My first visit to my old patch in over a year was a brief one after getting a text from Steve Murray to say he'd just found an Iceland Gull in the roost. On arrival I picked it up as it took flight but despite a few attacks by LBB Gulls it settled onto the water long enough to grab some video of it. Only my 2nd in Herts with my first being 13 years ago almost to the day.
After a couple of moans over Twitter about the lack of bird news coming from the site it was nice to receive a tweet informing us of 6 Bewick's Swans on the marsh. Within the hour I was on site watching them from the viewpoint. A good bird for the patch list.
A quick scan of Wilstone only produced a Black Swan of any interest!
As I was off work and was up early I decided to head into the park not only to see some birds but also see how the new hub and paddling pools were coming along. Despite being told of 6 Mandarin on the river I still managed to miss them a few minutes later and there was no sign of the hoped for LSWoodpecker but I did manage to see my first Little Owl of the year. The highlight though was an Egyptian Goose the flew south. This was just the third park record. Other notable birds were a Bullfinch, 2 male Pheasants and only my second Coal Tit of the year.
After a quick haircut I headed up to College Lake to try and add some more species to the patch challenge. From the viewpoint I found 2 Snipe and a showy Water Rail. All of a sudden all the birds on the main lake took flight. The reason was a Peregrine that headed over the visitor centre. On my walk around the whole lake a Yellowhammer appeared in a hedge before heading over the centre. At the half way point a scan of the cow field produced the female Stonechat. Only my 3rd on patch.
I then popped to Tring reservoirs where I had 3 Siskin fly over the hide at Marsworth. These were the first I'd seen on the patch since I started taking part in the challenge. From the hide at Tringford I managed to find the previous days Green Sandpiper.
A wander around Wilstone added Little Egret and a couple of Raven. 12 Snipe were on the edge of the reeds and on the water 3 Goldeneye. The gull roost came up trumps (sorry to use that word!) with 4 Mediterranean Gulls of which I saw 2 (2nd and 1st Winter).
Almost 10 years ago to the day I took the day off work and headed north to Farnham GP's in N.Yorks to see a bird that I'd never even heard of the day before! The Pacific Diver on a small lake showed very well and became the rarest bird I'd ever seen in the UK being not only a first for the UK but a first for the Western Palearctic.
Fast forward to today and I joined up with Brendon Fagan, Steve Blake and Ricky Flesher on a trip up to Northumberland. Despite somehow coming off the M1 and ending up driving around Leeds we made good time and arrived at Druridge Bay CP and was amazed to find the car parking was free! The first good bird of the day were a couple of Tree Sparrows by the car park followed by a RBMerganser on the main lake. After getting our bearings we walked down to East Chevington pool where a quick scan produced 2 male Scaup and some more Mergansers. We entered the hide and soon found out it was one of the crappest hides we'd ever been in. The openings were so low down than you broke your back stooping down to view out of them but if you sat on the benches the openings were too high to view out of using a scope! Despite this we eventually came across our desired bird. The juvenile Pacific Diver swam out in front of us allowing us to take in all its subtle features and thus allowing the other 3 to claim their lifer. This bird is roughly about the 8th for the UK and one of 3 currently in the country. The other notable bird seen was a winter plumage Slavonian Grebe.
After getting some info from one of the locals we then headed further south down to the beach where the first bird we came across was a male Reed Bunting! While waiting for our target birds to arrive we scanned the sea and found 11 Red-Throated Diver. Suddenly I heard a finchy type call a sure enough in came around 40 Twite which showed down to a few feet at times. They were soon joined by our other target when 7 Shorelark flew in for a few minutes.
On our way home we made a detour to Skinningrove in Cleveland where quickly we had decent views of the long staying Eastern Black Redstart which I'd seen back in December.
On the 19th I had an operation on my nose as I'd somehow managed to snap the cartilage in my septum which was causing me trouble breathing and sleeping at night, Being housebound is only so much fun so with boredom creeping in I headed up for my first look around the patch. Wilstone was almost fully frozen over so it made scanning through the waterbirds easier. A female Goldeneye was the pick of the ducks and on my walk around Skylark and Yellowhammer kept the year list ticking over as did a Treecreeper up on the dry canal.
Tringford failed to add anything bar 2 Goldcrest for the patchwork challenge.
Mistle Thrush and House Sparrow were the highlights from Startops but Marsworth proved more fruitful with around 50 Corn Bunting coming into roost and a brief fly past of a Bittern meant I didn't have to stay till dark to see one!
After a good nights sleep it was up and out early and back to Perranuthnoe. A pair of Stonechat was a nice start to the day and eventually I came across the Hudsonian Whimbrel and called the others over to finally see the bird at their 3rd attempt! Such a pity that as I write this news of the new list we will be following from January 2018 is the IOC list which doesn't count Hudsonian Whimbrel as a separate species and so we all lose it from our own personal lists!
Long Rock was our next stop to try for the Pacific Diver but apart from 2 adult winter MediterraneanGulls on the sea and a singing Cetti's Warbler from the pool there was no joy with the diver.
At Marazion RSPB we had over 20 Snipe and a Chiffchaff that popped up in front of us.
The title post is Cornish Weekender but after cutting our loses we headed home via a couple of sites in Devon! First stop was Matford Marshes RSPB. This was a new site for all of us and after a bit of gathering details on Twitter of where to go we parked up and walked down to the viewpoint where we almost immediately got onto the 1st winter drake American Wigeon. A lifer for the other 3 but my 3rd. Another Chiffchaff greeted us on the way back to the car.
News of a Long-Tailed Duck at Topsham took us there but despite a good scan from behind the auction house we failed to see it. A flock of 40 odd Avocet were some consolation as were the first Black-Tailed Godwit and Red-Breasted Merganser of the year. With a bit of time left I showed the lads around Bowling Green Marsh. It must've been a while since I last visited as there was a lovely new hide in place of the old brick one! A good scan of the estuary from the viewpoint added our final new year tick of the day with a couple of Knot. 200+ Pintail was an impressive sight.
A great weekend and I ended on 123 species for the year.
After the success of the trip to Rutland I joined the other 3 on a weekend down to Cornwall with many lifers possible for them. First stop was a drizzly Dozmary Pool where after a muddy walk we had good if dull views of the drake Lesser Scaup. Only my 2nd and my first since 2002!
Next stop was Perranuthnoe where last year I'd seen the Hudsonian Whimbrel on the way down to Scilly. We had been told by a birder that it was still here but had just flown round the corner so typically despite looking for nearly an hour we didn't see it! 2 Purple Sandpiper were some consolation as we re a Great Northern and 3 Black-Throated Diver.
From here we headed to the strangely named Mousehole where straight away we connected with the Eastern Black Redstart. This was not as brightly coloured as the Cleveland bird but it was a bit soggy after the rain. A few Fulmar on the cliffs were number 100 for the year.
Penzance was the next place and despite scanning Mount's Bay for a couple of hours we failed to pick out the returning Pacific Diver. Another 12 GN Diver were seen along with another 19 PurpleSandpiper. A drake Eider and Velvet Scoter were good year ticks and further along the coast I picked out a nice male Black Redstart at Longrock.
While we were eating a lovely pasty at the Hayle Estuary we picked up Shelduck and Kingfisher and when we moved around to the causeway we had Spoonbill and a nice Green-Winged Teal that had a ring on its leg so we are waiting to hear where it was ringed.
We finished the day marvelling in the Starling roost at Marazion RSPB. What a noise!
After many attempts of a day out with fellow Hemel birders George and Matt Moreton we finally organised a trip and along with young Kai Gordon we spent the day at Rutland Water trying to boost the year list. The first stop was the dam end where in with a flock of Tufted Duck was a nice and showy juvenile Surf Scoter. This was my 3rd in the UK but it was a lifer for the other 3 so a good start to the day. We then stopped off around the water quickly adding more and more birds to the list with the highlights being 7 Goosander, 2 Green Sandpiper, 7 Smew, 9 RC Pochard, GW Egret, Peregrine, all 5 Grebe species, Common Scoter,
2 Scaup and my first ever January Whimbrel.
A quick visit to Deeping Lakes NR on the way home added a partially obscured Long-Eared Owl to the list. The day ended for me on 84 species.
So another birding year has come to an end. It ends on 235 species which is my second highest year list total since I started keeping a year list. I finished with 12 lifers. 6 full ticks and 6 species that are hopefully future ticks. As for Herts just 2 ticks were had with Bonaparte's Gull and Purple Heron.
A day after seeing the thrush I joined up with Ricky and Terry again and headed down to Dungeness for another controversial bird. This time a washed out grey and white Stonechat had been found just south of the ARC pit and ID'd in the field as a possible Stejneger's Stonechat which is a race of Siberian Stonechat. A sample of poo had been DNA tested and the result came back saying it was indeed Stejneger's. With this news quite a few birders headed down to see this bird but doubts raised by some saw the DNA test re-done just after Christmas and it came back as just a normal Stonechat. Somehow the sample got mixed up with a sample from a bird at Spurn!
After seeing the Stonechat we had a quick sea watch which produced a Great Skua and 19 Red-Throated Diver go past. Just inside the entrance to the RSPB reserve we saw 3 Great White Egret, Bearded Tit and a drake Ring-Necked Duck and on the feeders a Tree Sparrow. On the way back home we stopped off in Lydd and I added my last species to my year list with 29 Bewick's Swan out in a field.
If you'd have asked any birder what the next Mega would be I very much doubt that anyone would have predicted a Blue Rock Thrush in December in a housing estate in Stow-on-the-Wold but that's exactly what happened! A couple of photos appeared on Twitter asking for help ID'g this bird and straight away the ID was made. A bit of detective work was then done and the location was worked out. Luckily the bird was still present but because of the time of year and location it had an escape tag looming over it. Despite this many birders had been to see it and along with Ricky and Terry we went to pay our respects to it and straight away we had great views of our first ever BLUE ROCKTHRUSH as it sat on the chimney pot of one of the houses. Here it sat for 15 minutes before heading over the rooftops into another of its favoured gardens.
After popping into the Paddock Road, Oxhey depot we were driving down the road back to work when 2 birds flew over the van and landed in a tree allowing just long enough views to pick out their punk hairdo's! 2 Waxwings from this years invasion was a start.
Due to it being my weekend with my son and plans with family I had to forgo a twitch to the Suffolk/Essex border for the first twitchable Forster's Tern since 2000. The following weekend I was sat in bed having a cup of tea when I was made aware of the very same Forster's Tern having just been found down in Hythe, Kent. I was soon up and dressed and on the road south. The traffic was kind and I was on the beach just after 1pm but had to wait 10 minutes before it took flight from its hiding place. We watched it fly along the beach a few times dropping down for a fish before it landed on the beach with some gulls including 4 Mediterranean Gulls. Here I could take in the bandit mask of my first ever FORSTER'S TERN. I was bigger than I expected and was a bird I was hoping to see at some point seeing as one has been wintering in Ireland for many years. A Purple Sandpiper was seen on the rock further down the beach.
I was offered a lift with Brendan Glynn, Paul Frost and Dave Johnson up to see another product of the Eastern filled autumn. We had a 4 hour drive to Skinningrove, Cleveland ahead of us and all the way we received no news on the bird until we arrived and bumped into Chris Gooddie who was walking back to his car. It was still here and within a minute we were watching our first ever EASTERN BLACK REDSTART as it flew between the rocks and beach. Totally unconcerned by our presence this stunning black and red bird at some points got within a few feet of some people. Not yet a full species it's one for a hopeful future armchair tick.
From here we headed to Hartlepool but despite searching the area south of the Jewish Cemetery we couldn't find the Shorelark. 2 Grey Partridge were a strange site on the rough ground though.
At Seaton Snook we dodged the many dog turds littered around and had good views of 18 SnowBunting as the fed along the dune edges and on the beach.
Our final stop was at Salthome RSPB reserve. Here we failed to see the Long-Tailed Duck but we did eventually get cracking views of a roosting Long-Eared Owl once one of the wardens told us where to go to view.
Thankfully the next two good birds that I went for were only 20 minutes away up at Tring. First stop was Wilstone Reservoir where after nearly 30 minutes I finally picked out the sleeping drake Ferruginous Duck. After getting everyone onto it it finally woke up allowing us to get a proper look at this smart bird. Only my second in Herts with my first also being at Wilstone. After enjoying the fudge duck I popped into Startops where after no time at all I picked up the drake Ring-Necked Duck. Most likely its the same bird as last year returning. A female Scaup was also noted.
After news came to me I stopped off at College Lake and managed to see one of the two adult Yellow-Legged Gulls for the patchwork list.
In the autumn that keeps on giving I was back on the road again this time to North Norfolk. Typically the day after I paid homage to the Siberian Accentor an Isabelline Wheatear turned up literally down the road but I couldn't face another 8 hour drive 2 days running! But after a week I was up for the drive and what I knew would be a long walk to Gun Hill after twitching the Spectacled Warbler there. Once on site I heard those horrible words of it was over there 5 minutes ago but has just flown off! In the time spent waiting for it to return I was kept busy looking at the other rare wheatear at the same site. A female Desert Wheatear showed very well and was only the second I'd seen. My first was back in 1997 at Snettisham which I found on the beach while on a Watford RSPB coach trip! 2 hours later I was just about to head back to the car when a wheatear flew up from in front of me and headed to the beach. Thinking it was most likely the Desert again I wandered to the dune edge out of curiosity and found the bird feeding on the tide line. I got my scope onto it and was delighted to find it was my first ever ISABELLINE WHEATEAR. I called the others over and we all watched it albeit a bit distant for the next 15 minutes before I had to head back. 6 Grey Partridge were a nice sight in the last field before my car.
If you've just read through the older posts from Scilly you'll have read about the Siberian Accentor that had turned up in East Yorkshire. Everyday since there had been positive news and so despite getting back Saturday afternoon I was up at stupid o'clock and headed North. I pulled over just before the Humber Bridge and grabbed a bit of sleep. I was awoke
n just before 7.30am by a bleep from my pager with the news I'd been hoping for. It was still present! I was on site within the hour and joined a fairy big crowd but rather than favouring its favoured area by the now famous yellow skip it'd flown into the gas works with no access. After a nervous few minutes I finally clapped eyes on this mega mega SIBERIAN ACCENTOR!! For the next 30 minutes it showed well feeding along the fence line of the gas works before I had to leave for home. But what a 30 minutes! From there never being a record in the UK an amazing 13 turned up across the east coast.
The only notable bird of our last day was a Black Redstart at the airport outside the terminal building and as there wasn't anything worth going to see on the drive home we headed straight back after a fabulous week.
I headed back up to the Garrison in the hope of more views of the previous days Pallas's Warbler but before I reached there I scanned the sea from the Star Castle and quickly picked up a diver that looked good for Red-Throated. A few people gathered around and had a look and eventually It came a tad closer and could be positively ID'd as my first Scilly Red-Throated Diver. Happy with that good start I carried onto the football pitch but there was no sign of the Pallas's but my 20th YB Warbler of the week was a nice consolation.
As the others were on a pelagic I chose to do my usual walk around the North of St.Mary's starting off at Porth Thomas where I came across 3 Black Redstart flitting around the beach.
Porthloo beach saw my 3rd Curlew Sandpiper of the week with a dozen Dunlin and a Whimbrel.
A good count of 10 Stock Dove were in a stubble field at Carn Morval soon followed by another Whimbrel at Tolls Porth.
Up at Bar Point a good size thrush flock contained 2 male Ring Ouzel. The YB Warblers were still present at Watermill and Newford Duck Pond and the final bird of the day was the female Redstart on Porthcressa beach at the 4th attempt!
Another day of visiting various site with 12 visited today.
Porthcressa beach had a Greenshank on it.
The Dump Clump added a further 2 YB Warbler to the list.
I finally caught up with a Redstart with a female on Old Town beach with another Greenshank seen.
A Short-Toed Lark was on the airfield (my 3rd there).
Porth Hellick saw another YB Warbler penned into my note book as well as a Firecrest and WillowWarbler.
Carn Friars is one of my favourite areas on the island and today 3 Whinchat, Fieldfare and a leucistic Song Thrush were noted.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
I had a Lapland Bunting fly over me at Porth Hellick Downs and soon after my radio died so I called Steve to ask if he heard anything over the radio could he call me. He agreed to do so but then asked if I'd heard about the wagtail at Lower Moors. I said no what is it to which he replied either Citrine or Eastern Yellow! As by now I'd walked over 40 miles this week I called a cab and got dropped off by Old Town café and wandered up to the Standing Stone field to find nobody there! I was soon joined by a couple of birders including Cliff Smith. I then had a call from Steve. They had re-found the bird from the hide on Lower Moors. The hide was full when I arrived so I viewed from the screen and was treated to great views of what had now been identified as a (probable) EASTERN YELLOWWAGTAIL. After a few minutes of watching this ghostly grey bird it took off uttering a raspy Yellow Wagtail type call. A small number of this species had been seen throughout the UK this Autumn so here's hoping for acceptance!
I joined Steve in a walk up to Carreg Dhu gardens and added a Firecrest to the list and as we were resting our feet news of a Barred Warbler broke from Pelistry in a hedgerow I'd been looking at an hour before! Dave Hall kindly led the way up there and within five minutes we had satisfactory views of the bird. Steve and I then said lets go get some strudel! Tucking into our strudel a case of Deja Vu occurred as the pager mega'd and again the bird in question was another Siberian Accentor but this time in E.Yorkshire! Would it stick for another 4 days? Only time would tell.
The final bird of the day was up on the Garrison. A stunning Pallas's Warbler was gracing the trees around the football pitch and campsite flashing its lemon rump to the crowds. A great end to the day.
Today I headed over to St.Agnes. After getting off the boat I chose to take a path I'd never taken before around Cove Vean. A Raven and another YB Warbler were noteworthy but it was a tad too windy for much else. The famous Parsonage was my next stop where I had yet another YB Warbler showing well by the school and both Red-Breasted and Spotted Flycatchers in the Parsonage grounds. Up by the church 3 male Blackcap were foraging in brambles and 2 Water Rail were on the big pool. Porth Killier was my final stop hoping to see the previous days Caspian Gull that had been photographed which was a 1st for Scilly. Very few gulls were about so I scanned along the beach edge and saw Sanderling, Greenshank and a new Curlew Sandpiper while out at sea were a couple of Razorbill and a Manx Shearwater. My scan of the sea was interrupted by the shout of a LittleBunting! sure enough one had flown in front of us and perched briefly on a rock before flitting around the corner and disappearing.
Today we decided to head over to Tresco for the day to see what we could see. But before the boats sailed I popped into Lower Moors where I had a YB Warbler followed by another in Carreg Dhu garden but unfortunately no sign of the Vireo.
On Tresco the Great Pool had Shelduck and a female Pintail and at the start of the pool road we saw the 2 Cattle Egret again in with their namesakes. On the Abbey Pool 2 YB Warblers were in the poolside vegetation and a Curlew Sandpiper was on the mud. Walking along the pool road added another 3 YB Warbler and only my 2nd ever Scilly Hobby which flew overhead pursued by a Kestrel. A brief stop at the shops for some lunch saw the days 8th YB Warbler go onto the list! We then headed around to the far side of the Great Pool where 20-30 minutes of searching was rewarded by distant views of the juvenile Sora that had been present for a week or so. This was my 3rd UK Sora and my 2nd on the Great Pool!
Today myself and Steve decided to head over to Bryher hoping to connect with the juvenile CommonRosefinch. Before the boats set sail we had another look at the Subalpine Warbler and got much better views of it this time. 2 Skylark flew over while we were there.
We then ventured back up Peninnis Head where after a bit of a wait we saw 2 of the 3 LaplandBunting feeding amongst the rocks. Here I picked up another Scilly tick when I found a Tree Pipit as it flew over head.
Red-Eyed Vireo (photo by Ian Williams)
9 Little Egret were in the Tresco channel and once on Bryher we headed for the area opposite the Fraggle Rock café but despite over an hour on site there was no sign. In fact there was no sign again! It was feeling like it was going to be a very quiet day and not even finding a male Ring Ouzel at the dump and seeing only my second Scilly Buzzard could lift the mood. We chose to get the early boat back as there was so little to see and that decision turned out be a very good one indeed! Half way back to St.Mary's the pager bleeped and upon checking it I was amazed to read that a Red-Eyed Vireo had been found in Carreg Dhu garden! I informed Steve that we may have to do a bit of power walking once we had docked! Once the boat had been tied up it was a mad scramble to get off and rush to the garden. It took us about 15 minutes to get there passing Tring birder Ian Williams on the way but we eventually arrived just before Ricky and Terry had arrived in a taxi. A nervous minute wait was had but I finally got onto the bird but I was only seeing the underside of it as it was high in the trees but it then moved and I got a side view of the head showing off the distinguishing features allowing me to tick my first ever RED-EYED VIREO in the UK. It also became my 450th species on my UK list. No sooner as we had good views it flitted off out the back of the garden and vanished just as Ian, Ricky and Terry arrived in position. Happy and exhausted Steve and I headed on a slow walk back to the house. But as it turned out the others did see the bird in fact having better views than we did as it appeared lower down for a few minutes soon after we had left.
3 Swallow over Porthcressa beach were the first of the week.
Lower Moors held 3 Jack Snipe, 23 Redwing, Reed Warbler and 2 more Yellow-Browed Warbler.
Old Town Bay had 5 Ringed Plover roosting.
Up at the windsock by the airport runway I added 2 Ruff to my Scilly list.
Porth Hellick had 5 Greenshank and another Jack Snipe from the hide.
In Higher Moors I had my first Fieldfare of the Autumn.
On entering Holy Vale I found a brief pale looking Chiffchaff and a Yellow-Browed Warbler.
At the riding stables there was no sign of the 2 Cattle Egret but there was a Whinchat.
At Four Lanes End I finally caught up with the 2 Cattle Egret. Scilly tick number 5 and met up with Steve.
4 Swallow were at Carreg Dhu garden.
Off of Porthloo beach was a female Common Scoter.
Town Beach had 5 Sandwich Tern.
Newford Duckpond was very productive with another YB Warbler, Firecrest and 3 species of flycatcher. Red-Breasted, Pied and Spotted. The strangest site though was of a 4x4 Capri!
At Watermill we had a brief Common Sandpiper and I found a YB Warbler.
Spot The Wryneck!
As we passed Borough Farm we had half decent views of the Wryneck. We then stopped off at the German eatery for Apple Strudel and that's when the mega alert went off telling us that it'd finally happened and that a Siberian Accentor had reached our shores albeit typically on Shetland! Our friends up there were in for a treat!
A quick pop in at Trewince had us pick up the Osprey again as it flew over the north of the island.
In Hugh Town we finally connected with the Turtle Dove in the salubrious surroundings of the alleyway behind the museum! My first in the UK for 3 years.
Just as I'd sat down with a cuppa back at the digs news crackled over the radio of a Redstart on Porthcressa Beach. As it was a minute walk away I went to look for it but still managed to dip it! But as I was chatting to the Rugby lads a Wryneck was found by the quarry at the end of the beach. After looking at that I was just about to turn for home when the radio burst into life again with news of a Subalpine Warbler just round the corner! We legged it there only to have just missed it but after a 20 minute wait we had good views by the old school. This was my 3rd attempt at a Subalp on Scilly. A great day and about 10 miles walked!
With a couple of hours to spare before our flight we headed to Pendeen for a seawatch in the hope of a Balearic Shearwater for Terry. Alas that proved fruitless but we did have 20+ Manx Shearwater, 2 dark morph Arctic Skua and a Puffin. While on the land a Ring Ouzel was the highlight.
Our trip back in 2014 was a very very quiet one on Scilly with Whooper Swan being my only Scilly tick. That poor showing is why we headed to Shetland last year but we managed to pick the worst year for rares up there in 10 years! So it was back to Scilly this year and our first stop was Porthcressa beach where just offshore was our first Scilly tick of the week with a Black-NeckedGrebe. A Sandwich Tern was on one of the rocky lumps too. From here we walked up Peninnis Head. Nothing of note on the east side but walking down the west side I picked up my first two Whinchat of the year closely followed by 2 Wryneck! Not a bad start. The Garrison was our next port of call and here Myself and Steve had a juvenile Red-Backed Shrike and Spotted Flycatcher in the dead pines area and looking out towards the off islands we had 2 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese and an Osprey both of which were Scilly ticks! 3 times as many Scilly ticks in a few hours than an entire week already! We ended our day down on the Lower Broome platform where we got our first Yellow-BrowedWarbler of the year.
Its that time of year again where it was time to head SW. I joined Steve Blake in his car and headed for our first stop of the day to Fremington Quay in Devon. Here we met up with the other car load of Ricky Flesher, Brendon Fagan and Terry Smith. When we arrived it was still dark but as soon as we were able to see we started scanning over the water hoping to see our intended target. After an hour or so there was still no sign but we had seen 18 Little Egret, Greenshank, Barwit and a couple of Common Tern. It was just before we were about to descend of the café to warm up that I picked up a bird as it hit the water. It was a tern but the speed at which it hit the water made me say to the others I've got a Caspian Tern! I got the others on it and watched it as it hit the water a few more times but it was unfortunately heading away from us and after a few minutes it vanished into the River Caen. This bird was most likely the bird that had been on Scilly a day or two previously? I phoned the news out and we went for breakfast. I finished eating first so I left them to eat up and went outside. There was no sign of the tern but there was sign of our first and the UK's first ever DALMATIAN PELICAN! I called them to get outside and they soon joined me watching this huge bird start preening. The views weren't exactly great due to distance and murk but worth the effort. This bird had been found in Cornwall c.150 days earlier in the year and had flown around the county visiting various sites before heading into Devon. It had been seen in Poland and France before it reached our shores and so its now a waiting game to see if its accepted as a wild bird or not. I then found an adult Mediterranean Gull which was embarrassingly my first of the year and my 200th species for 2016! Happy with our lot we climbed back in the cars and headed into Cornwall.
Our next stop was Davidstow airfield where after getting slightly lost we found ourselves looking over the small pool at 3 Dunlin, Ruff and only my second ever Baird's Sandpiper. It gave great views before flying out of view. By now news had reached us that the Caspian Tern had been re-found on the River Caen and stopped any lingering doubts about whether I'd made a cock up of the ID! Turns out it was only the 4th for Devon!
We then headed for the village of Perranuthnoe just East of Penzance where after getting slightly lost again we walked along the coast path noting Peregrine, Stonechat and a Common Sandpiper before I finally re-found the long staying Hudsonian Whimbrel. This bird had originally been found on Scilly in October 2015 before moving and has now spent over a year on site. It was also a lifer for Brendon and a second for everyone else after the Pagham bird.
From here we decided to pop into Marazion. Here I walked down to the beach in the hunt for a LittleStint but saw no sign of it. This was until I re-joined the others who had stayed near the car park and picked up the stint just below them! They hadn't mentioned it because they thought it was a Sanderling 😉!!
Our final stop of the day was a quick look over the Hayle Estuary. Here we added Spoonbill to the trip list. Time for dinner and bed.
Once I'd started mothing there was always one that stood out in the books for me that I wanted to see. So far they have avoided my garden trap but an evening out with the Herts moth group to Gadesprings cress beds finally allowed me to see one. It was a quiet and fairly chilly evening but even so on checking the last of the traps before packing up there on the top of the egg boxes was a Merveille du Jour. What a stonker!
In 21 days at the end of July/start of August I trapped in my garden an Elachista bisulcella which turned out to be only the 2nd record for Herts with the last record being from 1890! This was followed by a Depressaria badiella which was only the 3rd record for Herts with the previous 2 records from 1834 and 2003! I then went along to Roughdown Common with the Herts moth group and there I picked up two moths. One turned out to be the 4th Depressaria badiella for Herts and the other was the 1st ever record of Jersey Mocha for the county! So a 1st, 2nd ,3rd and 4th in 21 days was pretty amazing!
I'd just spent 4 hours in the garden weeding and grass cutting and when I'd finished I turned around to see a bird land on the roof of my house. Knowing what it was but not quite believing it I carefully walked indoors and grabbed my scope and carefully walked back into the garden and set up my scope without trying to scare it away. I managed the one photo above before it did fly off. Amazingly it was a 1st winter/female Wheatear! Whether it'd been tempted down by me doing the garden and thinking there might be an easy meal I don't know but of all the roofs to pitch down on it chose mine!
It'd been around a month since the Swamphen had vanished from Minsmere and the ribbing from my mates had almost ceased but then like a bolt out of the blue (or should I say purple) the Mega alert went off and amazingly it'd been re-found in Lincolnshire! The weekend had arrived and as I had Tom a McDonalds breakfast was used as bribery to drag him away from his PS4! After 3 hours or so we arrived in the village of Alkborough and immediately saw a woman taking a Shetland pony for a walk! I found the car park and we walked off towards the flats. Just as we reached the top of the stairs a Lancaster Bomber flew low over us and straight over the reserve! I was now expecting a very long wait for it to re-appear but thankfully we only had to wait 5 minutes before the bright bluey-purple and red chicken walked into view. There it was my first ever WESTERN PURPLE SWAMPHEN! We watched as it carefully pulled out a root of a reed and delicately hold it in its massive feet to eat it. I got a record shot of it and sent it to my mates telling them they can now shut it as I've seen it! The reserve looked very impressive but as I had Tom with me I couldn't go for a wander or he'd be moaning he was bored! But before we left I did see my biggest flock of Spoonbill with 10 birds present.
At the end of January myself, Carey, Tom and Phoebe joined Carey's family for a week in mid France. As I've been moth trapping since last year I was lent a makeshift trap by a family friend and managed to trap over 150 species in 2 nights. This helped occupy me from having no wifi! The birds in the local area were pretty good too. Half a dozen Turtle Dove purred away each morning along with a couple of Golden Oriole. A couple of Honey Buzzard and around a dozen Black Kite were overhead and in the local town 4 Fan-Tailed Warbler were seen. But on the one day I did manage to get wifi I received lots of messages about a Western Purple Swamphen that was showing well at Minsmere RSPB reserve! That'd have to stick until Sunday I thought! As it turned out it did a Friday night bunk which my so called friends gleefully reminded me about!
For the first time in years I paid a visit to Birdfair at Rutland Water. I went up with Ricky Flesher, Brendon Fagan and Terry Smith and despite many products taking my fancy including the new Leica Noctovid bins I managed not to spend too much money! The birding on the other hand was pretty good with 2 Great White Egret, 4 Greenshank, 15 Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Hobby, Curlew, 2 Ruff, 6 Egyptian Goose, 5 Black-tailed Godwit, 7 RC Pochard, 2 Osprey, 2 Black Tern and 2 Tree Sparrow being noteworthy.
Coming so soon after my big dip to the W.Isles I wasn't expecting to be allowed out birding for a while! But seeing as I've picked a goodun in Carey I was allowed out for the day and again to Scotland! Arranging to head to Aberdeen with Brendan Glynn we headed North and picking up James Hanlon in Cambs we arrived in good time at Blackdog. Over the years this has been a well known site for Scoters. Usually the odd Surf Scoter is to be found offshore and on the odd occasion something rarer like Black Scoter. Back in 2011 The first UK record of American White-wingedScoter was found with a 1st year bird proving tricky for some to pick up. Today we were back for a second bite at the yanky cherry as the 2nd record had been found. This time it was an adult bird so either the young bird returning or a new bird? Once we'd crossed over the soaking wet golf course we joined around a dozen or so birders which for a 2nd for Britain I thought wasn't very many. It took a while but we got our eye in and watched our first ever AMERICAN WHITE-WINGED SCOTER. Every now and then the flock would dive or fly a small way but after a couple of minutes the bird was fairly easy to pick out. The AWWS was in with a few hundred Common Scoter and at least 15 Velvet Scoter. Also present were over 200 Eider and a couple of Red-Throated Diver. After getting our fill we headed off for home and arrived back 21.5 hours after setting off!
There I was laying in bed when news broke of a Purple Heron at Rye Meads RSPB reserve. I was quickly washed and dressed and on my way. Not knowing the area of the reserve the bird was favouring I ended up spending £1.50 on the toll going back and forth to where I needed to be! After a phone call with a local I parked up and just as I was a few yards away all the local birders walked away saying it'd just flown! So rather forlornly I wandered over to the last place it was seen and was joined by a few familiar faces. After chatting for a while all hell broke loose as it suddenly loomed into view flying over for a few seconds. Thank goodness for that! It was then picked up further down the path perched up in a tree. Here we all had cracking views of this 1st summer Purple Heron which was only the 9th for Herts. My photo above even made into the Rare Bird Alert weekly round up!
After all the travelling of the day before it was no wonder we all slept like logs! But before we knew it we had to set off for home. a Black-throated Diver flew over the ferry terminal and onto the year list. A serious crash saw us diverted for an hour but an Osprey over the car near Stirling was a nice surprise. After another mammoth drive by Craig we reached his house and went our separate ways. I arrived home around midnight. Massive thanks to Craig for all the driving and the other 3 for the company. My biggest dip ever but the dips make the ticks even better.
For a few days news and photos of a Black-Billed Cuckoo on North Uist, W.Isles were gripping myself and many others off. This probably once in a lifetime occurrence of a species that usually snuffs it after a day had managed to survive 9 days and so after a bit of arranging I drove to Suffolk to get a lift with Craig Fulcher who I'd been sharing plenty of laughs and banter with over Twitter. Joining us were Norman Vipond and Andy Field. On the way up we picked up Jonny Holliday near Doncaster. News reached us that the Cuckoo was still present at 9.20pm was positive. After something like 11 or 13 hours later (either way it was a long time!) we arrived on the Isle of Skye. On the way to the ferry at Uig I added Hooded Crow and finally a Wheatear to the year list! Around the harbour at Uig while we waited for the ferry a couple of Sedge Warbler and Cuckoo were noted along with 4 Rock Dove. A female Red-Breasted Merganser was another year list addition.
The 90 minute ferry ride was kind to my stomach and despite it being a bit fresh I stayed outside all the way to see if I could get any more year ticks. 2 Black Guillemot, 20+ Puffin and a couple of GreatSkua were penned in the note book. As we neared N.Uist 2 Red-Throated Diver were seen. We disembarked and for the first time in my life I was on the Western Isles! A pair of Hen Harrier brightened the mood near Loch Paible but it was becoming more obvious that the BB Cuckoo had done a bunk. Despite walking around its favoured area for a couple of hours it dawned on us that we had in fact arrived a day too late and it had either died, been eaten or had left! What an absolute shitter!! But then I thought to myself there are worse places to dip than the stunning scenery I was in. Making the most of a bad day we headed down the road to Balranald RSPB reserve where we were treated to half a dozen singing Corncrake. I'd only ever seen 2 both on Scilly and neither of them were calling so I did at least have a first of sorts. We then headed to Benbecula where on a small loch we saw 2 Red-Necked Phalarope! Another ringtail Hen Harrier was seen here. After some food we headed to our digs for the night at a youth hostel. A male Hen Harrier was seen from here too.
Today I joined up with Paul Frost and Ephraim Perfect on a trip down to Portland. As we drove past Ferrybridge I noted my first Little Tern of the year. Arriving at our first stop at Weston we grabbed a parking space and walked all of 20 yards to join a small group of birders. Before I'd set up my scope I'd added Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart to the year list as they flitted around the hedgerow. But after a while of watching parts of our target bird it suddenly shifted to reveal itself. There in full view was my first ever GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO! This 1st summer bird was one number one on my list of tarts ticks so I was mightily relieved to see it. The closest I'd got to one was an adult bird that spent 5 days on a golf course near Brighton a few years ago. I'd reached Heathrow on the M25 when news of it flying off reached me! News then broke of a good bird near Weymouth so we had one last look and headed off.
After a short drive we reached Lodmoor RSPB reserve and once we figured out whereabouts the bird was we headed off to look for it. It didn't take too long before we found it and for the next 20-30 minutes I enjoyed only my 2nd ever Red-Rumped Swallow. My first had been a bird at Hilfield Reservoir back in May 2000 so it's been a while!
After our fill of the romper we went back to Portland to have a quick seawatch. The year ticks kept coming with 3 Manx Shearwater, Razorbill, Fulmar, Sandwich Tern, Shag, Whimbrel and Gannet flew past and in the obs garden was another Spotted Flycatcher.
5 more Whimbrel were at Ferrybridge before we stopped off in the New Forest at Acres Down. I'd not heard of this place before but in the hour or so we were there we saw a male Redstart, Cuckoo (making it a 2 cuckoo day), 2+ Crossbill, Tree Pipit, Wood Warbler and 3 Firecrest! A non avian highlight was my first ever Green Tiger Beetle that flew just as I was about to get a photo.
All 4 reservoirs were visited today in the hope of some more year ticks. At Wilstone 6 Black Tern were seen and on Tringford a nice drake Garganey was seen distantly along with 2 Hobby. In the roadside wood at Startops and Spotted Flycatcher flitted around and the final addition was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler at Marsworth. I was by the hide but the bird was behind the reedbed on the far side but thankfully the wind direction carried its song to me!
Sitting in my chair looking out into the garden with the patio door open I could hear a crow getting angry! Expecting it to be mobbing one of the local kites I soon saw that it wasn't a kite. I grabbed my scope and once I'd picked them up I could see it was mobbing a female Marsh Harrier! They carried on for another minute or so before I lost them behind the houses.
Later in the day a group of Woodpigeon flew into the garden and one of them was slightly leucistic so it stood out from the others.
5 years ago I successfully twitched my first Oriental Turtle Dove in Oxfordshire. That one was of the race orientalis. Fast forward to today and I joined Brendon Glynn and Paul Frost on a 4am run to Otford in Kent. We arrived in good time and after a short while we finally had good views of my first ever RUFOUS TURTLE DOVE perched in a tree behind some houses. This one was of the form meena and hopefully a future armchair tick if the powers at be split it! Amazingly the traffic was kind and I arrived back home just as Carey was walking downstairs from waking up!
The phrase like buses is often used and today it certainly was. Roseate Tern records in Herts before last year were of a bird seen at Wilstone Reservoir back in the 1960's and then nothing until the bird at Amwell in May 2015. So like buses another turned up this time at Wilstone. I headed up there expecting to see it flying over the reservoir but no it was perched on the concrete edge looking rather unwell. Like the Amwell bird this one was metal ringed on both legs and we thought its from Coquet Island in Northumberland. It wasn't until the following day when it was picked up moribund that the metal rings could be read and it was found to have been rung in July 2012 in the tern colony on Rockabill Island, Ireland! Unfortunately on the way to Tiggywinkles it died but 2 in 2 years is an amazing record. 3 in 3 in 2017? Who knows! 2 Common Sandpiper were also added to the year list.
On the last day of March I found a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker up by the croquet lawns and a couple of weeks or so later it was found drumming in the trees adjacent to the car park. I popped in before work and was greeted by this unfortunately increasingly rare bird drumming away happy as Larry! I met Chris Sharp there and finally met in person Ralph Darvil who I'd got to know over Twitter.
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.