seawatching

I watched with envy as news of a Great Shearwater north past Flamborough Head on Saturday morning came out. I last saw one at Flamborough 10 years ago and then I was floating on the Yorkshire Belle just offshore. I have seen only one since - a fairly distant bird at Pendeen last year. News later came out of a Fea's-type Petrel north from Whitburn and tracked along the Northumbrian coast. This is a species group I have yet to encounter and as each outpost flashed up with positive news I smiled at my wife and commented how much I was enjoying our afternoon out without the kids.

In fairness to my infinitely better half we had just enjoyed the surprisingly weepy Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again after visiting her father who was just home after making his own threats to visit St Peter. Mike is on the mend now and it has been a pretty worrying time which has contributed to my lack of birding in the late spring (allied with an incredibly busy work schedule). One thing to aid my chances this autumn is I am moving my office base from Newcastle to Leeds in order to see my wife and kids a bit more and actually live at home during the week. When not on fieldwork...

So onto yesterday and the day after a blow always produces something, or so I'm told. For me it was creeping desperation to get in the mix as a colleague would phrase it. I set 5 alarms between 5 and 6am and it only took two to get me out of bed. Rain was forecast for midday and I was hoping for a leaden sky to help with viewing. I found myself driving east into the sun at 05:45 and cursed. Fortunately when I got down to the seawatching ledge below the foghorn a bank of cloud covered the horizon and more or less remained in situ throughout. It was 8 degrees C and pretty chilly but out of the wind on the ledge it was ok. I was beaten to the punch by Lee Johnson who had been going since 6am. He was still counting the shearwaters on his fingers and thumbs when I got there but had run out quickly. I cracked open the notebook and Manx Shearwaters were passing in numbers with Sooty Shearwaters liberally spread amongst them. We were joined a few minutes later by Craig Thomas and got down to an extremely productive morning.

Common Terns were moving en masse (although not in Spurn roost numbers). Soon after we started a lone Whimbrel whinnied overhead as it sallied north. A hulking skua lumbered north at mid-distance showing itself to be an intermediate morph Pomarine Skua at 06:40. It was an adult bird that had dropped its spoons. The odd Puffin was still to be seen moving offshore. Almost everything was moving north in reaction to the previous days blow displacing them into the North Sea. A group of Manxies seemed to hold a darker individual but it evaporated before the ID was clinched. At 06:55 a waif of a skua floated north, initially well off but coming in to mid-distance. It was partnered by an obvious Arctic Skua and as that powered away, the difference in build and flight-style revealed a smashing Long-tailed Skua. This was my first for Flamborough after having a couple in Northumberland, 4 off Spurn whilst working and a couple at Barmston. Lee had a Bonxie flying each way prior to my arrival and this made it that rare occurrence of a 4 skua day, all before 7am. Small numbers of Bonxies continued to run throughout with a southerly passage dominating in the first couple of hours before this reversed in the latter couple.

A small, dumpy wader flew south and was watched by Lee and Craig before seemingly ditching midway out. Neither was completely happy with what had been seen and what was probably a phalarope was let go. Me? I was busy scratching down the numbers and never saw a thing... A second Pom went north at 07:30, this time a light-morph adult with full-spoons one of the more majestic seabirds in my humble opinion. By this time Sandwich Terns had started to move and the Manxie/Sooty passage had quietened down a little. Two Black Terns fed off the head for 5 minutes at 07:47 before drifting north-east and out of view. Craig briefly had a Minke Whale surface and perhaps an hour or so later I had presumably the same animal briefly. A beautiful juvenile Common Gull initially passed south before returning to loiter with the gull flock beneath the cliffs.As the watch progressed a trio of Balearic Shearwaters headed north amongst a pulse of Manxies with individuals at 08:51, 09:17 and 09:56. All were at mid to close range and gave great viewing opportunities.

As the watch progressed a few Common Scoter and Teal passed with the majority heading north but the wildfowl highlight was a single female Goosander south. Also later in the watch were a scattering of waders with 3 further Whimbrel north, 3 Curlew north and 1 south, 10 Redshank south, 8 Dunlin south and 5 Turnstones south (coming from offshore - the usual backward and forward of Turnstones and Oystercatchers around the cliff base was ignored with bigger fish to fry). 10 Black-headed Gulls north were par for the course and hopes of a biggie faded as time went on. We abandoned the watch at 10:45 prior to the rain arriving half an hour later and I had my seawatching urge sated. For now. Full counts from yesterday are below:

Teal N: 25 S: 15
Common Scoter N: 23
Goosander S: 1 (female)
Cormorant S: 29
Shag S: +
Gannet N: +++ S: +
Manx Shearwater N: 335 S: 10
Balearic Shearwater N: 3 (08:51, 09:17 & 09:56)
Sooty Shearwater N: 40
Fulmar N: +
Curlew: N: 4
Redshank S: 10
Dunlin S: 8
Turnstone S: 5
Sandwich Tern N: 112 S: 10
Common Tern N: 305 S: 3
Black Tern N: 2 (07:47)
Great Skua N: 26 S: 15
Pomarine Skua N: 2 (06:40 ad intermediate morph without spoons & 07:30 adult pale morph with spoons)
Arctic Skua N: 14 S: 5
Long-tailed Skua N: 1 (06:55)
Puffin N: 12 S: 2
Guillemot N: +
Kittiwake N: +++ S: +
Black-headed Gull N: 10
Common Gull N: 1
Herring Gull N: + S: +
Lesser Black-backed Gull S: 1
Great Black-backed Gull S: +

Present: Shag, Fulmar, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull 3, Common Gull 2, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Linnet, House Martin & Swallow.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Crete - Stuffed with Raptors

A family holiday took us to Crete, Rethymno to be precise. The birding around the hotel was pants and there weren't any herps or butterflies either! Despite this I managed to slip away into the mountains for a couple of days and saw some things.

Griffon Vulture
The headline is that I managed to connect with Lammergeier. Not only that but I had excellent views of an adult meandering along a spine to the south-west of Mount Psiloritis within 15 minutes of getting into the right sort of habitat. So so jammy. I was showing my brother-in-law Ady what I do when I go birding and gave him a tour of the closest mountains keeping my powder dry for the following day. As it was we had phenomenal success and he seemed to enjoy my passion and insanity...

Gorge for breakfast
I picked up a distant Honey Buzzard circling on the flank of the spine just above some olive groves. Honey Buzzard doesn't breed on Crete so presumably a non-breeder or failed breeder ambling south. It had just come up out of the olive grove where it must have roosted and I handed the bins to Ady. He couldn't pick it but got on something else higher up and handed the bins to me. I expected it to be a Griffon Vulture as these were extremely common in all upland areas of Crete I had seen. What I got was a massive long, thin winged raptor which had a passing resemblance to a large eagle but with a much more active flight style and bringing its wings in a downward V to turn. A Griffon floated about above and this was 10-15% smaller than the Lammergeier. The orange head and breast glinted briefly in the sun showing that it was an adult Ossifrage. I handed the bins to Ady who enjoyed the bird for another minute or so before it dropped over the back of the spine not to re-emerge. I was frankly ecstatic, my hope of seeing one tempered by the knowledge of the difficulty in connecting and the short duration I had to go birding. Amazing amazing birds.Sadly no photograph or film as just a little too distant.

The mountains in the background were the scene of the Lammergeier
The birding in total was restricted to two mornings in the car and two walks around the local area (which was dire). Aside from the resident Feral Pigeons, Collared Doves, Swallows and Italian Sparrows (lifer - woo) there were a couple of Woodchats, a sprinkle of Sardinian Warblers and a handful of Crested Larks. No gulls or shearwaters on the sea and no geckos. My sister and daughter saw a Balkan Green Lizard swim across the pool before diving to cover and there was a pretty cracking Swallow roost of perhaps 1,000 birds that came in at night.

The coach across to the hotel from the airport revealed the first Griffons, Buzzards and Hooded Crows whilst incidentally I bumped into Great Tit, Pallid Swift, Blackbird and a Grey Heron. A further heron on the move along the coast appeared to be a Night Heron but was seen badly from a moving vehicle. A trip to Chania to swim with the Sirens of myth and legend gave up Yellow-legged Gull whilst seen from the coach was a single Eleonora's Falcon over coastal woodland (my only one of the trip) and a distant Bonelli's Eagle over a coastal gorge. Best of all a very big Loggerhead Turtle in Chania's Venetian harbour.

The first mornings birding was to the west of Mount Psiloritis and a breakfast of Ravens and Red-rumped Swallows with a side order of Pain au chocolat and Lattes. Moving from a gorge just above the resort into the hills of Arkadi. Here we had Black Kites and Kestrels tussling with Buzzards and Ravens later joined by a female Honey Buzzard in the heaviest of natural moults. Greenfinches and Goldfinches were in the trees and a White Stork circled Arkadi Tip. A handful of Eastern Black-eared Wheatears roamed and these proved very common in the mountains.

White Stork
Into the raised farmland Griffon's were on the hunt and a giant sylvia with a white eye proved to be Eastern Orphean Warbler, my first of this species. Bee-eaters farted overhead and I attempted to explain how gloriously coloured they were to my brother-in-law whilst they appeared to be monochrome pinpricks in the sky. Crag Martins were seen briefly at this point too. The Lammergeier happened soon after and then we moved onto a sad looking reservoir and the results were predictable with a handful of Coots, Mallard and Little Grebe the sum total. A couple of Turtle Doves darted across the road and further stops yielded more raptors and a Grey Heron at Amari Dam Reservoir. From here looking south two super distant large raptors gave the distinctive jizz of further Lammergeiers over a high peak and a Black Kite was escorted across the lake by 2 Buzzards. It was getting very hot at this stage and coffee and ice cream were essential. We knocked it on the head soon after.

Nida Plateau with the Western Peak of Mount Psiloritis in the background
The following day saw me head to the Nida Plateau nestled between the peaks of Mount Psiloritis at 1400m after dropping down from 1700m. These were some serious roads and I wound myself up through village after village until finally I left Anogeia. I had already seen a brace of Hobbys bombing one of the almost infinite number of Griffons. Moving onward there were further Black-eared Wheatears and then the drop onto the plateau. My only Hoopoe of the trip was present on the cropped turf used for grazing goats. A strong breeze blew and the distinctive 'chow chow' of Red-billed Chough filled the air as two flew high overhead. This was not the Chough I was hoping for alas. There were a few butterflies in evidence with Cretan Small Heath and Clouded Yellow amongst the large numbers of Small Whites. Also in evidence in the bushes around the plateau were Blue Tit, Wren and Stonechat. On trying to leave the plateau I went the wrong way and found myself on a gravelled road with no barrier and several hundred metres of sheer drop. I did a very ginger 7 point turn in my tiny Suzuki. An aquiline dot at that point remained unidentified.

Cretan Small Heath
That was pretty much it for birding. We did see a few Feral Goats as our one mammal of the trip. A Cretan Water Frog was seen hiding by a water feature at the cafe by the dam and bothered by the kids on a trip out. Other butterflies included Cretan Grayling whilst frog bothering, Painted Lady, Speckled Wood and quite a few Swallowtails. An additional lepidoptera in the form of Hummingbird Hawkmoth was great whilst a larger hawkmoth species visited us at dinner one night to try and sample our wine. We didn't let it. And that was our trip to Crete.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Rose-coloured Starling

I got very jealous of the Rose-coloured Starling at Ashington the other week but news of numbers building up in central Europe and an impending invasion left me optimistic and seemingly with good reason as on Wednesday last week this little cracker was found at Flamborough round the back of Thornwick Pools before it relocated to St David's Lane at North Landing. I was in South-west Scotland enjoying the sun and finding Goshawk territories. Much fun was being had but not for dissemination here sadly. I did however think that catching a flier may get me back in time to catch up with this bird and the Grey-headed Wagtail also in the same area. Alas for the latter it was not to be but I got almost immediate views of the Starling flying out of the garden it favoured. After 30 mins of obscured views in the hedge it finally flew into the garden but it teased by hiding at the back before plucking the courage up to get stuck into the fat balls that had kept it occupied all day. Eventually it did succumb and was on show for a minute or so on the lawn before disappearing again. With that I took my leave but an excellent time was had and lovely views of a super male.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Surprising Black Cock

I was out and about last week in the Angus Glens when I came across these guys. One was a few metres away and promptly went to sleep in front of me. Bonkers.

Double Dot

This morning at Flamborough I was working my way along Old Fall Hedge when a message came out that June and Malcolm had found a pair of Dotterel near Highcliffe Manor in a drilled field. I worked out whether it would be quicker to run round or too drive to South Landing - the latter and I pegged it back to the car. Various folks were assembling but I was first on the scene only for June to say they'd just spooked across the field out of view. Dotterel is a bird I need for Yorkshire so I was very keen to catch up with them. I outpaced the other birders to the corner only to see them dive over the cliff thanks to an erstwhile jogger and his dog. Curses were heard from those arriving a moment too late whilst I was delighted to see them it was very fleeting.

Thankfully the birds, a male and female did the decent thing and relocated back in the field allowing very good views. They were flighty throughout and a Skylark put them up. Sadly after 10 minutes or so the Coastguard Helicopter flushed them to the horizon and they disappeared to the North-west. I managed a few brief record shots and a bit of breathy video. These were number 318 for Yorkshire and 200 for Flamborough.

Thursday 10 May 2018

North-west Sydney with Steve

Female Golden Whistler
An early start after a tiring day was a struggle but a little caffeine and we were under way. Steve had a plan to take us across the city to the North-western margins to look for some of the birds that I had yet to connect with. We had loads of success in the North Richmond and Windsor areas. We started not long after dawn at Mitchell Park in the Cattai National Park where new birds came thick and fast. An Eastern Great Egret was new as we approached and straight into the cool woodland where Lewin's Honeyeater piped up only to be replaced by Brown Thornbill, Mistletoebird, Golden Whistler and Crested Shrike-Tit. We could hear Whipbirds all over the shop. Bar-shouldered Dove was joined by Peaceful Dove and Grey Shrike Thrush. I managed to pick out a Spangled Drongo in the trees and we heard Bell's Miner (although I didn't manage to connect with one). Wonga Pigeon was heard long before being seen but Bronze Cuckoo-Dove was easier to catch up with. A female King Parrot was sat up in a tree and we saw a couple of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters.

Grey Shrike-thrush
King Parrot
Lewin's Honeyeater
Wandering along the tracks finally revealed a male Wonga Pigeon piping up and views of Eastern Whipbird,  a charasmatic and elusive species. We found Bronze Cuckoo-Doves foraging not far from the path but the temperature was increasing and we pushed on. A Collared Sparrowhawk was seen moving along the river. Our final new bird for the site was Variegated Fairywren alas not in as smart plumage as it could have been but great to contrast with the Superb Fairywrens we had been seeing.

Nutmeg Mannikin

Peaceful Dove

Red-kneed Dotterel

Scarlet Honeyeater

Spangled Drongo
 Long Neck Lagoon in Scheyville National Park was a dry woodland, contrasting with the wet woodland at Cattai. It was much quieter already as the temperature picked up but Scarlet Honeyeater made up for that and we also added Yellow Thornbill and White-headed Stilt. As with in Jervis Bay it was evident that Noisy Friarbird were moving through in good numbers and this would be a constant throughout the remainder of the trip. We made the trip up to Pitt Town Lagoon where almost immediately a Swamp Harrier moved overhead. Here we had excellent views of Golden-headed Cisticola and a trio of Intermediate Egrets were resting out on perches. The lagoon was stacked with Red-kneed Dotterel, Grey Teal, Australasian Shoveler and a variety of other common waterbirds.
White-headed Stilt

Swamp Harrier

Golden-headed Cisticola

Our final stop of the day was at Bushell's Lagoon. On the way a gaggle of Royal Spoonbill refused to embrace their inner Yellow-faced Spoonbill. We found a dead Budgie by the side of the road, alas one of the feral morphs. As we approached a number of Dusky Woodswallows were collected on posts and these were joined by Zebra Finches. Walking down to the lagoon were loads of raptors with Brown Goshawk, several Whistling Kite which were the first of the trip, Nankeen Kestrel, and a couple of Australian Hobbies which were hawking high above. A couple of young White-bellied Sea Eagles joined the raptor-fest. White-faced Herons were notable as were some Estralid finches working the orchards on the fringes. We had good views of Double-barred Finches and some Nutmeg Mannikins were expected fare. These mixed with the Zebra finches but we couldn't find any Plum-headed Finches. We packed up and stopped to look for White-winged Trillers not far away whilst flagging due to lack of sleep and the heat. A feral goose disgraced itself by taking bread but we were celebrating my last lifer of the day when an Azure Kingfisher gave us a brief flyby. We moved off and Steve dropped me in central Sydney for my train to Canberra. A brief goodbye and one of my best birding weekends was over. Immense and thanks again to Steve. His account with superior photos is here:

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Sydney Pelagic

Antipodean Wandering Albatross
Before I get too far into this let it be known that this was one of if not the best days birding. I saw some of the most iconic species out there, met new people and it was sunny and pleasant. There are superior write-ups (and far better photographs) for the day in the links below:

I booked onto a pelagic out of Sydney for 10th March way before my trip. It excited me a lot. This was the highlight to the entire trip as far as I was concerned. I adore being offshore and have very sturdy sea legs so don't suffer from mal de mer. Nick Addey very kindly put me in touch with Steve Hey, a Scarborough birder who has decamped to Sydney and equally kindly Steve offered to put me up for a night and show me some birds after the pelagic and the following day. Steve went above and beyond and I cant thank him or his lovely wife Vicky enough.

Tawny Frogmouth
After a night out on the razz in Sydney with my brother he gave me a lift pre-dawn to Rose Bay where I met Steve and he introduced me to a few of the stalwarts of the pelagics including Roger McGovern, Frank Antram, and Greg Mclachlan. These were a cracking bunch of folks and in total 23 were aboard for the trip.

Several Crested Terns and many Silver Gulls were foraging about the harbour but we couldn't pick out any Little Blue Penguins as we left. It took a while to get clear of the Heads but once a mile or two off the first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were seen crossing the bow. A little chum and a swarm of these cracking birds was present off the back. As we ventured further it was pointed out that a handful of Flesh-footed Shearwaters had joined the throng. Immature Pomarine Skuas came and went, largely disinterested in the shearwaters but hoping that the oily slick may contain a choice morsel. A nudge in the ribs from Steve helped me to see a distant Short-tailed Shearwater that flitted in and out of the flock like a compact Sooty. By this stage several hundred wedgies were off the boat, all dark phase, and I was picking the Flesh-footed out with a little more ease. Hutton's Shearwaters were seen passing in small numbers, rarely interested in what was going on and very reminiscent of Manxies in behaviour.

Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters
Pomarine Skua

Pomarine Skua
Not too long out and a single Bottlenose Dolphin briefly came into the boat. Soon afterward a pod of Risso's Dolphins came past ignoring the lore that they dislike boats by showing well for a couple of minutes. Unlike other dolphins they were hard to photograph due to their brevity at the surface and I came away with nothing. The latter is a species that has avoided me in British waters and one that I was hopeful of seeing on this trip. The make-up of the swarm of birds at the back of the boat remained somewhat static with occasional shouts for Hutton's and Short-tailed Shears and skuas coming and going. A single Australasian Flying Fish was a delight skipping over the surface and perhaps indicating that there was more going on underneath the water than was evident. Plenty more were seen as the day progressed.

Black Petrel
Black Petrel
After a couple of hours we got close to Brown's Mountain, an underwater seamount near the shelf edge. This is a noted hotspot and almost immediately the shout went up 'White-necked Petrel'. This caused absolute mayhem as the stocky Pteradroma did a fly past. This is a hard bird to connect with in Australian waters and whilst breeding not far away was a lifer for many on-board including some with over 700 species on their Aussie lists. My photo doesn't do it justice but it was superb. Soon after we came to a stop and all hell broke loose. A Black Petrel was seen amongst the numerous Flesh-footed Shearwaters and sat immediately off the back of the boat. A smaller Pteradroma, Gould's Petrel, an absolute gem, circled the boat. This is a 'cookaleria' petrel and very slight in comparison to the earlier white-necked. It is unusual for them to show well so two close fly pasts were near unprecedented. This was the first of seven sightings for the trip of which I saw six and none half as well. A Wilson's Petrel fluttered just off the boat and was a lifer to my chagrin after I missed loads last year in the South-west.

White-necked Petrel

Gould's Petrel
Interrupting my reverie was the shout of 'albatross', nay 'ALBATROSS'. A hulking mollymawk scooted over the ocean. I knew from my research I was a month early for albatross but I had a 50/50 chance of seeing one. I was delighted - this was what I really wanted. Initially identified as a Shy Albatross, it became evident it was White-capped Albatross, currently a subspecies of Shy but split by some authorities. It flew round for a good while and settled at the back of the boat amongst the thronging shearwaters. At this point a third species of Pteradroma joined us although this was by far the most expected. Formerly part of Great-winged Petrel, Grey-faced Petrel is the eastern Australian equivalent and appears suitably different. One became two and later twenty as they materialised out of nowhere. We moved off towards the shelf edge soon after losing only the albatross.

White-capped Albatross

White-capped Albatross

Grey-faced Petrel
At the shelf edge there was little added until I spotted two more White-capped Albatross and then we were joined by a monster - an Antipodean Wandering Albatross. This leviathan of the air cruised in and smashed into a throng of shearwaters sending them in all directions. They bounced off it in flight and its shear size was mesmeric. This was a peak experience. It was the avian spruce goose. Incredibly we had one of the White-capped Albatross and the wanderer with us for much of the remainder of the trip as we turned and headed in.

Further Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen and a candidate Fluttering Shearwater but sadly it was not to be. I missed a Sooty Shearwater and a couple of Wilson's Petrels but frankly I didn't care. The Wandering Albatross remained until just a couple of miles offshore. A small pod of Risso's Dolphin's showed briefly and just off the heads as we returned a large dolphin was nearly run over and I got decent views of the fin and back. A False Killer Whale! Amazing.

As we passed the nudist beach a couple of the Aussies tried to convince me there was a colony of brown boobies on the rocks before collapsing into fits of giggles about willie wagtails. It takes all sorts I guess! Still no penguins. It was quite late in the afternoon and Steve suggested trying Centenary Park for a few species. A handful of specials were on the cards and we bumped into local raptor expert and the dude impersonator Biggles of Solander. Biggles is avant garde, Biggles definitely smokes large quantities of cannabinoids and has done since the late 60s however Biggles knows birds of prey in the Sydney area. Unfortunately before I even know what we are looking for he says they aren't there. The Powerful Owls, the aren't there. They have an alternate unviewable roost and sadly we won't be seeing them today. Ah, Biggles you bugger. Thankfully he had lots of gen on where to find Tawny Frogmouth and before you know it I found one near the regular roosting areas. Not bad considering how busy the park is. A classic Australian bird and full of character even if it didn't actually move. The final part of the parks charismatic triumvirate is Buff-banded Rail and some patience sees excellent views of an adult briefly before a juvenile gives us a little more of a show. Elsewhere in the park we see my first Hardhead, which is a Fudge duck sort of thing and a Little Black Cormorant We thank Biggles and push on to a golf course to make hay in the final hour of sun.

Juvenile Buff-banded Rail

A Grey Butcherbird on the wires is a superb start at the golf course. This is a micro-currawong or Australian Magpie and has a shrike like niche and a heavy bill, perfect for dismembering lizards, small birds and mammals. On the course itself an Australian Black-shouldered Kite hovered. Having not seen its European counterpart this was an excellent sighting. The introduced Spotted Dove was singing from the scrub as dusk approached and we found none of the crakes or rails that we hoped for. If Spotted Dove was reminiscent of Laughing and Collared Doves and felt a bit plastic the delightful Bar-shouldered Dove was quite opposite. A delicate bird in markings and build it looked resplendent as we peered into its hiding place amongst the thorns. The sun finally started to drop and whilst we found no quail on the fairways we did find some roosting Red-whiskered Bulbuls to round the day off with yet another lifer. A couple of well deserved beers were imbibed ahead of a brief sleep prior to another jam-packed day.

Australian Black-shouldered Kite

Bar-shouldered Dover

Eastern Water Dragon

Grey Butcherbird

Red-whiskered Bulbul

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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