Sunday, 23 March 2014

Portland - 22.3.14

The Iceland Gull
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 cafĂ©. 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 Ringed Plovers. 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.

Knutsford - 20.3.14

While finishing off the marking out a Chiffchaff was singing away at Knutsford rec and a Meadow Pipit flew over.

Watford - 19.3.14

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!

Watford - 18.3.14

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.

Hilfield Reservoir - 15.3.14

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.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Scotland - 8-13.3.14

The American Coot

I guess this trip up to Scotland actually started nearly 23 years ago in August 1991 when my mum took me and my brother on a week long holiday run by a wildlife tour company owned by Chris Packham and Terry Nutkins! On one of the days we had just been up Carn Ban Mor where we watched my first ever Dotterel and Ptamigan. On the walk back down the mountain me and my brother walked off ahead and had a Red Grouse fly in front of us. That was the only one seen on the trip so I was happy. However my good news was short lived as the rest of the group (including my mum) had had a Golden Eagle fly over and that was the only one seen on the trip. Scroll forward nearly 23 years and I'd not gone back to Scotland and Golden Eagle was a massive hole in my list which my mum took great pleasure of reminding me that it was on hers and she's not even a birder! With this in mind I had wanted to head up to Islay for a few years to catch up with this species and hopefully add the remaining Scottish birds that I'd missed the first time around. With a new company in charge at work they wanted to change our holiday dates to match up with everyone else's which meant they then had to give us 8.5 days extra holiday to make up for it. I took this as a good enough reason to book a week on Islay but it was made even better when news of two American species I needed broke and so a potential 5 new species were on offer. A couple of days after I'd booked my ferry and accommodation my mum now retired said she would like to join me. A chance to finally end 23 years of hurt with her present was too good a chance to turn down!

Friday 7th March arrived and after a day at work I went home and got myself ready and prepared for the longest drive of my life. The sat nav was set for Ardersier near Inverness and I sighed when it came back with the news it'd take 8.5 hours! In the end I'd have settled for that as after having to stop twice to combat tiredness and driving through a blizzard in the Cairngorms I arrived on site at Loch Flemington 13.5 hours later! I had arranged to meet Tyttenhanger birder Steve Blake there but he had to get back to Inverness airport for his flight home so I only had a few seconds chat with him as he drove past! Thankfully the bird I had wanted to see on the loch was still present and even better was that it was showing brilliantly down to around 20 yards! My first ever AMERICAN COOT was busy diving for food and occasionally running onto the flotsam under the trees. With its paler plumage, white under-tail, black marks on the bill and red spot on its forehead it to me looked much more interesting a bird than our Coot. By this time I was absolutely shattered so after 30 minutes or so of viewing we headed into nearby Nairn to our B and B for the night. After an hours sleep I couldn't tell what day it was but I knew I was hungry! After lunch we went for some fresh air on the beach and within seconds of scanning the sea a pair of Red-Breasted Merganser were seen but better still at least 6 Long-Tailed Duck. A walk onto the pier added Sanderling and Redshank to the year list but on the far dunes a flock of about 20 Snow Bunting took flight and became the 100th species for the year. At the far north end of the beach 4 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese were having a wash in the surf and finally a Great Northern Diver was seen just offshore.

The American Herring Gull

After a fairly good nights sleep and scrambled eggs on toast we packed up the car for another 5  hour journey across from the east to the west coast to Kintyre. Just beyond the turning for Loch Flemington I saw my first ever wild Otter. It was such a shame that most of its head was missing after presumably being hit by a car that night. After a comfortable drive we reached Lochgilphead where my mum suddenly said she had just seen a diver. Knowing it was probably a Cormorant I pulled over and sure enough it was but then I spied only my second ever Black Guillemot but my first in its dapper summer plumage. This was another bird I had hoped to see for the first time on this trip but I managed to see on along with the Brunnich's Guillemot in Portland harbour on Boxing Day! Next bird of note was seen as we were driving through the village of Glenbarr when a female Merlin flew up onto a roadside post and stayed there just long enough to be ID'd! Eventually we arrived at our next B and B and while my mum went to tell the owner we had arrived a pair of Stonechat popped up onto her garden fence! But I didn't have time to stop as I wanted to get down to Campbeltown in search of my second lifer of the trip. After checking out many of it's usual haunts and speaking to Brendan Glynn who had seen it the day before I drew a blank. 4 Raven and a flock of nearly 300 Greenland White-Fronted Geese (I'd only seen 1 before!) were noted and so I headed down to the harbour in the hope it'd turn up to roost. A Rock Pipit was a year tick along with a couple of Shag. Another 8 Black Guillemot were present. Out near the harbour entrance a Bottlenose Dolphin broke the surface a couple of times and a winter plumage Red-Throated Diver showed very well. I then went over and joined two other birders also looking for the bird in question. I scanned the yellow bhoys the bird had favoured before and picked out a largish gull with a brownish body and white head. Surely that was it? I got the other 2 on it and they said they'd already seen it and it wasn't it. Stupidly I let them talk me around. Just then the birds original finder Eddie Maguire turned up and said a few gulls were roosting on the old pier so we drove round to join him and scanned the birds but to no avail. I gave it one last scan of the bhoys and the same bird was still present so I stuck to my guns and said I'm sure this is it. Eddie looked through our scopes and said yeah that's it! So an hour in the cold and rain later and my first AMERICAN HERRING GULL a nice 1st winter bird was confirmed. After a nice dinner of bangers and mash it was off to bed.

The Iceland Gull and Snow Geese (backsides!)

After a pleasant nights sleep made even better knowing I had the gull on the list we had breakfast and headed back into Campbeltown so my mum could add to her postcard collection and I could get some signal to do a few bits on my phone. But on the way I stopped off in one of the layby's where one of the guys from last night was watching something with someone I knew! Roy Hargreaves of Tring reservoirs fame had come up for the AHG but was watching a smart 2nd winter Iceland Gull on one of the floods. We had a quick chat before heading into town and after town it was off to the ferry port at Kennacraig. But even before reaching the port I had one last stop in the village of Tayinloan where in with a flock of 179 Greenland White-Fronts were a nice white morph and a blue morph Snow Goose. Also present watching the geese were Lee Evans and the devil birder David Campbell who had come up for the AHG. But unfortunately for them they chose the only recent evening that it didn't turn up in the harbour.

The ferry journey was very pleasant with flat calm seas which helped when looking for birds. During the 2 hour crossing I noted 15 Great Northern Diver, 1 summer plumage Red-Throated Diver, 3 Black Guillemot.

Once on Islay the drive to our B and B for the next 3 nights saw hundreds of Barnacle Geese in various fields and some more Greenland White-Fronts. Frustratingly the postcode on the website took us down a bumpy road to a house which wasn't where we were staying! However along the road I added Meadow Pipit and Linnet to the year list and my first proper wild ROCK DOVES with 5 feeding in a field. Eventually we found the house which was slap bang in the middle of Gruinart flats so we had hundreds of geese outside our windows! Once unpacked we headed to Port Charlotte for dinner but while waiting for diner to start I added 2 more GN Diver and a Black Guillemot to the list. Aftre dinner we headed back in the gloom to the B and B and just beyond the distillery at Bruichladdich a huge bird of prey flew over the rocks. It was a GOLDEN EAGLE!! My mum wouldn't believe me though and with just the briefest of glimpses I was annoyed I didn't get a better look.

The Golden Eagle and 2 Pics of the hopeful Thayer's Gull

Our first full day on the island and I was starting to notice that most of the drivers would say hi whenever they drove past! The plan was to visit the Oa at the south end of the island for Golden Eagle and even though I'd seen the one last night I stuck to the plan. We were about 2 miles from the car park when suddenly looming large just to the right of us was a Golden Eagle and for a few minutes I watched it slowly circle around. Finally 23 years of hurt had gone and I must admit I gave my mum the V sign!! Happy with that we popped into the distillery at Laphroaig and bought some celebratory miniatures for drinking at a later date! On the very long straight road back north I suddenly slammed on the brakes (making sure no one was behind me!) as off to the west was a male Hen Harrier quartering the grassland. After that nice surprise we headed to Kilchoman to meet Ian Brookes who writes up the Islay blog in my blog list. I found him with his wife up in the garden of their new house planting up the edge for the Corncrakes they get in it! It was nice to meet them both and fingers crossed I'll see him at this years bird fair. While chatting to him the sound of a pair of Chough filled the air and I finally saw some Rock Dove on rocks. It was then I thought I'd go and try for Purple Sandpiper down at Bruichladdich. I parked up opposite Loch Gorm House and scanned the rocks but apart from a couple of Curlew and Oystercatcher there was no sing of any Purple Sands. But just then in amongst the Common Gulls I picked up a bird resembling an Iceland Gull. But then sirens went off in my head as on these rocks the week before a bird that a few people in the know had said looked spot on for a juvenile THAYER'S GULL had been found. With this in mind I started taking photos of the bird and paying a lot of attention to it! The bird had a nice all dark tail and dark primaries and the face looked darker that the rest of the head. I will freely admit I know nothing of what Thayer's Gulls are supposed to look like but I knew this didn't look like any Iceland Gull I'd ever seen! I then saw 2 other birders parked nearby so I went over to speak to them and they had also seen it on the rocks and up in nearby fields and were thinking the same as me that it was indeed the Thayer's. One of them knew the original finder so had emailed him and a description will be submitted soon so potentially a nice mega rare armchair tick in the future?!

The Richardon's Cackling Goose

Our last day on the island dawned and I had been unsuccessful in my efforts to find the small Canada Goose that was present in with a flock of Barnacle Geese. So After being told where it was the day before I parked up near Bridgend and walked all the way up the road towards Eorrabus. I scanned every flock of geese I came across but again and again I couldn't find it. In the last field I was going to look over there were a few hundred Barnie's but that was it until I heard more calling behind the farm. I switched my attention to these and was dismayed to see an even bigger flock. I still had a look through though and then BINGO there it was! I'd never been so happy to see a Canada Goose but this was my first ever RICHARDSON'S CACKLING GOOSE and with this dinky little goose my goal of 5 out of 5 lifers was realised. After this we visited Finlaggan, Portnahaven and a visit to Loch Gruinart where I added Pintail and Bar-Tailed Godwit to the list.

A quick plug for the B and B we stayed in as I did promise! The Loch Gruinart House B and B run by Jack and Catherine is a lovely place surrounded by the flats with hundreds of birds on them and only a short walk/drive to the RSPB reserve. But if you do stay there ignore the sat nav to turn right as it'll take you away from them just stay on that road!

On the ferry back to Kennacraig saw 10 GN Diver including 8 together and just before we turned out of the entrance road of the ferry I noticed 2 Greenshank in with Redshank. We did see a Red Squirrel just down the road but that was like the Otter and dead on the road.

So around 1,500 miles was driven and 34 year ticks were seen with 5 of them lifers. But that may rise if the Thayer's Gull is ever accepted! Finger crossed.

Kestrel - 7.3.14

On the way to work a Kestrel flew up and hovered over the Hunton Bridge roundabout. Only my 2nd of the year.

Cassiobury Park - 27.2.14

4 Lesser Redpoll and 2 Siskin flew over and a Pheasant called from the old cress bed.

Watford - 24.2.14

Another quiet day with Buzzard, Red Kite and 2 Canada Geese over Oxhey park.