Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 Birds of the year

This year my main efforts have concentrated around Salford Priors however some how I’ve managed to add an amazing 29 birds to my UK life list. To try and pick out just ten is difficult as I don’t select my favourites in terms of rarity, for me is about the bird and the experience of seeing it.

Those that didn’t make the list include American Golden Plover (Leicestershire), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (Norfolk), Ferruginous Duck (Gloucestershire), Greater Yellowlegs (Hampshire-pictured), Gull-billed Tern (Devon), Hudsonian Whimbrel (Hampshire), Isabelline Shrike (Norfolk), Laughing Gull (Lancashire) , Long-eared Owl (Lancashire) , Melodious Warbler (West Midlands), Wood Lark (Hampshire), Pied Billed Grebe (South Gloucestershire) , Red-backed Shrike (East Yorkshire) , Ring-billed Gull (Lancashire) , Semipalmated Sandpiper (Gloucestershire), Dusky Warbler (Somerset), Spotted Sandpiper (Herefordshire), Wilsons Phalarope (Essex) and Red-neck Phalarope(Gloucestershire).
10) Black Stork (September – East Yorkshire) An Autumn trip to Spurn reaped dividends when we found the juvenile Black Stork at the strangely named Sunk Island. Stourport Dave produced the goods when getting permission from the local famer which enabled us to get fantastic views.
9) Pallid Harrier (December – Norfolk) A great bird to add to my life list so late in the year. Whilst the views weren't for long it was a pleasure to see this graceful Harrier.
8) Hudsonian Godwit (May – Somerset) The Hudwit sent twitchers flying to Somerset to see this rare migrant. Thankfully my patience of not going in the initial rush resulted in a great day and able to watch the bird without the hassle of a major twitch.
7) Sabine’s Gull (August – Greater Manchester) This little beauty was showing at very close quarters allowing everyone mind blowing views. The gull was even feeding from bread from the burger van who seemed to appreciate the increase in trade.
6) Shore Lark (December – Norfolk) Is a species on my most wanted listed at the start of year so to finally see them on Norfolk coast was awesome. I could have gladly stayed there all day.
5) Wryneck (August – Oxfordshire) Was another from my most wanted list that I’d never had any luck with in previous years. Otmoor delivered the goods on a Saturday afternoon however the bird was good at hide and seek. A cracking bird to see.
4) Penduline Tit (March – Devon) I’d heard these stunners were difficult to see however I most deinatley had a stroke of luck as soon as I arrived the birds were feeding within 6 feet of me enabling me to get some cracking photos.
3) Olive-backed Pipit (October – Norfolk) A pipit in top 3 ! I was really taken a back by this find. The colouring on the bird was just stunning and really stood out in the habit on Muckleburgh hill.
2) Crag Martin (November – Derbyshire) The Crag Martin toyed with birders at times however I fluked great views of the Martin at the Stadium and then around the famous Crocked Spire. The Spire and the moody autumnal sky were stunning. It was also great that one of my photos was picked out to head line the weekly RBA newsletter.
1) Black-eared Wheatear (June – Hampshire) Best bird of the year and luckiest bird of the year. We were only in this area as we had seen the Hudosian Whimbrel & Greater Yellowlegs. As we arrived at the Yellow legs fellow gravel pit birder Mark told us about the Wheatear. What a stunner! An awesome day with us also getting great views of Dartford Warblers.
Closest twitch to home Award – The best bird closest to home was for sure the Melodious Warbler located near Hampton in Arden, close to the NEC. Twitching warblers can be very problematic however this beauty delighted audiences every day it was present.

Pink-footed Goose in closing days of year at pits

Greylag flock on main pit
Spot the Pinkie
Hand held shot of Pink-footed Goose
Hand held shot of Pink-footed Goose
Hand held shot of Pink-footed Goose
Hand held shot of Pink-footed Goose
Hand held shot of Pink-footed Goose
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
November Patchwork Challenge

The Christmas break gave me plenty of time to visit the Salford Priors Pit. As well as doing my regular walks I've been trying to find a goodie like the Brambling I'd found a mile south of my recording area the previous Sunday.

On Monday 28th a smaller bird caught my eye at a distance among the regular flock of Greylags and upon closer inspection I'd found my first gravel pit Pink-footed Goose. I've been checking these geese all winter hoping of finding something different and thankfully it paid off. I'd approached the pit from the old workings so I had to be happy with the images I took from a distance. I did inform the other pit birders but only Ann & Noel could make it, it was a valuable year tick for them.

Other sightings included 60 Black-headed Gulls, 6 Gadwell, 12 Goldcrest, Jack Snipe, 15 Snipe, 8 Shoveler, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard, 2 Shelduck and Tawny Owl calling (2pm).

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Great White Egret at Upton Warren

 Great White Egret
 Great White Egret

After a couple of days visiting the pits I opted for an early start to hopefully see Upton Warren's Great White Egret. My previous visit resulted in the views being quite distant so I was pleased to watch the bird well from the east hide. The bird has now been present since 28th November.

This was the sites 5th record with previous records being in October 2007, November 2011, January 2012 and June 2013. (Phil Andrews) With the species now breeding in Kent & Somerset records will only increase in the next few years. 

Other sightings included :- Little Egret, two Shelduck, two Gadwell, nice Curlew and a drake Wigeon.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Ham Wall Dusky Warbler is early Christmas present

 Early morning steak out
Show time
Dusky Warbler (Thanks to Matt Scott)
 New Avalon Hide
 New Avalon Hide
Distant Marsh Harrier
 Glastonbury Tor
Dusky Bench

Would I risk the M5 three days before Christmas ? After a helpful tweet from Matt Scott I decided to risk it as he said the traffic around Cribbs Causeway was actually ok given the time of year.

The new toilets were a welcome find on the car park before heading up the main path. After passing the first viewing platform you turn left over a bridge then right up a muddy patch. When you have reached the turning for the new hide carry straight on for another 100 yards where you will see the pictured bench. If you reach this far you would have found other birders. 

I hadn't seen a Dusky Warbler before however reports are always of skulking birds that are difficult to see. It certainly started that way as I didn't see anything except a Wren in the first 75 minutes. The original dozen birders increased to around thirty when the bird started calling and could then be located. The Warbler worked it's way through the habitat just over the waters edge giving some great views at times but you did have to contend with odd blocked view by tree stumps or long grass. The supercillium was quite striking whilst I made sure I got a good view of the lighter longer coloured legs. Dusky Warblers breed in Siberia in bogs and is a rare autumn vagrant to the UK.

With a skip in my stride I went up a very muddy patch to take a look at the new two storey Avalon hide. The hide is centrally located of the reed beds and allows spectacular views of the reserve but also Glastonbury Tor. Sightings included a number of Marsh Harriers, Bittern, Common Buzzard, two Great White Egret, Wigeon & Shoveler. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

All directions weekend

Great Northern Diver

                                                   Great Northern Diver
Great Northern Diver
Golden Plover 

The weekend visit to Salford Priors was once again hampered by driving rain and gales. After checking out Pophills (two Green Sandpipers still present) I opted to walk the plantation for a change. The only birds I found were Goldcrests, Coal / Blue/ Great Tits, and Redwings. My wait for our first winter Goldeneye will have to wait another week as the wildfowl are still restricted to Tufties, Teal, Gadwell and Mute Swans. 24 Lapwing (Chris Lane reported 138 on Friday) flew in late morning whilst the geese had moved behind the main pit and included 152 Canada & 202 Greylag.  It looks like the old workings is the next part of the site to be returned to agricultural land. The work has got very close to the main pit which may explain why the wildfowl are very unsettled.

I opted for a bit of variation on Sunday and headed six miles in the opposite direction to see the Great Northern Diver at Upper Bittell. It was great to see the bird showing close to the dam and in decent light. On the path to the car we found three Goosander, female Goldeneye and a flock of Siskins at Lower Bittell.

After a coffee and sandwich I then headed to Hawling where I was hoping for an Owlfest like last winter. Sadly it seems that only 2-3 Short-eared Owls have returned this winter and the lack of competition means they don’t need to hunt in the daylight. I got some nice views of one Shortie as the light faded but it wasn’t the same experience as last winter. Other sightings included two Red Kites, Barn Owl, Kestrel, 30 Lapwing and 25 Golden Plover.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Sharpness Black Redstart

It you are visiting Slimbridge then it would be rude not to call in to Sharpness Docks to see the stunning male Black Redstart. The bird showed very well in it's usual place. Despite the terrible light I managed to get a few images for the blog. A cracking bird………...

Slimbridge outing for new camera

After spending many weeks debating buying a bridge camera, I finally opted for a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 after taking on plenty of advice. After reading the manual I thought I'd try out it out at Slimbridge given the great viewing available. Whilst the light was far from ideal it was better than originally forecast. Counts for Bewick Swans & White-front remain low given the time of the year.

Sightings included :- Peregrine, Buzzard, 1500 Golden Plover, 2400 Lapwing, 500 Dunlin, 90 Curlew, 190 Barnacle Goose,  350 Canada Goose, 11 Comon Crane, 64 White-fronted Goose, 150 Greylag, 600 Wigeon, 300 Teal, 80 Pintail, 40 Shoveler, 6 Ruff, 15 Redshank, 100 Black-tailed Godwit, 80 Shelduck, 80 Bewick Swans and Cetti's Warbler.