Saturday, 28 November 2015

Oxhey + Apsley - 25.11.15

With just 1 month until Christmas it was slightly embarrassing to finally add Tawny Owl to the year list with a bird calling from trees by Oxhey Grange bowls club at the strange time of 10.25am!

Later in the day I found a Little Egret in the river opposite Apsley McDonald's. The first time id seen one there.

College Lake - 21.11.15

Great Northern Diver (honestly!)
A very quick pre dinner visit was 50% successful with the moulting adult Great Northern Diver still present on the large lake albeit asleep but the drake Goosander had apparently flown off soon after the diver had arrived.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Herts Mega - 15.11.15

What a beast
My best ever view of a Great Skua!
After the early start the day before I was looking forward to a nice lay in but just after 8.30 I heard my phone buzzing on the bedside table and Carey telling me its already rung once. I saw it was Brendan ringing me and thought he wanted to chat about yesterdays success so I went to the loo and was about to climb back into bed and call him when I saw a tweet from @Tringbirds with the words Great Skua,Wilstone! With that I got dressed and brushed my teeth, told Carey I was off to Tring! I shot up the A41 passing Chris Sharp as I went and thanks to Brendan telling me to park at cemetery corner I arrived, grabbed my coat and scope and ran. I didn't run far as I'm so unfit but I reached the bank and set my scope up just in case it flew but there sat on the grass bank by the jetty was the first twitchable Great Skua for the county since the storm of 87!  I walked down the bank and around the bird so not to flush it and climbed back on to the top and just a few feet away was the monster. The wind was blowing a gale and after no more than 5 minutes a gust picked the bird off the ground and blew it into the air. It circled over the field behind the jetty and at that moment Chris and Joan Thompson arrived. Thankfully they got onto it as it flew off. It seemed to drop into a field near the smaller reservoirs but despite searching it wasn't seen again bar a report of it/one flying over Ivinghoe Beacon. Certainly skin of the teeth! Thanks to Brendan for calling as id have slept straight through all the excitement!

CRAG MARTIN! - 14.11.15

Phil Bishops cracking photo of the Crag Martin. Cheers Phil
My crappy photo of the Crag Martin (blob to left of spire)!
It wouldn't happen nowadays with Health + Safety!
Before this year I'd never birded Derbyshire but I paid my first visit in May for the summer plumaged Red-Throated Pipit. Driving past Chesterfield I finally saw the famous crooked spire on St Mary's + All Saints church that I'd seen on TV before. I made the most of seeing it as I didn't think I'd see it again. How wrong I was! Remembrance Sunday and news broke of a Crag Martin flying around the aforementioned church by a birder looking out for the local Peregrines but only locals made it in time before it vanished. It was still there on and off through the week and so with positive news on the Friday I enquired about a lift up for Saturday. Thankfully Chris Sharp had a spare seat and so at 6am I met up with Chris, Brendan Glynn and young but getting taller Ephraim Perfect! Chris then mentioned that Paul Frost was coming along and was driving. We filled the boot and I squeezed in the back seat and off we went. Arriving on site at around 8.30am we joined the crowd all looking up at the crooked spire anxiously waiting for the bird to arrive. The hours ticked by with only a flock of Pink-Footed Geese to entertain us, a visit to Greggs for a hot chocolate warmed the cockles and it was good to chat to a few Herts birders for a catch up including Ricky Flesher, Terry Smith and Phil Bishop. At around 10.50 I wandered back towards the church as I had finished my drink and just as I was on the grass I looked up and what should fly into my view but my first ever UK CRAG MARTIN! I shouted there it is and suddenly birders who were reading the paper or chatting were asking where, where?! I then turned to the lads and tried whistling but nothing came out so I was waving at them to come over. They quite quickly joined me and for the next 30-40 minutes we tried to keep an eye on the bird as it flew around the church at near super sonic speed. It was hard enough to keep in bins so how some people managed to get good photos of it I don't know! I'd never been at a twitch before when a loud cheer went up as people got onto it! It was later that day that its roost site was found just up the road at Chesterfield FC's ground. The forecast rain held off until we were back on the road home. The only downer of a very enjoyable day was Paul bursting a tyre as he parked up at Chris's! Thanks lads.

Watford - 10.11.15

Almost a month without any proper birding had passed but while working in the cemetery on Vicarage Road I had 2 Brambling fly north. These were my first in Herts since 15th March 2014 so were most welcome.

Norfolk Weekender - 18.10.15

After a good night out at the Greyhound racing that even saw me come out £3 up on the night which is a first we had a spot of breakfast and said our goodbyes. But rather than head for home straight away we headed down the road to Caister golf course with the aim of seeing another Great Grey Shrike. It wasn't to be though but I did pick out an interesting looking Stonechat that had me thinking Siberian for a bit. Typically that turned up a few days later in the same spot! 4 Red-Throated Diver and a female Reed Bunting were the highlights before the rain set in.

While up that way I always like to try and visit Winterton Dunes. Its sort of my Norfolk patch. Over the years I've seen some good birds there. Todays visit to the north dunes was for yet another GG Shrike but again I was thwarted! 12+ Goldcrest and a Wheatear was all the land had to offer and out on the sea 26 Red-Throated Diver, 3 Common Scoter and a Mediterranean Gull was my lot. We then headed for home. Thanks Tom for putting up with all the birding!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Norfolk Weekender - 17.10.15

My Dad's birthday had come around again and so I took my son Tom up to Norfolk to see him via a few hours on the north coast! We made it in good time but as we pulled into the car park at Wells we found that half the car park was closed for repair so I had to squeeze into a gap and make do. Having not been to Wells Woods for a couple of years I wasn't entirely sure as to where certain places were so I just followed the crowd and luckily stumbled into the right places!

First stop was the drinking pool where after a couple of fleeting glimpses and a fly over Woodcock I finally had good views of my 5th Red-Flanked Bluetail in the UK. Amazing to think how rare this species was less than 10 years ago and also amazing as it was the 4th one I'd seen on the 17th October! I guess my dads birthday has its plus side!

A bit further along the track we joined a group of birders staring into some bushes and Sycamore trees hoping to see a Hume's Warbler. Lots of movement was seen but they were all Goldcrest that were still present from the earlier mass fall of the species a couple of days earlier. Every now and then the bird we were looking for would call and show briefly but eventually we had good if brief views when it popped out onto the top of a Hawthorn bush.

Another couple of minutes up the track and I heard the call of Long-Tailed Tits which in Autumn means potential good birds in with them! And sure enough the first I picked out was a Pallas's Warbler! I alerted a couple a few yards away only for them to say yes we have one here! A couple of minutes later and both birds were in view along with a Coal Tit and Chiffchaff.

After that success we got back on the road and headed to the wonderfully named village of Little Snoring! Parking up near the airfield I stepped out of the car into a cold strong wind which didn't help searching. After speaking to a local I had one last scan and picked the Great Grey Shrike dropping out of a tree onto the floor then back up to the tree. 20+ Golden Plover were in the adjacent fields.

Isabelline Shrike
The last stop before heading to my dads was Beeston Common. Never having been here before I somehow managed to find my way to the spot where a couple of other birders were stood. Just then the rain came down so we found shelter and waited. And waited! The rain stopped and suddenly out of a bush popped the Isabelline Shrike! It the proceeded to show well for the next 15 minutes before we had to leave.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Shetland To Startop's - 6.10.15

Ring-Necked Duck
While on Shetland news broke of a drake Ring-Necked Duck on Wilstone Reservoir. That would be a nice 3 pointer for the patch challenge if it stuck around. Thankfully it did and so despite being late to bed I was up early to go and see it before the rain arrived. Frustratingly it was sat in the middle of the reservoir at Startops but it was my first male in Herts and my 3rd in the last 5 years! A Lesser Redpoll flew over and a Cetti's Warbler called from the reedbed at Marsworth Res.

Lerwick - Home -5.10.15

Our last day on Shetland had arrived far too quickly so after packing the car and tidying the accommodation we went for our 4th attempt at the Lerwick OBP. But again there was no sign but suddenly I picked up the call of geese that I hadn't heard so far this trip. I looked up and through the bins were 16 Barnacle Geese heading noisily south. A Chiffchaff was in full song by the hospital and 2 Siskin flew over.

One place we had driven past a few times that looked good was Channerwick so today we paid it a visit. I walked to the far end and from a pile of rope a brown bird flew up and dropped in by the derelict buildings. After wading through long wet weeds I found a Willow Warbler but whether that was my bird I'll never know! A Yellow-Browed Warbler was heard but not seen. Dodgy guts curtailed our stay here so after a loo stop we were just about to have a look around an interesting wooded garden when news broke of a Dusky Warbler. This time though it was us who were too early as it had been found in the garden at Grutness where we had looked the day before! We arrived on site but it had disappeared. The wind that had been plaguing us from the west had swung south-easterly and the birds almost instantly started arriving. Despite no Dusky the garden was full of Goldcrest which the local moggy started to catch much to everyone's annoyance. The elderly owner even tried to hamper our viewing by walking into the garden telling us all to go get a life you sad bastards!! I decided to wander up to one of the quarries and apart from more Goldcrest I picked out a lovely pair of Brambling which were a surprise year tick. The mega alert then sounded telling us of a male Siberian Thrush on Fair Isle! So close but yet so far but even those on there dipped as only 2 people saw it. 3 more flocks of Barnacle Geese headed over totalling just over 100 birds.

The hybrid. Any guesses?!
News then broke of another OBP just up the road at Scatness so we shot up there to find nobody else! The directions were that it was on the last stone wall so we walked past the houses and out into the fields to the last stone wall. No OBP around but on a small pool 2 more trip ticks were had with a female Shoveler and a female Pintail. A third duck proved to be a weird looking hybrid! Behind the pool were nearly 200 Barnacle Geese. In amongst them were 2 yellow colour ringed birds. Once home I submitted this record and the Greylag neck collars to see where they had originated from. The Greylag had only moved a couple of miles but the Barnacles had been ringed in Svalbard in 2010 and had been seen at Caerlaverock WWT in between!

So that was that. A very enjoyable trip despite Easyjet's best efforts to screw it up. Due to that it was very frustrating birding wise as we were playing catch up and as a result missed more than we saw and the westerly wind didn't help either! But the secenery was amazing, the birds we did see were very good including 37 Yellow-Browed Warblers but the one thing that annoyed both groups was the distinct lack of information for the majority of birds. If you find something and put the news out don't just say its in a garden in a village as that's bloody pointless!

Goodbye Shetland

Fair Isle under the cloud!

Lerwick - Boddam - 4.10.15

Today was Brendon's last day so we chose to stay fairly close to the airport. We however headed north first of all to Lerwick for our 3rd attempt at the Olive-Backed Pipit that had proven invisible over the last two days! Again no such luck as far as the pipit was concerned but I did see one of the Barred Warblers that had been found before our arrival. 3 Robin were also noteworthy as it was the highest single group count of the trip! On the way back south we stopped to look over the harbour and along with 4 Black Guillemot and quite a few Eider I picked out 2 Long-Tailed Duck.

Fancying a cuppa we stopped of at Spiggie hoping to get served in the hotel but it wasn't open for business. No wonder its for sale! A quick walk around the farm buildings produced a Yellow-Browed Warbler that Brendon found and whilst trying to re-find it I found another Barred Warbler! I then picked up another YB Warbler just up the road. A quick scan of Loch of Spiggie from the car park added Moorhen to the trip list and 50+ Pink-Footed Geese overhead.

Neck collared Greylag Geese
Lesser Redpoll
On the loch itself were 8+ Tufted Duck, 3 Bonxie, 4 Slavonian Grebe and 11 Whooper Swan. A bit further along the road we found Lesser Redpoll, 2 neck collared Greylag Geese and I found another YB Warbler in the middle of a field hunting from a wire fence!

Pool of Virkie was our next destination hoping to claw back the Black-Tailed Godwit we missed earlier in the week. Luckily Brendon picked it out very quickly which allowed me some time to check out the famous Virkie willows. Between us we found another 2 YB Warbler! Out on the mud I also managed to find the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper which showed pretty well.

With only a few minutes before Brendon left we popped into the Sumburgh hotel garden again and immediately I picked up the Spotted Flycatcher on the wall. This was species number 100 for the trip. Species number 101 soon followed as a Fieldfare dropped out of the sky in front of me.

It was then time to take Brendon to the airport and as we said our goodbyes I joked a mega will turn up now! Steve and I got back in the car and before we'd left the car park the mega alert went off! A Swainson's Thrush had been found in the car park of the Final Checkout café on Unst (remember the name)!! If only it had been 24 hours earlier we'd have scored but with only a couple of hours of daylight left we had no chance of getting there.

Lapland Bunting
Somewhat annoyed We wondered where to head next but that question was soon answered when a Lapland Bunting had been found at Sumburgh Head. We drove down passing some people looking out to see. Thinking they were just passing the time with a seawatch we carried on past. It was only when it was too late that we realised they were looking at some Risso's Dolphin which would have been a new dolphin species for me. We pulled up in the car park and got straight onto the Lapland Bunting feeding just a few feet away.

After getting our fill we then went to Grutness to look over the garden which the year before had held a Myrtle Warbler. Today though it only held another 4 YB Warbler!! As I walked up to the pier to use the loo a Peregrine flew over chasing a pigeon and out in Grutness Voe were 2 Slavonian Grebe.

A brief visit to Toab saw us fail miserably in trying to be in the right place to view a Blyth's Reed Warbler with only fleeting glimpses being had though another YB Warbler was seen here!

The last stop of the day was at Boddam where even driving down the road we picked out 2 more YB Warbler! A 3rd was found up the road and a Goldcrest finished the day off. Just the 13 Yellow-Browed Warbler for the day!

Toft To The Top Of The Country - 3.10.15

It was fairly quiet on mainland so we decided along with the other group to head back to Unst for the Pallid Harrier again as it had decided to come back into roost after we had dipped it! Our first stop was the ferry terminal at Toft. The others were already there and headed off on the ferry but we stayed behind in the hope of seeing an Otter. Scan after scan was made until Steve shouted Otter and sure enough near the end of the left hand coast line there were 2 Otter catching fish and having a play. Finally I had seen a live wild Otter in the UK! After watching them for 20 minutes or so we got in the car and were just about to get in the queue when Brendon picked up a female Marsh Harrier ahead of us. Hopefully that would be a good omen!

American Golden Plover (right hand bird)
As Above!
Once off the ferry and onto Yell we drove up to Loch of Papil hoping to see the juvenile American Golden Plover from the day before. We arrived and picked out a small flock of Golden Plover but a few were hidden behind dips in the field. Just then a huge mass of goldies flew up behind us and split up into groups and landed all over the place. Things weren't looking great! But I kept scanning the flock and somehow managed to pick it out at the far right of the group. I got the others onto it but then the lady who owns the field drove through on her quad bike but amazingly didn't put the birds up. I cheekily asked if we could wander down a bit closer which she thankfully said yes to. We were joined by two older birders who until the following day I hadn't realised one of them was birding legend Pete Colston! Better views and photos were had and so off we went but not before a flock of 40 Snow Bunting flew through. Before getting on the next ferry Brendan G called to see if we'd seen the plover and to tell us that two of the group had seen what was most likely the Pallid Harrier fly through where we had just been!

Red-Backed Shrike (courtesy of Chris Sharp)

Unst's famous bus stop
We got onto Unst and headed straight to the Final Checkout café for petrol, tea and cake (remember the name)! Next stop was Baltasound where straight away I picked out the juvenile Red-Backed Shrike as it flew from post to post. After getting our fill of the bird we headed to Skaw which is the most northerly inhabited village in the UK. I say inhabited but its one farm and judging by the gates and fences they don't like birders! I walked up to a small patch of nettles and duly slipped on a hidden wet bit of wood and landed elbow first on a rock! Thankfully nobody was around to see! As I got to my feet a Yellow-Browed Warbler popped up on some dead docks and then flew over the burn to hunt on the rocks. Its no wonder Skaw has had some amazing birds over the years looking at the habitat there. Before we got to the harrier site we stopped in Norwick and birded around the garden of Valyrie which even has a sign birders welcome! I walked along the top edge of the burn to the right of the house and flushed a very interesting looking bird that just shouted PG Tips but despite more searching it vanished and I didn't fancy climbing into the bottom of the burn as it was over 10ft deep! Finally we arrived at Northdale and joined the others on a minor road pull in to give us a view over the valley. Again we waited and waited with only footy scores to keep us sane! A few Wheatear became one less when a Kestrel chased it into a patio window and then ate it under a patio table! Dave picked out a fine Merlin sat on a post but despite another couple of hours the Pallid Harrier chose not to come in again. Maybe the bird on Yell was it heading off finally? Back at Ulsta ferry terminal I was in the loo when I heard Chris shout 6 Otter! Sure enough in near pitch black were a group of Otter feeding. I picked out 3 by the time I arrived but a great way to end the day.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Gulberwick - Cott (again!) - 2.10.15

Shetland Ponies!
We spent the first couple of hours exploring what our village had to offer. As it turned out it wasn't much! 20+ Golden Plover, Redwing and 3 Snipe was all that we turned up.

Male Siskin
We then decided to have another crack at finding Otter by heading to Vidlin. Luckily the rain stopped but unluckily we didn't find any Otter. 4 Whooper Swan (3 adult + 1 Juv) on a nearby loch were nice but the highlight near the ferry terminal was a flock of 5 Siskin feeding on thistles.

Our next stop was Swining. Apparently the last house here is owned by Simon King but whether that's true I don't know! It was a beautiful little spot though with a small stream and a few mature trees at the end of a small track adjacent to a Voe. Expecting to see another YB Warbler when I spied a bird fly out of tree and back in I was pleased to find it was the first Pied Flycatcher of the trip. But other than a Willow Warbler and a dead Hedgehog that was it!

Despite not being masochists we then headed back to Cott for the 3rd time in as many days for the Arctic Warbler. Again early signs weren't good. Everyone left as we arrived as they had just seen it and I picked out the/another YB Warbler. But just as I was walking down to view its favoured tree Brendon said there it is. Thankfully I got back to them just in time to see the bird as it crept up a tree before it disappeared again. 5+ hours of searching for a 5 second view but it was worth the wait in the end and it was duly added to the notebook! 3rd time lucky I guess?

Virkie - Catfirth - 1.10.15

With nothing new to go and see we went looking for our own birds and to try and boost the trip list. Before we'd even left Gulberwick a Merlin zoomed through after a poor passerine. We headed to the famous Pool of Virkie and bumped into the other group who had already cleared up what was on offer! Here we saw Grey Plover, Ruff, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot and Goldeneye with a few Pink-Footed Geese and a Lesser Redpoll flying over.

I then suggested going to visit the Sumburgh Hotel and have a walk around its famous garden. The list of things seen here is impressive so imagine my surprise when I saw the garden! Far from being wild and overgrown there was a small lawn with stone walls and and L-shaped area of no more than a dozen trees! Despite this lack of cover I still managed to pick up the 2 YB Warblers reported but failed to find the Spotted Flycatcher. A Snipe took off from a flooded field nearby and another Lesser Redpoll flew over briefly landing on the aerial of the hotel.

We looked on the map to see where to head next and it was decided to head just along the road to Hestingott. Here we stood alongside another tiny garden but with a bit more cover but in the 20 minutes or so we were there we had another 2 YB Warbler (are you sensing a theme here?!) and a fairly showy Red-Breasted Flycatcher. This unremarkable garden over a couple of days had held these 2 species plus Barred Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler!

We then got news that the Arctic Warbler had been seen again so off we headed towards Cott. On arrival the others were already here and despite heavy drizzle we stuck it out again for nearly 2 hours only for a YB Warbler to be seen. Fed up with this bird we set off again only to get a missed call from Brendan G that it had showed again soon after we left!

We headed to Catfirth with the intention of finding Otter but despite our best effort we had no luck. Only a Black Guillemot, a few Eider and another Slavonian Grebe were see. A quick trudge alongside the nearby plantation saw only a Goldcrest added to the list.

Wester Quarff - Weisdale Voe - 30.9.15

Red-Breasted Flycatcher
We started the day with a short trip down the road to Wester Quarff. Here we were out of the wind and in the sun it felt quite pleasant. Again as soon as we had stepped out the car we picked up a Yellow-Browed Warbler with Brendon picking one out in a small tree behind us. We then walked along the road to a well vegetated and tree filled garden where after a good scan we picked out the 2 Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff and at least 3 more YB Warbler. One of the latter even flew across the road and perched up on a barbed wire fence before realising it probably wasn't very safe to do so! Brendon then tried his luck with finding an Otter as me and Steve wandered further up the road. In the next mature garden we found a further 2 YB Warbler and a Lesser Redpoll overhead while out on the water 2 female Red-Breasted Merganser and a Black Guillemot were noted.

Pechora Pipit courtesy of Chris Sharp
Loch of Norby
Whooper Swan
After this success we headed towards Loch of Norby in the hope of connecting with yesterdays Pechora Pipit. After what seemed an eternity driving through barren areas we arrived and parked up next to the farm and were dismayed to find just 2 other birders! The loch was fairly sizeable and so trying to find a pipit somewhere on the edge of it was daunting. We followed the other 2 in and I walked along the edge of the loch which thankfully had been mostly trodden down by birders the previous day. We had walked the entire shore with nothing but Meadow Pipits for our trouble when taking the last few steps in the last 6ft of shore before we hit the farm a bird flew out and alighted on some pallets. It was hidden for me behind some weeds but luckily one of the other birders was higher up and shouted Pechora Pipit. I moved left and got it in the bins for a couple of seconds before it flew onto a tractor trailer and then off over our heads back into the iris bed. Luckily for me I'd seen the bird in Wales a few years ago but the other 2 still needed it so back we walked and after it flying a couple of times it finally perched up on a gate for the other to see well before we left it in the hands of a group of German birders! On the loch was a nice drake Scaup and back at the car a smaller loch held a flock of Wigeon, 3 Gadwall and 3 adult Whooper Swan. Offshore a single Black Guillemot was seen.

Little Gull
After a spot of lunch we headed back towards home but not before stopping off at a tiny place called Cott where in the garden of the last house was an Arctic Warbler. The strange thing with this bird is that it was tail-less just like the Arctic Warbler that spent a few days on Unst! Presuming its the same bird what are the chances of it being re-found on such an expanse of islands! As was usual practice we spent an hour or so looking for it having missed it by seconds on arrival but with no joy. Our 7th YB Warbler of the day was scant consolation but Steve got me onto two grebes out in the Weisdale Voe and to my surprise they were two winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe which were a welcome year tick. Just before joining the main road we stopped off and scanned through the gull flock and found the Little Gull that had been around for a couple of days. Apparently not that common on Shetland.

Mainland - 29.9.15

The day started off at Ollaberry in the hopes of seeing yesterdays Grey-Cheeked Thrush and to give Brendan G his scope back which he left on Unst! We had a good scan around and in the garden where the thrush had favoured but as was becoming far to common for our liking the bird had vanished overnight. I walked up the road to try and see if it was it another garden but all I could find there was another Yellow-Browed Warbler!

After another dip we headed off to Sullom Plantation in the hope of finding something ourselves. We parked up trying to avoid sinking in the grass verge and as soon as I stepped out the car 2 Yellow-Browed Warbler started chasing each other with a 3rd just in from the road! A Chiffchaff singing tried to fool us it was the summer but failed miserably! Half way through Steve pointed out the first Sparrowhawk of the trip. 2 Wren and a Goldcrest were the only other birds of note. We got back to the car and I noticed another car load of birders park up just along the road. Being nosey I went down to see what they could find! I turned a corner onto some rough ground and met one of the birders staring into the hedge. I asked what he had and he replied I don't know. Something took off from the ground and into the hedge. Just then it flicked up and looked roughly Robin sized. I waited a few minutes before heading back to the road to see if it was visible from there. Typically no sooner as I got onto the road the bird saw me and flew straight into the hedge. The other 2 were now in the car so I left to get back to them. It was about 20 minutes later a pager message came through saying there was a Bluethroat just where I'd left so no doubt that was the bird in question!

The nearest we got to a PG Tips!!
Southern tip of Shetland (bar Fair Isle)
Sumburgh Lighthouse
Our next stop was the Busta House hotel where after asking permission we walked round the garden. 2 Pied Wagtail that flew over were the highlights and as myself and Brendon got back to the car the mega alert sounded. We wanted to go but Steve was nowhere to be seen! I found him and told him to go go go. We were headed to Quendale about a 50 minute drive away so off we went but knowing how unlucky this trip had been so far it wasn't a massive surprise to get the message when we were 5 minutes away that the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was just a Grasshopper Warbler! Then just to rub salt into our wounds we got news of a Pechora Pipit at Loch of Norby. This was about 30 minutes from where we had just come from but now it was 75 minutes away, A few swear words were said and the decision was made to go for it the next day. After all it was probably the same bird seen a week previously. As everyone else zoomed up the road towards the pipit we headed as far south as its possible to go down to Sumburgh Head lighthouse. We walked around the small garden out the back of it but found nothing more exciting than a Silver-Y moth! The Fulmars were trying their best to cheer us up by flying past close enough to touch. After a late lunch we went back to Quendale as news of a Bluethroat had broken. We bumped into a tour group in the car park that included a couple from the Watford RSPB group who told us where to go and that the bird was almost walking over peoples feet. As it turned out we took the wrong turn not once but twice! The second time we were held up by a herd of cows heading back to the farm. Eventually we found where the bird was but it had flown into the iris beds and became elusive. After a while Steve and I had a good perched view but by then all of us had had enough of the dippy day and so headed back for dinner!

Up To Unst - 28.9.15

Weird Sunset Cloud Over Yell
After the 3 of us got our first tick of the trip we headed up to the most northerly isle of Unst to try for the Pallid Harrier that had been coming into roost for a few nights as Steve needed it for his list. We headed off north towards the ferry terminal but on the way we stopped off at the SW end of Dales Voe as there looked to be a few birds on show. On stepping out the car I heard a Yellow-Browed Warbler calling from the trees in the garden. After a few minutes it was apparent that there were 2 birds! On the water was a summer plumaged Red-Throated Diver, 55+ Black Guillemot, 40+ Red-Breasted Merganser. A quick scan of the waters edge produced Snipe, Wigeon and a few Ringed Plover. Joining the 2 YBW in the garden was a Willow Warbler and a Goldcrest. Once we had set off again a Red Grouse flew over the car and a Mountain Hare shot off to safety.

With news of an Eastern Subalpine Warbler just down the road from the ferry terminal we stopped off in Mossbank but it soon proved to be a wasted journey as there were lots of gardens it could be in and with no other details apart from it being in a garden in Mossbank we quickly chose to carry on our journey! We caught the ferry over which for a car and 3 passengers was very cheap. The drive through the island of Yell was a quick one and on arrival at the next ferry terminal at Gutcher we had a bit of a wait so to pass the time we had a scan for Otters and any birds around. 6 Great Skua, 2 Snipe, 4 Fulmar and 2 Black Guillemot were seen as was my first ever Shetland race Wren. Being slightly bigger and darker with a different song. No Otters were seen though.

We got the ferry over and had arrived on Unst. Our first stop was Baltasound where a quick loo and tea stop livened us up! The first Redwing of the trip was heard as it flew over but not seen in the mist and murk. After a few wrong turns we eventually found Northdale where the harrier roosted. The other guys had already visited as they had got an earlier ferry and in the middle of nowhere were 3 small pine trees and in those they had found a Barred Warbler! We quickly re-found it and it became my 200th species of the year. In the hours we stuck around the area we had another Yellow-Browed Warbler, 2 Song Thrush drop out of the sky and a moment of excitement when some birders who were staying there flushed a Sylvia warbler out of a potato crop. After 5 minutes or so we pinned it down and ID'd it as a Lesser Whitethroat! Great Skuas flew over and looked out of place and a Wheatear was seen briefly. News broke while we were there of a Grey-Cheeked Thrush back on mainland at Ollaberry so we all hoped that'd stick till the morning. As it turned out the Pallid Harrier decided that after days of coming in to roost it wouldn't do so today!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Shetland (finally!) - 27.9.15

First View Of Shetland
The View From Our Accomodation
So after a pretty good nights sleep on the ferry we finally laid eyes on Shetland while having breakfast. Once finished I popped outside and had a scan over Lerwick harbour. Quite a few Eider were joined by 2 Black Guillemot. Overhead were a couple of Raven and 4 Pink-Footed Geese. As we had two teams we decided to have a friendly competition to see who could see the most species during our stay. The other group got their hire car an hour before us and while we were still waiting Brendan called to say that they had just found a Bluethroat outside the accommodation as they were unload their bags! Not a good start for us! Eventually we got our car and headed to the village of Gulberwick which would be our home for the next 8 days. On arrival we met the owner who showed us around. We were only 20 hours late! Bloody Easyjet! We got our birding gear together and as there had been the expected negative news regarding the Lancy we headed south towards Toab hoping to all connect with our first lifer of the trip. We arrived and luckily found the weedy field where the bird was. Over the next 30 minutes or so we had flight views as it flew between the patches of thistles but at one point I was lucky enough to be in the right place to view it perched up just above the floor and so picked out the subtle ID pointers to this my first BLYTH'S REED WARBLER. After all getting satisfactory views we walked back to the car stopping briefly to have a look at our first Yellow-Browed Warbler of the trip.

Next stop was Sandwick in the hope of seeing a juvenile American Golden Plover but all we could find were 8 Golden Plover, 11 Rock Dove and a Black Guillemot.

We then decided to head towards the other groups Bluethroat via a stop off at Leebotten. Here we added 6 Twite and Great Skua to the list.

Red Grouse
We arrived at Tumbling near Bixter and started walking around the area the Bluethroat was last seen. Here I met the Biking Birder Gary Prescott. After a quick chinwag with him I went to look for the bird but with no luck despite it being there for another few days. A Red Grouse and Hen Harrier were seen though and one of my Twitter followers introduced himself to Brendon but not to me as I'd slagged off Easy Jet and he worked for them! As we were nearby we stopped off at the village of Twatt and got the photo by the sign!

Had To Be Done!
Our last stop was Tresta where some good looking trees hopefully held something of interest. Trees on Shetland aren't very common so any well vegetated area could turn up a good bird or two. The best bird here was another Yellow-Browed Warbler. A Goldcrest was in the garden across the road and a Rook was in a nearby field. A Robin sang from the cemetery and I didn't take much notice of it. It was only later that I realised they were slightly uncommon! A quick shop at Tesco and it was dinner and bed.

Shetland (supposedly!)- 26.9.15

Ever since reading a few pamphlets when I was a 13 year old YOC member about birds on Shetland and Fair Isle I've wanted to pay a visit. The one story that stuck in my mind was of a fellow YOC member who whilst visiting Fair Isle was fortunate to be present when a Crossbill was being ringed. The other bird mentioned was a Lanceolated Warbler! At 13 I'd not heard of that species before but it sounded pretty amazing! 27 years elapsed and after a poor couple of years on Scilly the decision was made to finally have a crack at Shetland. I was joined by Steve Blake and Brendon Fagan and finally the day arrived. They picked me up at stupid o'clock and we arrived at Luton airport at around 5am. Also on our flight were Chris Sharp, Brendan Glynn, Paul Frost and Dave Johnson (nice to meet you Dave!) After the nightmare flight going to America the previous month I was thinking that all my bad luck had been used. Oh how wrong I was! We took off on time and I picked out The Wash and Spurn from the plane before the cloud appeared. We reached Aberdeen in good time but then spent about 20 minutes circling overhead. Thinking we were waiting for a landing space all was good. But just then the captain announced that a warning light had come up with one of the engines but that it was still working fine but that we would have to divert to Edinburgh in the hope that a technician there could fix it and then we could set off again. This changed the mood on the plane. One woman was meant to be heading straight to her best friends wedding and we all had a connecting flight to catch. We landed and waited but then the captain kicked us in the nuts with the news that it couldn't be fixed and that we would all have to be bussed to Aberdeen. A 20 minute flight diversion would now take us over 2 hours by road. That was our connecting flight missed! We collected our bags and waited for news of busses but then even more bad and somewhat stupid news broke. Because we hadn't caught our connecting flight to Lerwick our return flights had been cancelled! Quite why that is the case I don't know but Steve and Brendan G went upstairs and thankfully made the company see sense that we did still want to get over there and then get our flight home! As they walked back one of the airport guys said there was an 8 seater minibus outside. Brendan said yep that's ours for the 7 of us which started arguments with other passengers as they had their names down on paper to be first out! We ignored them and grabbed our bags and were joined by another guy. Eventually we were on our way to Aberdeen but even then the gods had one last laugh at our expence when the mega alert went off to say that a Lanceolated Warbler had been found on Shetland. We would just have to hope it'd stay till tomorrow. As we had missed our flight the only other way over was the overnight ferry so Chris booked us all on with cabins and after a £5 bung to the driver to take us to the ferry port we got on board and settled down for the 14 hour crossing! Dinner and drinks were had but we made the most of the last couple of hours of day light by having a seawatch. Thankfully for me the sea was flat calm! 5 Goosander were seen just outside of the ferry terminal and once out at sea we joined Tring birder Roy Hargreaves and picked up around 20 Puffin, 3 Red-Throated Diver, 4 Arctic Skua and only my 2nd ever Little Auk found by Roy. It wasn't just birds that were showing as we had a couple of Dolphin sp, Harbour Porpoise and over 15 Minke Whale! The light had gone so we retired to watch Wales beat England in the rugby and then I had to sleep on the top bunk which I'd not done for many years!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Acadian Flycatcher - 22.9.15

Acadian Flycatcher
The Twitch!
I'd just finished cutting the bowling green when the mega alert sounded. On checking, it said Kent, Empidonax flycatcher sp at Dungeness! A couple of updates told of its ongoing presence but around 11am a heavy shower went through and the bird vanished, Thankfully it was re-found in the garden I'd seen my first ever Dark-Eyed Junco in! Due to the trickiness of ID'ing birds of this family to species level given their similar appearance it was soon said not to be either Willow or Alder which was good news as I'd seen the previous 2 Alders in Cornwall and Norfolk. It was then being said to fit Acadian Flycatcher due to long primary projection and bill shape. Thankfully we were allowed home earlier than normal and with positive news I set off and was on site just before 6pm. I'd timed it perfectly again as the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to break out. This meant that the bird had become more active and gave excellent views for the hour I was there. The bird went to roost soon after I left and was never seen again! Luckily it was seen to poo a couple of times and the assistant warden at Dungeness Obs collected the samples and sent them off for DNA profiling. The results came back as 100% ACADIAN FLYCATCHER! This is the 1st record for GB and the 2nd for the Western Palearctic after one was found dead in Iceland.

Watford + Wilstone Reservoir - 17.9.15

Working in Vicarage Road cemetery all day produced 46 House Martin, 40+ Siskin, Grey Wagtail, 4 Meadow Pipit and 60+ Swallow.

Black-Tailed Godwits
After work I headed over to Tring to hopefully add a few new species to my patch work challenge list. I walked around to the hide and during the hour or so I was there I managed to see all of the birds I had wanted. 2 Black-Tailed Godwit were the first in the notebook. These were quickly followed by 3 juvenile Garganey, Scaup, 3 LRP, Ruff, Water Rail, 4 Common Sandpiper and 8 Little Egret. Last but not least I was lucky to have timed my visit perfectly as out of nowhere appeared the long staying juvenile Osprey. Shame it didn't stay too long a it flew close past the hide and disappeared!

Wryneck County Tick - 1.9.15

2 years ago when I got back from New York I went straight out the door to try and see a Wryneck in Herts. Unfortunately I didn't see it. Forward 2 years and luckily I had booked the day off work to get over travelling back from Las Vegas. Around lunch time news broke that Darin Stanley had gone and found a Wryneck at his patch in Batford while on his lunch break. I grabbed my gear and 30 minutes later I finally laid eyes on my first Wryneck in Herts. 4th time lucky!

Grand Canyon To Las Vegas - 29.8.15

Cars of Seligman
Closest I got to a Roadrunner!
Moth sp
Say's Phoebe on a Sheep!
Bullets and Burgers. Only in America!
Hoover Dam
Viva Las Vegas
Luxor Hotel
Our last full day came all too quickly and it was on the road for the last time. A fuel stop at Red Rocks produced a House Wren, 3 Chipping Sparrow and a few breeding Swallow. Our next stop was the town of Seligman on the famous Route 66. The town Radiator Springs was based on Seligman in the Pixar film Cars. 3 Lesser Goldfinch and numerous Swallow and Turkey Vulture were seen and one of the best Milkshakes I've ever tasted was had! After 45 minutes it was back on the road heading for lunch in Boulder City. The temperature was again on the 40's so eating lunch wasn't much fun. It was made slightly easier with the last lifer of the trip. A SAY'S PHOEBE was using nearby trees and Sheep as a perch to hunt insects!