Finally after 3 months with no updates I've caught up with this blog!! Hopefully normal service will resume and I shall keep it up to date as possible.
On the 14th Dec I had a Peregrine over the garden which was nice!
Today I picked up my bins for the first time since the YBW at Amwell NR on the 19th October and paid my first visit to Hilfield since September. This was mainly due to decorating the new house whenever I had spare time and a bit of birding doldrums. Taking part in the Patchwork Challenge has suffered due to this and so I thought I'd better pay a visit in the hope of adding something new to the list. Unfortunately nothing new was seen although a fly over GBB Gull was only my second of the year and a BN Grebe was nice to see. A female Kestrel seemed to follow me around all day so the least I could do was take her picture!
Due to the position of the reservoir and the fact that popping in after work is ok but getting home is a traffic nightmare I have decided that next year my Patchwork Challenge patch will be Tring Reservoirs and College Lake which is easier for me to get to and from after work. So fingers crossed for some good birding.
Marking out the football pitches produced a nice total of 44 RN Parakeet going over KGVPF in small groups and 16 Cormorant over head. At Callowland Rec a Lesser Redpoll was seen and heard as it flew over.
Having spent a week in the SW and clocking up 9 Yellow-Browed Warbler the last thing I expected the day after getting home was to be rushing out the door for was another one! Having missed a tweet from Barry Reed saying he'd found a YBW at Amwell I then received a call from Mike Ilett telling me about it. I was on site as quickly as possible but then had to find my way to the private area the bird was on. Thanks to Brendan Glynn who was at the spot I eventually found myself there along with Joan Thompson but not the bird which had gone silent and sodded off. I hung around for another 20 minutes or so before Joan got a call from Mike saying a 2nd bird had been found near the viewpoint! I told the others and ran back to the path before fast walking ensued up to the picnic area. Mike was in position and quite quickly I got onto the bird as it flicked around in the adjacent bushes. 10 YBW in 10 days and this one my first in Hertfordshire. Both birds were reported over the next couple of days and so seen by many county birders. Only 4 had been seen in Herts before so to have two at one site on one day is quite remarkable! A quick scan from the viewpoint saw a male Stonechat, Little Egret and a calling Cetti's Warbler.
Our flight was delayed due to bad weather at Lands End but eventually we got off the islands and back to the mainland. But instead of heading straight home we made a couple of detours. The first was to Drift Reservoir. Try as we may we couldn't connect with the bird we'd come to see from the car park so we walked up to the hide and connected with our first Yank of the trip in the shape of a female Ring-Necked Duck. After watching this bird we headed for Davidstow Airfield. This was a site I'd not visited before and it wasn't really what I had envisaged but none the less on a small pool of water just off the runway was a very showy juvenile American Golden Plover. Only the second one I'd seen with the last being in 2003! Another 11 Little Egret were seen on the way home and eventually I arrived back home just after 9pm.
All in all it was another enjoyable trip and thanks go to Steve, Ricky and Brendon for allowing me to join them and Ricky for doing all the driving. Despite the birds that we did see it was ironic the only 2 Yanks of the trip were on the mainland and because of this and the fact that Shetland pulled in a host of Mega's it seems that next year we will be heading North. This and the fact that next August I'll be turning 40 so it'll be a post birthday treat to myself!
Our last day on the islands was a quiet one birdwise. Another brief seawatch from Peninnis produced singles of Manx Shearwater and Great Skua but I did find a pod of around 100 Dolphins way out near the horizon. Thankfully at least one person got on a couple of them to prove I wasn't seeing things. Steve and I again split off from the other 2 and headed down to Higher Moors where we bumped into a couple looking into a field. When we asked what they were looking at they said a Whinchat. At the back of the field sure enough was a Whinchat which was a nice trip tick. This was quickly followed by another at nearby Porth Hellick in the same field as another male Ring Ouzel which I saw briefly but Steve didn't despite spending sometime looking for it. The final new bird for the trip list was a group of Ringed Plover sheltering from the wind.
Having only spent a couple of hours on St.Agnes on the first day we decided to spend the day there today. Before the boat left we paid our daily visit to Porthcressa but only saw a Wheatear for our troubles. Up on the Garrison the one Yellow-Browed Warbler that was left in the Sycamore was showing well.
Over on aggy we eventually found Castella Down and in a field with some cows we saw our second Short-Toed Lark of the trip though this one was somewhat closer. Personally I think STL is a very ugly bird! News of a Grey Plover saw us heading back towards the quay as somehow I'd not connected with one all year! As we passed the campsite a bird flew up from the grass and onto some rocks. It was a male Ring Ouzel! It showed well before flying into fields but soon returned to the campsite fields but unfortunately it was flushed by a birder in a bright blue coat who thought he wasn't close enough to it stood where he was. Twat! A stop off near the lighthouse for a Short-ToedLark proved to be a waste of time as the bird turned out to be a soggy Skylark! Down at the Fruit Cages I connected with my 8th Yellow-Browed Warbler of the trip as it fed just above our heads. My 9th YBW of the trip followed soon after with a bird along Barnaby Lane that was in close proximity to a Firecrest. Myself and Steve then headed out onto Wingletang for a spot of seawatching off of Horse Point. Steve found the only notable bird with a Great Skua flying past which was another silly year tick for me. With only an hour or so until the boat back we walked back towards the quay only to hear that the Grey Plover was back on view so a mad dash back to the campsite and finally I connected with it!
The day again started off at Porthcressa beach. Just offshore was an adult Mediterranean Gull. We then walked up to Penninis Head as the weather was fairly windy a bit of seawatching was in order. It was pretty quiet and so after just 30 minutes and 2 Manx and a single Balearic Shearwater we called it a day. We headed back to Old Town where in the churchyard I finally connected with a PricklyStick-Insect. Try as we may we couldn't find the Smooth one so that will have to wait for another visit. News of another Red-Breasted Flycatcher on the Garrison saw us pay a visit but it was pretty elusive and views in the end weren't brilliant. By this time we had had enough and so headed back towards the flat but before we made it back there we bumped into a mini twitch around Porthcressa. Up on the rooftops was a stunning male Black Redstart that showed well. Out in the bay we connected with a Sandwich Tern.
Possibly the best days birding of the week coincided with the other 3 deciding to go on the mini pelagic with Paul! After last years trip where I felt ill for 90% of the it which concluded in me getting thrown up on I chose it give it a miss this year! As Chris wasn't too keen on boats either I made arrangements to meet him at Rosehill where after a few minutes we connected with a lovely Red-Breasted Flycatcher. We then moved onto Lower Moors to look for a Yellow-Browed Warbler but the only warbler we saw was a Reed Warbler foraging at the top of a 20 foot ivy covered tree! As we walked on towards Old Town the CB crackled into life with news of a Merlin heading over Lower Moors and sure enough 5 seconds later it flew past and onto the trip list. We had a quick scan over Old Town Bay and were just deciding where to go next when the CB told us of a Wryneck on the Garrison so off we headed. We arrived and got into position and quickly got onto it and watched it as it probed for ants on the track. I obtained a few photos of it but only the one above was any good! Onwards we then walked up to the campsite where we connected with not 1 but 2 Yellow-BrowedWarbler in a Sycamore tree. We then decided to head towards Carreg Dhu gardens for a Firecrest. We did see 2 Peregrine circling high over the island but in the gardens it wasn't to be a lucky day as trying to listen out for a Firecrest while 2 women laughed like mad Hyenas was impossible. Infact these 2 women became a problem as we seemed to bump into them wherever we went! A few Clouded Yellow butterflies were noted which is always nice. What I didn't realise is that I was almost killing Chris with the amount of walking we were doing so walking round the SE tip of the island probably wasn't a good idea and it was only later when we saw Paul at the log that I found out just how knackered he was! Sorry Chris. 6 Redwing were noted at Maypole before a final visit to Lower Moors where we immediately struck lucky with the Yellow-Browed Warbler as it showed well low down for us. Back at the flat I met up with the others and told them what I'd seen as did they. News then broke of 4 Ring Ouzel up on the Garrison so seeing as it would be a Scilly tick for Ricky we popped up to have a look. They gave us a merry dance but we finally pinned one day in a field below the football pitch. These 4 were small fry compared to the number that passed through Dungeness. An amazing 800+ were seen there with many hundreds all along the east coast!
The morning started off at Porthcressa beach with at least 7 Swallow and singles of Wheatear and Stonechat. We then headed up to the Garrison where we added Spotted Flycatcher to the trip list followed by the strange sight of a Spoonbill flying east towards the airport!
We then headed over to Tresco for a potential Scilly tick. 15 Little Egret were in the Tresco channel which was an important sighting for me as this group took me past the 1,500 Little Egret seen in the UK mark! We set off for the north end of the island but despite there being 30-40 other birders present we couldn't find the Dotterel that had been present for a few days. On the walk back we saw the Buzzard and the assorted ducks etc on the great pool including the 4 Whoopers. News then broke of a Monarch butterfly by the abbey gardens so I steamed off ahead of the others but again there was no sign on arrival. A Yellow-Browed Warbler was calling from inside the gardens but didn't show itself. Just then someone became excited and as I turned around there flying towards us was a large butterfly. It was the Monarch! It flew up into a group of trees and despite seeing where it landed nobody could re-find it. Not exactly the views I'd have hoped for with my first UK Monarch but views all the same.
Our first full day on the islands started off with a walk past the health centre again but only a Blackcap was seen this time with another near Old Town Church. News of a Jack Snipe at Lower Moors saw us pay a visit and sure enough we found it bouncing among the reeds with 3 of its common cousins. A Water Rail and a Kingfisher added a splash of colour. We then headed to the windsock at the southern end of the runway where in with plenty of Meadow Pipit was the Short-Toed Lark and Snow Bunting. The rest of the day was spent visiting what felt like the rest of St.Mary's! My first White Wagtails of the year were seen at Rosehill with my first Black Redstart anywhere for 2 years was seen on Porth Mellon. We stopped off for a cream tea at Juliet's café and as we were eating I spotted a Peregrine over the quay. This was followed by news over the CB'sof 4 swans flying in over Samson. Steve said I doubt we'd get them from here to which I replied there they are! As they flew over Tresco they were ID'd as Whooper Swans which was a Scilly tick for me. After our snack we wandered over to the golf course where eventually after much walking around we connected with our 2nd Richard's Pipit in 2 days. We then connected with a Yellow-Browed Warbler at Newford Duckpond but then I went one better and found my own at Content albeit very briefly.
Firecrest (courtesy of Brendon Fagan) and Common Tern
We were up and out of the hotel early so we could get in a bit of birding before our flight. First stop again was the Hayle Estuary. 2 Common Sandpiper and a fairly late Common Tern were seen and then from the road looking over onto Ryan's Field I picked up a stonking male Firecrest that was in with a tit flock feeding in roadside Tamarisks. Once the others had got good views Ricky found a Whimbrel on the field which was a bonus year tick! A quick visit to Marazion Marsh produced nothing more than a Little Egret and a couple of Snipe.
We then headed to Lands End airport for our flight over the Scilly. Just a couple of days before I'd found out that Paul Frost and Chris Sharp (whose blog is in my blog list) were on the same flight as us for their first visit to the islands! Once on the islands we dumped our stuff in the flat and headed up to the health centre where after a short wait we had good views of the long staying Barred Warbler. News then broke of a Tawny Pipit on St.Agnes. As Steve needed it we decided to get the afternoon boat over but unfortunately for Steve the bird turned out to be a Richard's Pipit but it was a good bird to see anyway and became my 200th specie for the year.
After bumping into the Tyttenhanger lads last year on the Scillies they kindly asked if I wanted to join them this year of which of course I said yes. So on the Friday we met at Ricky's house and set off down to Cornwall. On arrival the first port of call was a Morrison's supermarket car park where after a brief wait we found the juvenile Rose-Coloured Starling perched on a neighbouring light column.
Subalpine Warbler (honest!)
It was then we heard about a good bird at nearby Porthgwarra. After a bit of map reading and car avoiding on the narrow lanes we arrived and parked up. Not knowing where the bird was last seen we wandered around the car park and that was when I heard a single call from a Yellow-Browed Warbler in the dense cover but that was all we had from it. 2 Raven cronked into view and had a tussle with 3 Buzzard. The next noteworthy bird was a fly over Yellow Wagtail quickly followed by 2 Chough before I wandered up the path a bit further to look over a larger area. After a few minutes I picked up a bird to the right of me and was pleased to see it was the Subalpine Warbler that we had come to look for. Annoyingly after just a couple of seconds it flitted off to the left and promptly disappeared from view. I went to get all the other birders present so they could help in re-finding it. After 20 minutes or so I found it but again to vanished. Eventually it was picked up and everyone had great views. I stuck my neck out and said going by plumage it was most likely a Western rather than Eastern bird. So I was surprised to read on the pager later that day it was being called an Eastern! Most of us were hoping it'd be the newly split Moltoni's Warbler and after a day or so that was what it was being touted as but as of yet it's just down as a Subalpine sp. After our fill of the subalp we chose to do a bit of seawatching but not from the coastguards but down near the car park. I sat on a bench and immediately got onto a Balearic Shearwater! In the time we spent looking out to sea we added another 6 Balearic along with 3 Manx and 5 Kittiwake.
The final stop of the day was to the Hayle Estuary. Parking up at various points and scanning across the water we added a few more species to the trip list including 19 Little Egret, 16 MediterraneanGull, Knot, 10 Greenshank and a Kingfisher.
A good day locally with 2 Cormorant and a Meadow Pipit over Harwoods Rec followed by a surprise Greylag Goose on the cricket pitch at KGVPF! 100+ Starling were in VRC cemetery but the best bird of the day was saved till last when a Siskin flew over Wiggenhall yard as I was walking to my car!
The first bird of the day was a Peregrine that flew over the cemetery. At KGVPF 5 Meadow Pipit and a Linnet flew over. In Cassiobury Park a Chiffchaff was still singing as was another on a return visit to KGVPF.
Saturday morning broke and while sat in bed with a cup of tea I had a check of the pager to find that there was still a good smattering of scarcities along the east coast including a new in juv WoodchatShrike at Kilnsea but nothing worth shouting about. I then had a check on Twitter to see what was occurring when I came across an interesting tweet from a birder in Shetland saying he had an interesting looking flycatcher that looked good for Brown. After catching up on my tweets I finished my tea and laid down again only to hear my pager start vibrating on the window sill. I turned to Carey to say that the flycatcher had been ID'd as a Brown but I was shocked to read with still bleary eyes that the Kilnsea Woodchat Shrike was in fact a Masked Shrike!! This only depressed me as with paint shopping and bedroom furniture procurement the plan for the day along with my car making worrying noises from the engine I knew I wouldn't be able to go for it. That evening Carey took pity on me and said I could borrow her car and with that Sunday morning arrived and the bird was still there so off I went leaving the house just after 9 arriving eventually no thanks to the M1 roadworks just before 1pm.
Having never been to the Spurn area before I didn't really know where I was going but thanks to the sat-nav I found my way to the Bluebell car park and nabbed the only space before following everyone else to the viewing area and straight away getting onto my first ever MASKED SHRIKE. The small black and white bird was most of the time sat in the hedge motionless before flying out and catching craneflies. Every now and then it would turn around to reveal a small peachy coloured patch on the flank. This 3rd for Britain shared the hedge with 3 Redstart which were my first of the year and a nice Lesser Whitethroat which looked quite brown so maybe one of the eastern races? After having my fill of the Shrike I headed up the church where I added 2 Garden Warbler to the day list and another Lesser Whitethroat. I then wandered round the corner to the famous Crown and Anchor pub where in the hedge opposite a surprisingly showy Barred Warbler performed to the crowds. I then took a footpath to the opposite side of the field by the church and from here I added 4 more year ticks with 2 Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat and a brief Red-Breasted Flycatcher in the hedge and out on the estuary I finally spotted a Knot! The last year tick of the day was a dark morph Arctic Skua on a very quick seawatch from the car park. All in all a very good day.
A day spent tidying the bowling green was fairly productive with a small movement of MeadowPipits totalling 16 birds. A single Swallow flew over as did a Sparrowhawk and while having my lunch a rattling flock of 7 Mistle Thrush flew over.
An excellent start to the day was had when a Crossbill flew in and stayed briefly at NW Cemetery. Down at Radlett Road rec 4 Meadow Pipit flew over, a Chiffhcaff was singing, 8 Magpie were on the grass and a Bullfinch was heard along the railway embankment.
While getting the football pitches ready for the start of the season a Buzzard circled over Callowland rec and a Chiffchaff started singing briefly. Later in the day at Cassiobury Park 2 Meadow Pipit flew south.
After an uneventful birthday the day before I had a couple of hours to spare so decided to pop over to Tring. The hoped for Great White Egret had departed after just 10 minutes so I concentrated on what was still present. 2 Green Sandpiper were a year tick and I counted 10 juv Black-Tailed Godwit. Also noted were Common Sandpiper, 3 juv Shelduck, 2 Greenshank, Yellow Wagtail, Hobby, 3 Red Kite and 2 LRP. Afterwards I popped into Startops End Reservoir and quickly found the juv Black Tern which was new for the year.
before work I sat in the garden enjoying my morning cuppa and I had 12 Swallow fly SW and a Sparrowhawk fly west. At Oxhey bowling green a GS Woodpecker thought it was late winter and started drumming!
Our new house in Hemel Hempstead has a nice garden to enjoy and once moved in I sat out on the patio with a cup of tea and started off my new garden list. A couple of surprises with Jay and both Green and Great-Spotted Woodpecker were had but then I heard a bird call as it flew overhead and was amazed to ID it as a Tree Pipit! It was only my 6th in Herts but my 4th self found.
Today was the last day living in the flat in Chipperfield. In the 2 and a bit years I lived there I had seen such highlights as 10 Raven, 70 Golden Plover and of course the county tick of a Gannet! Also with the lights in the communal area being on all night I added nearly 90 species of Moth!
A few years ago I was on holiday up at my dads old caravan when just as I was sitting down to dinner the mega alert went off telling me about a Great Knot just down the road at Breydon Water. On arrival the bird was in the middle of the estuary and couldn't even be identified to any species! Roll forward a few years and news broke late in the evening of a Great Knot at Breydon Water! News the next morning was positive and so off I went arriving around 2.5 hours later. Learning from my last twitch there for the Broad-Billed Sandpiper I headed straight for the rugby club car park on the south wall. I wandered up and joined 2 other birders. While waiting for the tide to drop I noted 7 LittleEgret, a nice summer plumage Mediterranean Gull and 4 Spotted Redshank which were a nice year tick. Eventually the tide dropped and the waders left their roost and flew out onto the mud. The birders on the north bank then suddenly started moving and were obviously looking at the bird. After a nervous wait I suddenly picked up the bird and GREAT KNOT was onto my list. I got the now 9 others onto it and everyone was suddenly very happy!
On the way to work this morning I was nearing the end of Langley Hill when I saw a large raptor in the distance circling over the same spot. I quickly drove out of Kings Langley and pulled over. I grabbed the bins from the boot and got onto the bird and was pleased to see it was what I had expected a lovely Osprey. It circled a few more times before dropping out of view behind some trees. It had gone down in the area of a small trout lake so presumably was fishing. I waited to see if it reappeared but it didn't and so off I headed to work.
Last year I took a day off work to travel up to the Farne Islands in Northumberland in the hope of seeing my second ever Onychoprion tern species. That day I travelled the 600 mile near 24 hour journey with the former Herts bird recorder Tony Blake. We spent most of the morning stood on the jetty of Inner Farne island hoping for the bird to appear but due to the crazy rules of the National Trust we had to leave the island while the rangers had lunch! It was during this time off the island that the bird in question appeared for all of 5 minutes and on our return to the island there was no sign.
Fast forward a year and the bird had turned up again after a couple of days on the mythical Fair Isle. I received a call from Brendan Fagan saying he was going up for it and did I want a lift. Yes was my answer and so at 3am I met up with Brendan outside his house and off we went stopping briefly to pick up Tyttenhanger GP's regular Ricky Flesher. We made good time and arrived in Seahouses just before 9am. We went and paid for our tickets only to find that we were the only 3 going for it! Due to this we had to join an all day trip which dropped off quite a few people onto Staple Island so they could all use their big lenses taking photos of the seabirds. After getting everyone off the boat took us to Inner Farne. We arrived and stayed on the boat scanning the rocks by the jetty. We had been told while on the mainland that the bird was still present by the warden but try as we could we couldn't find it. Just then after 5 minutes the skipper said we had to go back to Staple Island to pick everyone up again as the swell was becoming too bad and they may not get off the island! We picked them all up in what felt like less of a swell than when we dropped them off and once all were on board the boat trundled around the islands for more photo opportunities and more time was ebbing away to see our quarry. Eventually we arrived back on dry land and were told that we would get 3 hours on Inner Farne before we would have to leave again.
After a quick bite to eat we were back on the boat and excited to get onto the island. But then the skipper asked us if we wanted to go to the island or go look at a pod of around 40 Bottle-NosedDolphins. Of course being outnumbered the dolphins won and for another 30 minutes we weren't going to the island. I think the look of desperation on our faces made the skipper feel guilty and eventually we were on our way. The three of us pushed our way to the front of the boat and quickly disembarked only to be met by the wardens asking if we had a ticket and if not we'd have to buy one. Some birders were already present and looking at the bird so I (what most likely came out rudely) said I'm gonna look at the bird then I'll pay you! But they weren't having any of it so I paid and set up my scope and at last laid my eyes on my first ever BRIDLED TERN. It was sat on the rocks just to the right of some Puffins and after getting a couple of photos it took off and disappeared! Skin of the teeth birding! Another boat arrived and I had to tell the birders on board it had just flown. I knew that feeling but luckily it wasn't my turn this time. After 20 minutes it was re-found and we all had cracking views. Happy and with a 5+ hour drive home ahead of us we left the islands and arrived back at Brendan's house just after 9pm. Stupidly I'd parked under a cherry tree and my clean car was covered in twigs, cherries and bird poo. But I didn't care! 1200 hundred miles and 46 hours of driving over 2 years but Bridled Tern is on the list. Thanks go to Brendan for the driving and both of them for the company. Lets hope the next biggy is slightly closer to home!
After Sunday mornings very early start for the eagle I was knackered and in bed 10pm after 36 hours without sleep. Somehow I didn't feel too tired when I woke up at 6am for work but I was already looking forward to going home again for a kip! Lunch arrived and just as I was tucking into my first sandwich my pager started vibrating. My first thought was the eagle had been re-found but on checking I was amazed to read that a Spectacled Warbler had been found on the north coast of Norfolk. I was one of the many who had travelled to Suffolk for the last one a few years ago only to come away disappointed as it had gone. I finish work at 3pm on a Monday so an after work twitch was very tempting but I just couldn't face another long drive so soon after.
Tuesday dawned and news came through on twitter that it was still around so I packed the satnav just in case. 3.30 and the end of the working day and the bird was still there so off I went. Halfway on the journey I checked the pager and the news was positive but I noted a message of a Blyth's ReedWarbler at Cley so thoughts of a two tick evening were in my mind. I arrived at Burnham Overy just shy of 3 hours later and started the walk along the coast path. Thinking that it may be a tad fresh by the coast I wore my coat but that was something I'd regret as thinking that it was only a half mile walk I suddenly realised I'd misread the info and that I had to walk nearer 1.5 miles! So by the time I got to where the bird was I was sweating like a goodun! My first Painted Lady and Little Tern of the year were nice and thankfully the star bird didn't disappoint as it showed well fairly regularly as it was nest building! Only the 8th Spectacled Warbler for the UK so another good bird for the list. Talking of lists under UK400 listing rules this bird became my 450th species. After watching the bird for 15 minutes or so I headed back to the car hoping to get to Cley in good time to try for the other warbler. The walk back was very productive with 4 Little Egret flying over and in the diatance to the east my first Spoonbill for the year were seen with 4 birds soon landing out of view. A lone Pink-Footed Goose was a strange sight considering its June and just past the last gate a Grey Partridge flew up and away from me.
After a clear drive through some of Norfolk's top birding spots I arrived at Cley and joined the small gathering atop the west bank overlooking a ditch in the hope of my second lifer of the day but I waited until 9pm but there was no sight or sound of the Blyth's Reed Warbler and so that's 2 ive now dipped. A showy Barn Owl made up slightly for dipping as it was a year tick. I had another one down the road on the way home along with a Little Owl and after some heavy downpours I crawled into bed at midnight. Today I felt tired!
Yesterdays plan was to head to Norfolk and to try and add a few year ticks but as expected I slept in and dragged myself out of bed around 11am! So instead of birding I ended up going shopping in Watford and buying a load of artist stuff with the idea of learning to paint! So watch this space.
Whilst sitting in bed and having a cuppa I read on twitter the breaking news coming from Dorset where someone had found a Short-Toed Eagle on Morden Bog! I checked the pager and the message had come through but it hadn't Mega'd. It had been perched in a tree for 10 minutes but then flew off. With this news I went shopping. News then came through along with a stunning photo that it had come back and was resting in a tree. It then proceeded to move trees and stay there until dusk. With news like this I knew I had to be there for first light. The only trouble with that was that sunrise is at 4.48am! The alarm was set for 2am and I crawled into bed at 11.30pm. I didn't sleep a wink and so bleary eyed I headed out into the dark and into the car. I arrived on site at 4.40am, parked up and hurriedly joined the couple of hundred or so other birders already there. I got onto the bird straight away and I was happy to be able to write in the notebook 3rd for UK SHORT-TOED EAGLE!! But then the fog rolled in for 30 minutes. Eventually it cleared and then the sun shone on it making the white head stand out. But for the near 3 hours I was there the most it moved was twice to have a dump!! It faced away from us so only a small side section of the pale breast could be seen but even at distance the bright yellow eyes and bluish base to the bill could be seen. A brief Cuckoo and a fly over Mediterranean Gull were the only other birds of note to be seen. I left just before 8 and was home at 10am just 10 minutes after the bird had decided to do something and get up and fly off!
The only problem with dating a teacher is having to wait until school holidays to go away anywhere so seeing as it was half term myself, Carey, my mum and my boy all went off to Croyde Bay in Devon for a few days. The supposed 4 hour drive down turned into a 6 hour drive in the rain as the M5 was horribly slow. On a brief toilet stop I heard an unfamiliar song coming from the trees and after racking my brains for a few seconds I realised it was a Pied Flycatcher!
The following day my son went and spent the day with his aunt who works on the park we were staying on so the 3 of us went for a wander up nearby Baggy Point. During the walk a few things were noted including a singing Lesser Whitethroat, a few Shag and Fulmar and a single Stonechat.
Tuesday dawned sunny which made a change for near constant rain but it soon clouded over. It was also the day we were going over to Lundy Island. With the cloud over head we wrapped up in a few layers only to overheat once on the island as the sun had come out again! The journey over on the MS Oldenburg was thankfully a smooth one and within 20 minutes I picked up a flock of skuas flying alongside us but at a bit of a distance. I got my bins on to them and I was amazed to see that they were Pomarine Skua! A quick count up totalled 12 birds 9 of them pale and 3 dark morph all with lovely spoon shaped tails. This was the first time I'd seen more than a single bird and they were my first adult birds. They soon vanished from view and so I concentrated on seeing what else I could see. The odd Kittiwake and Fulmar kept things ticking over and then 6 Manx Shearwater made an appearance and became my 170th species for the year. One of the passengers had started boozing within minutes of the sailing so when he shouted what's that over there I wasn't expecting anything but I looked anyway and out of the water jumped 3 Dolphins! They showed for about a minute before disappearing. Finally we arrived at the island and walked up the steep slope to the top. During the 4 hours we had there I noted 5 Raven (a nice family party), 3 Wheatear and a Sedge Warbler at the top of Millcombe Valley. But it was at the famous Jenny's Cove the site of the UK's and WP's only Ancient Murrelet that we finally saw the birds my son had wanted to see and the reason to come over. On the cliffs amongst Guillemots and Razorbills were over 60 Puffin. We all had a look through my scope and I managed the crappy photo you see above. With all of us happy and knackered we got back on the boat and on the journey back I added my final year tick of the holiday when a SandwichTern flew past. It was just a shame I was about 25 years too late for the murrelet!!
Yesterday I arrived home to read news of a potential county tick at Tyttenhanger that was ID'd from photos once they had flown off just as I was finishing work. Forward to this morning and I received a phone call from Steve Blake yesterday's finder to say that they were back. All they had to do was stick around for another 6-7 hours! Work flew by quite quickly as did the journey up to Tyttenhanger and after a quick walk I joined Joan Thompson, Anna Marrett and Steve Murray and thankfully out on the spit on the main pit were my first Temminck's Stints in Hertfordshire. Also on view were a stunning male Yellow Wagtail and a Little-Ringed Plover. I watched the stints for about 30 minutes before I headed home happy.
While loading the van up at the depot at Wiggenhall Road I heard a bird singing that immediately got my attention. After a nervous few seconds I got onto the bird to find it directly above the river between the yard and Oxhey park. It was stationary briefly singing a series of lovely flutey notes showing off its characteristic short squared off tail and short rounded wings before a flock of racing pigeons flew too close to it forcing it to carry on heading east. There for just over a minute was only my second Woodlark for Herts with the last one being in the late 90's!
As Carey's aunt and uncle were down from Scotland we were due to head over to see them before they went on holiday to Prague. But just as we were due to head over news broke from just outside the county up near Tring at College Lake NR. With this news Carey went to her parents and I headed to College Lake. Not realising the car park was now a pricey £3 and having no money on me I parked up, walked through the visitor centre and joined a small group of birders many of them Tring regulars and quickly got onto the Lesser Yellowlegs that was showing well as it walked along the front of the island. It was my 8th in the UK but my first in summer plumage. Not wanting to get clamped or get a ticket I only stayed for a few minutes before heading over to join Carey.
After a couple of hours we said our goodbyes and I headed over to Hilfield. It was pretty quiet with just 2 patch year ticks. At least 150 Swift were overhead and a Reed Warbler was singing near the SE fountain.
Due to things at home that needed sorting before going back to work we could only stay at my dads for the one night but before heading home we made the most of the nice weather and drove up to Happisburgh to see how much of the cliffs had been washed away during the winter storms and to have a cream tea! A Lesser Whitethroat was opposite the old car park and on the beach a Rock Pipit and 2 Turnstone were seen. As we headed back towards Great Yarmouth 3 Egyptian Goose flew up from a field near Horsey Mill. Back into Herts and I stopped off as usual at Sandon where from the green gate a Buzzard and 2 Yellowhammer were seen but as I drove back up towards the main road a familiar jangling call blasted out from a bush. It was my first Corn Bunting in the county for many years since the Chiswell Green population vanished.
My dad had bought a new house in Caister-on-Sea and so myself and Carey went up to have a look. We made a brief stop for a McDonalds breakfast just into Cambrideshire and while sat in the car park a Yellow Wagtail flew over. Instead of heading straight to my dads we popped into a few places on the way. First stop was Lynford Arboretum near Mundford. I was hoping to connect with one or both the Two-Barred Crossbill that had been present since last year but despite walking around most of the site I could only connect with a few Common Crossbill and then just as I was getting into the car to carry on our journey a Marsh Tit called from nearby shrubs.
The next stop was just down the road at Santon Downham. Carey stayed in the car to read a book while I headed out. Almost immediately I heard and then saw a singing Tree Pipit quickly followed by 5 more Crossbill. After a quick ice cream and we were off again. Just before the East Harling turn off a Hobby flew over the car. The final destination was my Norfolk local patch of Winterton Dunes but as usual it was quiet with only 3 Wheatear of note although at least 1 of them was a Greenland race bird. As for my dads house it's a nice semi detached bungalow with nice fields out the back which in the past have had Bee-Eater and Red-Footed Falcon nearby!
An after work visit produced the goods with 3 more patch ticks. 2 Garden Warbler were singing in the north bushes and a rattling Lesser Whitethroat was near the aerodrome. While walking up to meet Steve Murray I heard the call of a Greenshank but due to ill placed bushes I couldn't see it and it wasn't on the dam when walking back to the car.
Typically I managed to sleep in longer today than any other day of the long weekend bank holiday so by the time I arrived at Hilfield it was 9.30am. On the dam were 2 Common Sandpiper and a total of 7 singing Whitethroat were noted around the res. Once past the hide I had a scan over the water and the tern rafts. Unfortunately for any terns the rafts are smothered in breeding BH Gulls and a CanadaGoose nest! It was while having this scan that a duck flew into my scope view heading away from me before landing on the water. There in front of me was a stunning drake Garganey! This was only the second time I'd seen this species here with the previous time consisting of 2 male and 1 female. It also turned out to be the only patch tick of my visit. Other species noted on the walk round were a female Bullfinch, 2 male Reed Bunting and a fly over Grey Wagtail.
After leaving here I popped into my mums to see how her holiday to Istanbul went and then have her grip me off with a photo of a Laughing Dove before I headed up to Tring Reservoirs.
Cuckoo and Mandarin
First stop was Startops End Reservoir where I managed to parking space. It was fairly quiet birdwise mainly due to the amount of people walking around letting their dogs into the water. 2 Redshank and about 20 Common Tern were sat on the barley bunds and a male Yellow Wagtail flew over and landed in the horse field over the road. I quickly popped into Tringford Reservoir and happily found the male Red-Crested Pochard. Next stop was Marsworth Reservoir where almost immediately I hard a Cuckoo. After a few minutes I picked it up in a tree on the far side of the water. This was species number 150 for the year. Also heard from the reedbed were 2 Cetti's Warbler and a handful of Reed and Sedge Warbler. I wandered up to the canal and quite quickly heard a singing Lesser Whitethroat. Another Yellow Wagtail then flew over. My final stop was Wilstone Reservoir where I again nabbed a parking space. On reaching the top of the steps I scanned over to the jetty and straight away connected with a drake Mandarin. I then bumped into Steve Rodwell and Mike Hirst (nice to meet you!). Another Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedgerow and my first Kingfisher of the year flew by. Just then Steve said he had a Marsh Harrier and sure enough a female was over the far reeds. Surprisingly it had coloured wing tags with an orange one on the right wing and an off white on the left. After some investigating it would seem it was tagged on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent last year. Birding was then interrupted by a heavy downpour so I retreated to the car. Once it had stopped I walked round to the hide and joined Steve, Ian Williams, Dave Bilcock and Mike Wallen. The tagged harrier flew over the reeds allowing a number (59) to be seen on a tag before going out of view. A few minutes later it was back but then we realised it didn't have any tags on it! It was a second bird either a female or 1st summer male. 7 Snipe were flushed by the harriers and a male Shelduck flew in but soon vanished. A Cuckoo and Sparrowhawk were noted along with an Oystercatcher on one of the rafts.
After work I decided to have a walk around the reservoir as Carey was out with friends. A quick scan over the water produced 40+ Sand Martin and at least a dozen Swallow. On the dam was a CommonSandpiper and just then a high pitched zeeep got my attention as a Yellow Wagtail flew over. I bumped into Steve near the hide where he told me he'd had a Little Egret the day before! From the SE fountain I finally picked up 2 Common Tern hawking over the water. Other highlights were a Sparrowhawk over the viewpoint along with 2 Red Kite and a Coal Tit. As I was watching the CoalTit I noticed a small butterfly heading towards me. It was only when it briefly settled I realised it was a Thorn Moth sp. It was smaller than an Orange-Tip butterfly and a pale yellowy cream colour. I tried to get a photo but the bugger wouldn't stay still long enough! I had a quick look on Google and Early and Purple Thorn were the wrong colour so it looks like it was a Little Thorn moth. Apparently they fly in the day and even in cloudy conditions as it was today. But according to Alan Reynolds this would be a new species for Hertfordshire! So I guess its one that got away? As I reached the dam a Grey Wagtail landed briefly and a Linnet flew south. I had a quick scan along the waters edge for the Common Sandpiper and found 2 quickly followed by a 3rd that flew in.
A Sparrowhawk flew over Cassiobury Park early morning and then in the afternoon I received a text from Steve Murray informing me of a good patch tick at Hilfield. So after work I headed over and thankfully on the water were the pair of Shelduck. They were a nice grip back as I'd missed the 4 earlier on the year.
A leisurely couple of hours around the patch threw up some more year and patch ticks. On the dam was my first Common Sandpiper of the year and over the water were 20+ Sand Martin and a couple of Swallow. At the southern end of the dam a Linnet flew north. The next year tick was a Whitethroat singing along the fence line shrubs. Near the viewpoint a Lapwing was in the fields of Pages farm and a Willow Warbler was singing erratically. A Grey Wagtail flew over and onto the patch list. 10 Chiffchaff were heard singing around the reservoir and 8 Blackcap were also heard plus a silent female.
A quick couple of hours around the reservoir before heading over to be with the boy was pretty average but did produce 4 more patch ticks for my patchwork challenge. After having never seen a RL Partridge before I found another 2 in a field over the road. This was followed by a female Mallard with 13 chicks. Around the reservoir were 10 Chiffchaff 2 of which were collecting nest material. The first of my patch ticks was a singing Blackcap out of a total of 3 birds. 4 Pied Wagtail were on the dam and in the SW corner my second patch tick flew past in the shape of a male Reed Bunting. Non avian highlights were a Muntjac and my first Orange-Tip and Small White butterflies. Once back at the dam I had a mad 5 minutes when 2 Swallow zoomed through north and onto the year list. These were quickly followed by 3 Meadow Pipit also heading north and a last scan of the res produced 5 Sand Martin and the last patch tick of the day with 2 Lapwing over the far side.
Today was spent marking out the football pitches around Watford. Apart from the odd Chiffchaff singing in various parks it was pretty quiet until we reached Harebreaks rec in North Watford. As I was marking out the junior pitches I heard a familiar call coming from the adjacent woods. It was only another singing Firecrest! Possibly due to my fluorescent yellow waistcoat (which I have to wear for health and safety reasons even though I'm in a park 100 yards from a road) the bird came closer and closer singing its head off and baring its glorious crest. It certainly brightened up my day.
After a day at work neither myself or Carey could be arsed to cook so we wandered around to the Two Brewers pub in the village and after a lovely meal we walked back home. But I was briefly stopped in my tracks along King's Lane as presumably one of last years Firecrest was singing from the same gardens as last year. This was great news that they are still around and it brought my year list up to a nice round 140.
During work I received a couple of text messages informing me of a Little Gull at the res so as I finish at 3pm on a Monday I was down there promptly. On site were Steve Murray and Joan Thompson with her hubby. I got onto the gull which was an adult winter bird with just the smallest hint of black on the face. Soon after Joan left and no sooner was she out the gate then I heard the call of Sand Martin overhead. Initially I picked out 5 but the number rose to 9 before the disappeared. I had a quick look at the logbook and read that Red-Legged Partridge had been seen the day before under the feeders. I couldn't recall ever seeing one here so I turned round and looked down to the feeders and sure enough a single RLP was feeding on the floor! Just as I was walking down the steps to the car a Red Kite was seen in the distance. Not a bad hours birding.
On Thursday I joked to my son that if news from his parents evening was bad I'd punish him by dragging him out birding all weekend! Luckily for him his work had improved and so he'd escaped. But then as we were in town on Saturday shopping in Boots the mega alert went off! Due to plans to visit the cinema with my brother the twitch had to be delayed. Sunday morning and news was positive that the bird in question was still present so I dragged my boy along anyway! A short trip into neighbouring Cambridgeshire saw us arrive on site in just over an hour. As we drove up the entrance track 2 Red-Legged Partridge were in the fields to the right and then straight onto the year list. I parked up with a couple of other cars just before the very weird guided busway. Basically it's 2 concrete tracks running through the middle of the reserve that normal single and double decker buses run on! A nice 1 mile walk eventually found us on the track down to Moore Lake at the far west end of the reserve. A couple of Cetti's Warblers burst into song along the way as were a few Chiffchaff. Eventually we came across a few other birders and from the hide I got onto my first ever BAIKALTEAL. It was a stunning pristine drake fully winged and un-ringed keeping mainly to itself but loosely associating with a few Teal and Wigeon. I got Tom onto it and he replied yeah I got it and its very nice! (I'll make a birder out of him one day!). We watched swim from left to right picking off flies from the surface of the water. Once we'd had our fill of this bird I had a quick scan of the islands and picked out the head and upper body of an Avocet which was a nice year tick. On the walk back to the car I had a quick scan over another of the lakes as the day before it had held Scaup, Garganey and Smew. Apart from a Scaup and a few Goldeneye I didn't have time to have a good look for the other species. There have now been 4 accepted records of Baikal Teal so as long as this bird keeps looking wary, not eating bread thrown at it and flies off soon it has a good chance of being number 5.
Whilst sat on the sofa looking out the window I noticed a large flock of birds flying south away from the flat. I grabbed my bins and sure enough they were Golden Plover! I counted roughly 70 birds before they disappeared out of view.
On the way to Cassiobury Park a drake Tufted Duck flew over Rickmansworth Road and West Herts sports ground. From the direction of flight it most certainly flew out from the park. In the park 2 Lesser Redpoll were still around the yard.
A nice weekend away with Carey was planned but the drive down Friday night nearly ruined it all before it began. We had planned to leave home about 4.30pm but due to an accident in the country lanes meant Carey didn't get home till just gone 5. Once on the M25 good progress was made for all of about 4 junctions when we hit traffic all the way down to the M3. Then it really got bad! We reached Whinchester services at 9pm and then the thunderstorms started! Eventually we reached the hotel on Portland at 10.30pm totally shattered but before we could go to bed the bulb in the loo blew so the hotel manager had to come and replace it!
The next day dawned sunny with a brisk wind. First port of call was down to the bill for a nice wander in the fresh air. 2 Raven flew over the car park and on the rocks by the lighthouse the first Wheatear of the year was seen. a couple of Fulmar were out at sea and 2 Little Owl were in the obs quarry again. I then bumped into Chris Sharp, Paul Frost and Ephraim Perfect to whom I got onto one of the owls. I said goodbye to them and went for a drink in the café. Next stop was Ferrybridge where a quick scan of the mud saw a few Ringed Plover and Turnstone but then I came across a lovely 3rd winter Iceland Gull. I'd received a text from Chris that he'd seen the same bird at Chesil Cove after I'd given them directions and so I thought I'd call him to let them know it was here. They arrived quickly and got onto it. Shortly after I picked up a smaller and paler looking plover in with the RingedPlovers. I got the others onto it and we were in agreement it was a Little Ringed Plover our first of the year. They headed off home and we went to Lodmoor hoping for a Sand Martin but only a Cetti's Warbler saved the visit becoming my 133rd species of the year.
Marking out the footy pitches day today and the 2 Lesser Redpoll were still by the yard at Cassiobury Park. The only other noteworthy sighting was at Callowland rec when I heard a Meadow Pipit call as it flew overhead but when I looked up there were 12 heading NW!
3 Grey Heron flew over Wiggenhall depot first thing followed by 2 Chiffchaff heard calling from neighbouring Oxhey Park. 2 Lesser Redpoll were still around the yard in Cassiobury Park and a Meadow Pipit flew over just after lunch.
My first visit for a while was made even better by the lovely weather. Before I'd even reached the top of the steps 6 Meadow Pipit flew north and onto my patchwork challenge list. 2 more flew north over the hide. On the walk around the reservoir I counted 9 different singing Chiffchaff and I also found a nest building pair of Long-Tailed Tit. Near the airfield a pair of Bullfinch flew off and a Coal Tit made an appearance. Near the viewpoint a Red Kite circled briefly and finally onto the list but the best bird of the day was seen just before the north pines when a couple of Chaffinch flew up from the floor and in with them was a near summer plumage Brambling! This was a Hilfield tick for me and brought the number of patchwork challenge ticks to 4 for the day.
Born and bred in Watford,Herts, I started birding when I was just 8 years old because the old next door neighbours garden was very overgrown and attracted birds to his and our gardens! I first went to the Watford RSPB group at 15 and then I joined the Herts Bird Club in the same year. I was on the Herts Bird Club committee for 3 years. I started twitching in September 2001 after i'd bought my RBA pager and within a week of owning it i'd added Red-Necked Stint and American Green Heron! I keep 2 main lists which can be seen above.