Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My best birds of 2014

To round up my posts of 2014 I’ve been through the blog and picked out my ten favourite birds of the year. The ten selected are certainly not the rarest but those I enjoyed watching most of all and I’ve had to factor in how long I’d wanted to see a particular species.

As with any restricted list a couple just missed out including the rare American Buff-bellied Pipit in Cheshire, King Eider in Scotland, Black-winged Stilts at Summer Leys, Ross’s Gull at Topsham and the Bonapartes Gull at Marsh Lane.

I would like to thank in particular Vern Wright and Pete Walkden who have both kindly helped the blog out with photographs when I haven't been able to get a digiscoped image myself. 

10) The Hopwood Great Grey Shrike 
This long stayer was a superb bird to have located within a few miles from home.  It was a species I’d struggled to connect with so it was great to get some stunning views from the road side. Fingers crossed he fancies a return visit this winter.

9) Black Restart 
Remained a very much a bogey species throughout the year then suddenly they were dropping out the sky all around Worcestershire. The best views however were obtained at Sharpness, Gloucestershire just a few miles from Slimbridge. Great bird, great weather.

8) Sooty Shearwater – Perhaps a strange choice but I managed to get some amazing views of these sea birds when at Spurn. The rough sea had forced two birds to fly very close to the point and I picked them up through my scope and watched them closely are they headed north. Their silvery white underwing coverts really caught the eye in the autumn sunshine.

7) Grey Phalarope 
I had a wonderful couple of hours in Northamptonshire watch this beauty at very close quarters. I’d missed one in Birmingham when I away in Scotland however as luck would have it this bird was really confiding and didn’t take any notice of the attention it was receiving.

6) Great Reed Warbler 
Probably the most distinctive call I’d heard this year and a great deal of patience was needed staying at a reed bed. Patience was rewarded with a few minutes of superb viewing at one of my favourite locations, Slimbridge.

5) Red-flanked Bluetail 
Most definitely one bird that created a major twitch down in Somerset. The local lanes were jammed on arrival and a muddy walk down hill walk was rewarded with some stonking views as the bird fed on a selection of meal worms put down by the photographers. 

4) Masked Shrike 
I’d always wanted to go to Spurn and this little beauty gave me the perfect reason to. A cracking day out with Sauntering Phil and Vern resulted in some great views and in addition we also saw Red-breasted Flycatcher, Barred Warbler and a host of great sea birds.

3) Montagu Harrier – To watch a male Monty flying around in Norfolk was an amazing sight. Its flight was a scene of pure beauty and was almost tern like. With less than ten pairs in the UK I will deem myself very lucky to see this bird of prey.

2) Bridled Tern 
I simply adore Terns so you can only imagine my delight when I saw on RBA a Bridled Tern had returned to Inner Farne on the day I arrived in Northumbria! The next day couldn’t come quick enough as we headed out to Staple Island followed by Inner Farne.  By 2pm the Bridled Tern had not been seen however after a good search and many attacks by the Arctic Terns the bird was seen in flight and then landed fairly close to the jetty area.

 1) Golden Eagle 
This warrior of the sky was a bird I’ve wanted to see since I bought my first bird book as a youngster. To see Golden Eagle hunting through the valleys of the Findhorn Valley was a memorable experience that will always stay with me. Just amazing……………

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Best birding locations of 2014

The main reason I enjoy birding so much is the great places and environments it takes you. This year I’ve shared some great experiences with friends and family. Some have been places on my life bucket list for a long time so I’m very grateful to have now visited a couple of them.

I thought I’d work through my top five bird experiences of the year and in selecting these I’ve had to leave out the returning Ospreys at Rutland, a day out sea watching the Shearwater & Common Dolphins and of course the Hawling Owls which has been wonderful this winter to date.

5) Day on Long Mynd

 I’ve had some super walks over the Long Mynd in recent years so it was a pleasure to return in April to catch up with a flock of Dotterel not far from Gliding Club. The female birds were very stunning and well worth the trip out. After the session on the moor we dropped down to a very nice spot which was full of migrants including Redstarts, Pied Flycatcher, Cuckoo whilst Dippers and Grey Wagtails were busy feeding young along the stream.

4) Evening with the Nightjars

An evening in the Forest of Dean to catch up the “Forest Ghosts” was a great experience. As the light faded Woodcock were roding over head calling their distinctive "tchik-ik rrrrrr-rrrrrr" sound. The stars of the evening then came out to play clapping their wings as part of their courtship. One of Nightjars landed just above us and then on the path as we headed back to the car. The bonus of the night was a number of Wild Boar that we observed at close quarters. Certainly some where I will be going back to year on year.

3) Black Grouse and North Wales

4am alarm calls are never the best way to start a Monday but this early morning was very much worth the trouble as I teamed up with Alan Davies of the Biggest Twitch to watch the Black Grouse lek in North Wales. Alan had us in a great position to see and hear  the birds. The fun never ended there as after a hearty breakfast we travelled around the beautiful area including stops at Betws y Coed (Grey Wagtail and Dippers) and Nant Ffrancon (Ring Ouzel, Garden Warbler and Wheatear).

2) Highland birding

A five night trip to Scotland with Alan and Ruth Davies was a brilliant experience. Staying at the awesome Grant Arms Hotel, Alan guided us around the Highlands and caught up with a number of hard to see species including Capercaille, Crested Tit, Surf & Velvet Scoter, King Eider, Golden Eagle, Scaup, Black Guillemots and Ptarmigan. To see 80+ Ptarmigan on top of Cairn Gorn was just stunning We also saw some fantastic mammals including Pine Marten  Red Stags and Red Squirrel ! Even if you have never been to the Highlands I’d urge you to look up Alan and Ruth’s trips. They take care of everything for you which gives you the time to enjoy the wildlife.

1) Farne Islands

My favourite experience of 2014 was the three days I spent with the wife in Northumbria. Its part of the coast I’d never visited previously but it was simply stunning in its pure ruggedness. We were blessed with stunning weather throughout the trip which even allowed for some bare foot birding along the beaches. 
We took in the local delicacy of kippers and brown bread at the Ship Inn at Long Newton where we watched the Little Terns feeding  in the bay. After lunch we a great beach walk where the Terns flew past us with eels in their beaks ready for their youngsters.

Our long awaited trip out to the islands was every bit as I’d hoped. Staple Island treated us to over 20,000 Puffins whilst Shags, Cormorants and Razorbills were sat within yards of your every move. Watching the Puffins return from sea was a sight to behold and one I will always remember.

It was clear before landing on Inner Farne who the island belonged to as you could see the visitors being bombed by the breeding Arctic Terns. They duly delivered a similar welcome to us and I received a particular rough attach when crossing the path to the toilet block.  Many of the terns were nesting within centimetres of path hence their possessive nature. The sighting of the Bridled Tern just topped the day off. As we came back into Seahouses Eider ducks were nursing their young offspring.

Not a bad year………………

Friday, 26 December 2014

A day Avon Birding

Brean Down Salt Marsh
Brean beach
Great White Egret

Sunday took me down the M5 into Somerset to try and catch up with a couple of species I've been missing on year list. The destination was Brean Down which is a few miles south of Weston-Super-Mare. Parking was a very reasonable winter rate of £1 for the whole day.

Leaving the car park a couple of Stonechats watched me head down towards the farm and salt marsh. The farm is a regular haunt for a small flock of Twite however despite two prolonged searches I didn't have any luck. 

As a walked along the sea wall a Peregrine hunted for an early breakfast over the salt marsh whilst a Sparrowhawk flew past the fields behind. The tide was low so waders were  restricted to Curlews, Lapwings, Snipe and Redshanks. As I was observing a flock of Linnetts a Water Pipit landed by the stream behind the second gate ! A real bonus. 

There were a handful of birders on the site and I had a good chat with a local only for the Lapland Bunting to fly over with a handful of Sky Larks. As hard as I tried I could not locate the Bunting on the ground but I did get another flypast. The birds seems to rotate between the marsh and the field. Fair play to those who got an image.

As I headed back the car a Raven was hounding the local Jackdaws and there was another two Stonechats enjoying the late morning sunshine.

The temptation to head back via Hawling was obvious but instead I stopped in at Chew Valley Lake. Not knowing the area I just drove around the perimeter until I found a place to stop. By pure luck the place was Herons Green where I could see a Great White Egret in the channel. I quickly set up the scope and grabbed a few nice digiscoped images. Other sightings included a Great Northern Diver, flock of Goosander, 2 Egyptian Geese, Snipe,  60+ Cormarants, 10 Shelduck, 30+ Pintails, Wigeon, 3 Little Egret, Grey Heron, Great Black-backed Gull and many of the normal wildfowl. Chew Valley Lake is a place you really need a full day to make the most of it and I need to remember not to go back via Bristol on future visits. The Clifton Suspension bridge didn't compensate for the shocking traffic.

This area is an area that seems to getter better and better for birds unlike most counties and the new reserve at Steart Marshes should be another great place to visit. I will be visiting there in 2015 for sure.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Goosander at RSPB Sandwell

I needed to drive over to West Bromwich on Wednesday afternoon so I took advantage to call in to RSPB Sandwell Valley for a bonus session of birding.

First to catch my eye were eight Goosanders, there doesn't seem quite so many around this winter to date and there haven't been any at all at Arrow Valley. These "saw billed" ducks seem to glide around effortlessly making everything else move out of their way. I like their style.

There was a nice selection of water fowl to see including Wigeon, Pochard, Mallard and Teal topped nicely with a flock of 50+ Canada Geese and a couple of Mute Swans. There was a large and noisy flock of Long Tailed Tits at the bottom of Swan Pool which appeared to follow me back to the car. 

Winter nip on Norfolk coast

Black-tailed Godwits & Shelduck
Early morning at Brancaster
High water levels at Titchwell
Black-headed Gull twitches the sea watchers
Grey Plover
The Ship Hotel

After such a brilliant Saturday to live up to, Sunday was always going to be struggle as the wind had got up and the temperature had dropped dramatically. We walked from our hotel in Brancaster down to the coast before breakfast. To say it was cold was an understatement of the highest proportion. At the beach we were able to watch the Geese fly over us in large numbers again whilst there were numbers of Sanderling, Oystercatcher Dunlin and Knot.

Titchwell was a rare disappointment in all honesty. The water levels had been increased to flood the islands so there were a lot less birds around than there is normally at this time of year. Sightings included Ringed Plover, Knot, Turnstone, Teal, Wigeon, 2 Marsh Harrier, Brent Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Little Egret, Black-tailed Godwits, Shelduck, Curlew, red-throated Diver and a flock of Goldeneye on the sea. So perhaps not to bad a haul ! 

Finally, I must mention the fantastic Ship Inn at Brancaster where we stayed. Pure luxury accommodation, great customer service with amazing food and drink. Well worth a look up if you are heading that way! 

Rough-legged Buzzard & Barn Owls close day

Pink-feet flying over Burnham Ovary 

Next stop of the weekend was Burnham Overy where I quickly located one of the long staying Rough-legged Buzzards. Most of time it was sat on the same fence post however I did get one good flight view through the scope. The area also had a number of Common Buzzards, clearly food supply must be ideal for this species.

Rather than walk towards Gun Hill we opted to head to Holme (never easy to drive past Titchwell). On the coastline there were Oystercatchers, Knot and a couple of Sanderlings.

With the light fading I picked up a pair of Barn Owls hunting the fields at the back of village. I never get enough of watching these amazing birds. A handful of other birders were also present hoping for a Short-eared Owl but sadly no luck on this occasion.I've added a super video produced by the BBC to remind us how great Barn Owl's are.

Winter sunshine at Cley

Avocets on the marsh
Twitchers delight
Brent Geese
Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harriers in food transfer switch
Marsh Harrier
Pink-feeted Geese along Beech Road

Cley has made a remarkable recovery since the great storm surge 12 month ago and it was hard to believe Seal were swimming along the road which we crossed on the way to the marsh.

There was a nice selection of birds to watch including Avovet, Little Egret, 200+ Golden Plover, Pintail, Ruff, Little Grebe, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveller, Gadwell, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, 2 Stonechats and of course the magnificent Marsh Harriers which treated us to some fantastic views. 

We then headed up Beach Road where there were massive numbers of Brent Geese and Pink-footed Geese feeding in the fields. A stunning sight once again. 

Looking out to sea there was a good number of Red-throated Divers and 1 Black-throated Diver which I was particually pleased to see as it had been an omission on my year list up to this point. A Grey Seal was feeding off the beach.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Close up encounters at Salthouse

Romance on the beach
A Turnstone in front of wife's right knee
Pink-feet skies
Snow Bunting
Caught in the field

With a kind offer from the parents to look after the lads last weekend the wife and I set off for a bit of winter fresh air and luxury on the north Norfolk coast.

As we edged towards Cley and Salthouse skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed over us welcoming us with their distinctive call. First stop was the Cley visitor centre for a cheeky cake and coffee before heading down to Salthouse passing a pair of Egyptian Geese.

The old car park is now just full of shingle from last years storm much to the liking of a couple of Turnstones. We walked down the coast along the shingle beach and observed around nine Twite on the side of marsh which took off and flew directly over us.

After about 10/15 minute walk we located a flock of around 30 Snow Buntings on the main bank before coming down to the edge of the marsh. After a nice session watching the Buntings we walked by the sea where a small flock of Turnstones landed in front of us. 

I will post the rest of my Norfolk blog in coming days.

Warwickshire November Sightings

I've taken on compiling the Warwickshire sightings for Bird Watching following a suggestion from Jon Bowley  as he's tied up with his time at the moment. My first efforts are published in the January edition which is out now.If you do have any sightings please drop me a note on email or via Twitter.

Highlights: Great White Egrets were seen at Salford Priors GP (1st) and Corley (15th). A Lapland Bunting flew over Burton Dassett Hills (5th) and a Woodlark over Brailes Hill (6th).

Brandon Marsh:  Sightings included two Stonechat, four Goldeneye, a Little Egret (6th), two Mandarin (20th), a Woodcock, two Dunlin, two Water Rail, 42 Wigeon and a flock of 50+ Lesser Redpoll.

Dassett Hills District: Sightings included at least two Merlins and two Peregines in the area, up to 500 Golden Plover at Northend and 350 at Fenny Compton, a late White Wagtail at Fenny Compton (to 17th) and a Snow Bunting there (25th). A Cetti’s Warbler was at Wormleighton Res and a Corn Bunting at Farnborough. Winter thrushes included 2000 Redwing at Wormleighton Res and 1500 at Fenny Compton, with 1000 Fieldfare at both, but few Brambling seen. 

Draycote: Sightings included four Red-crested Pochard, two Scaup, a Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, four Knot, a Common Sandpiper, a Caspian and eight Yellow-legged Gulls, Short-eared Owl, Rock Pipit and late House Martin.

Salford Priors GP:  Records included 31 Little Grebe, 19 Wigeon, 23 Gadwall, 160 Teal, 270 Mallard, Pintail, 22 Shoveler, 16 Pochard, a Scaup (from 28th), 94 Tufted Duck, two Goldeneye, Peregrine, 12 Water Rails, Ringed Plover (2nd), 125 Golden Plover, Jack snipe, 70 Common Snipe, four Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpiper, two Yellow-legged Gulls, 120 Skylarks, 140 Meadow Pipits, Cetti’s Warbler (2nd), two Chiffchaffs and a Willow Tit.

Tame Valley: Ladywalk NR hosted a Shag, Merlin, three Peregrines, 16 Water Rails, Woodcock and Siberian Chiffchaff. Two Whooper Swans flew over Middleton and four Little Egrets were in the area. Two Scaup and a Pintail were at Coton, with single Scaup at Fisher’s Mill, Kingsbury and Shustoke. A Bittern was at Fisher’s Mill, while Shustoke also held a Shag, five Red-crested Pochard and a Common Sandpiper. Nearby Wishaw had a Merlin and 14 Grey Partridge.

Other sites: Two long-staying Ospreys remained at Clifton Lakes Fishery. Morton Bagot hosted two Green Sandpipers, a Dunlin and several Stonechats. Nearby Spernall recorded a Ringed Ouzel twice. Earlswood Lakes recorded Mandarin Duck, Red Kite and Mediterranean Gull. Jack Snipe were at Lighthorne Quarry (two) and Alvecote. A flock of 700 Stock Doves was notable at Grandborough.