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.