Thursday, 29 December 2016

Stow-on-the-Wold's Blue Rock Thrush delights Christmas twitchers

Breaking light scenes
First views
It's a thumbs up from the Squire
Chimney views
Thrush on chimney of right house (viewable if clicked)
Chimney views

I didn’t really take the reporting of a Blue Rock Thrush seriously on Tuesday afternoon given I couldn’t quite comprehend how a shy bird from the southern Europe was in a garden in Stow-on-the-Wold. I had only seen this species this August when visiting the Steppes mountains outside Madrid. As the evening progressed social media was getting vey excited that the bird was a genuine wild bird and not an escapee.

The Squire was keen for a mornings birding so we decided to go and have a snoop. Despite some icy & foggy roads we were duly parked up in the designated car park within thirty minutes. It was a shame this advice was ignored by many who insisted on parking in the residential area. It was also noted that the same people were ignoring the collection for a local care home. (Apparently the later birders were more generous pushing the collection to a pleasing £800)

As we turned into Fishers Close around 200 birders were already in place and watching the bird sat in the residents back garden tree. Despite the light we could clearly see the long bill and the distinctive blue colouring. Looking up the bird in field guides it suggested the bird was a first winter male which may give some credence to it being an accepted record.

Once the sun had risen the bird flew to a nearby chimney pot where I was able to get a few decent record shots and a short video clip. The bird looked very dark when in this location. As news spread more birders & twitchers arrived, the locals seemed very friendly if not bemused of what all these strange people were doing outside their houses. What ever the origin of the bird we had a excellent hour watching the bird well and meeting up with a few faces old and new.

We then made the short journey to Hawling for a bit of real birding. A Kestrel posed as we crossed the main road whilst the first two Stonechats were going about their morning duties. The hedgerow was full of Redwing & Fieldfare whilst there were at least two different Red Kites hunting. As we edged east we found a Red Kite sat on a fence post grooming itself, to far for a photo but it looked great in the scope. On the other side of the road we found two Corn Buntings in the same bush as 7 Linnets & 3 Yellowhammers, a cracking sight. With us feeling the effects of the freezing temperatures we headed back to home with a good mornings birding in the bag. In the afternoon I was contacted to do a interview for South West news. All in a days fun.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Annual Review :- Birding out & about in 2016

This year has been an amazing year to see birds in the UK with records surpassed, quite surprising after a very slow start to the year. By the end of the first quarter of the year I’d only recorded three new species (with none in March at all). The Autumn was awesome with me recording four new species in September & October.  My annual target of ten was past with ease in June with a flying visit for the Titchwell Great Knot. My total of recorded species for the calendar year was 254.

What is even more remarkable is I was laid low for two months of the year as I had two separate groin operations. I’m really now hoping I’m on the road to a full recovery. For the first time in 14 months I considered getting the bike out so signs are encouraging.

Here are my favourite top ten birds of 2016 taking account of the bird, the days experience & the environment. (It's not all about lifers)
1)Siberian Accentor (Easington, East Riding - October)
An epic day on the east coast saw the first main land Accentor delight thousands of twitchers & enthusiasts. Despite the crowds a perfectly timed arrival saw me get a prime spot for parking and instant views.
2)Dusky Thrush (Beeley, Derbyshire - December)
A packed car park lead us straight to the birding treat of this December. The Thrush was showing well straight over the wall from the last parking space. We managed to see the bird well in three separate location in addition to flight views.
3)Greater Spotted Cuckoo (Portland, Dorset - May)
On the eve of a few days break in Dorset with my parents this beauty was discovered. The Cuckoo, on my most wanted to see list,  thankfully hung around & was reported as I’d got within an hour of Portland. The views were fantastic & after a great session I added another lifer at Lodmoor in the shape of a Red-rumped Swallow.
4)Baird’s Sandpiper (Upton Warren, Worcestershire - September)
I had to include the Baird’s Sandpiper, just 10 minutes from home. What a superb bird. A perfectly organised twitch by Lord Belsey & it was great that a national rarity was on our doorstep. The bird was kind enough to hang around so I allowed myself the luxury of a return visit in wonderful conditions.
5) Dalmatian Pelican (Restronguet Creek, Cornwall - August)
Whether this giant of skies was accepted it was still a great bird to see in Cornwall on an enjoyable weekend based around sea watching. It took us a while to find the big fella but when we did we got great views in flight and then it sat on the island in front of us.
6) Great Knot (Titchwell, Norfolk - June)
Definatley scores points due to it’s rare status and birds always look great on Titchwell beach. Not the most of stunning individuals but certainly worth the trip east.
7) Hen Harrier (Upton Warren, Worcestershire – December )
To see a Hen Harrier at Upton Warren was awesome. It wasn’t the case of seeing one perched then flying off, this ringtail treated the locals to some amazing fly passes and certainly enabled me to take my favourite photograph of the year.
8) Common Rosefinch (Walthamstow, Greater London - July)
Fancy going to London midweek ? No was my first answer however I still took up the opportunity to jump in with Dave & Tony for a day trip to the Stow. An initial wait was rewarded with some superb views of the male Rosefinch.
9) Corncrake / White-tailed Eagle ( Iona & Mull - May)
A bit of a cheeky double here. A trip to Mull in May was just heavenly. Clear skies, great company, top hotel and amazing wildlife. Fantastic views of the eagles flying above us and Corncrake passing our feet in Iona. Memories to last a lifetime.
10) Lesser Yellowlegs (Fremington , Devon - September)
Another slice of luck with this cracker. Heading to spend a few days in Somerset (photography competition win) Roland kindly text me to advise me of the bird and chances of success was high. The assessment proved spot on as the bird was feeding some 20 metres from roadside giving terrific views.

Additional lifers......
Pallas Warbler (Cheshire), Serin (Lincs), Hooded Merganser (Wiltshire), Iberian Chiffchaff (Shropshire), Kentish Plover (Greater Manchester), Squacco Heron (Glamorgan), White Stork (Somerset), Broad-billed Sandpiper (Newport, South Wales), Red-rumped Swallow (Dorset), Collared Pratincole (Somerset), Storm Petrel (Cornwall), Purple Swamphen (Lincs), Spotted Crake  (East Riding), Isabelline Wheatear (East Riding), Siberian Stonechat (East Riding), Richards Pipit (Norfolk), Blyth’s Pipit (Somerset), Blue Rock Thrush (Glous) & the bonus of Eastern Black Redstart (Gloucestershire).

Dip of the year has to be the haunting experience of trying to see a Raddes Warbler in Norfolk during the Autumn. Someone was clearly taking the proverbial. On the plus side I did meet two new birders in Ian & Ben that I’ve been in regular contact with since.

I’m always pretty happy undertaking some of these trips on my own as it’s just more flexible and it was interesting to note that I did 13 trips solo, 6 with the Alcester Squire, 2 with Dave Johnstone (with buddies Tony & Butterfly Dave), 7 with King of Warwick Racecourse and two with Mrs D. A couple of extra places in car have been made up with others but thanks to everyone for their good spirits and banter. Remember car music is the prerogative of the driver !

Roll on 2017..........

Salford Priors GP:- Review of the year

White-fronted Geese
Bewick's Swans
Black-necked Grebe
Short-eared Owl
 Old workings
 Pink-footed Goose
 Fall of the bunds
Meadow Pipit
It’s been a year of fit’s and starts at Salford Priors Gravel Pits. The restoration moved into full swing however the December deadline will pass with at least half the main bund still present. Some of the small areas of reeds and water have gone forever but new area have also have emerged giving us some fresh hope. With over  141 species recorded we surpassed last years total even though wader passage was minimal due to high water levels in the spring and autumn.
Two new species were recorded for the first time which was a Pomarine Skua & White-fronted Geese.
January started well with the Pink-footed Goose staying until the 8th, three Shelduck, three Wigeon, 10 Gadwall, two Pintail, 80 Teal, five Shoveler, nine Pochard, 87 Tufted Duck, 11 Little Grebe, Merlin, two Peregrine, 650 Lapwing, three Jack Snipe, Redshank, seven Green Sandpipers, Yellow-legged Gull, Barn Owl and single wintering Blackcap and Chiffchaff. A flock of 1250 Lapwing were keeping company with 340 Golden Plover to the east of the village.
February saw two Goosander visit with returning Oystercatchers.  Two Brambling and a Chiffchaff were both good winter finds.
March proved to be an interesting month with a pair of Mandarin, Little Egret, Water Rail, , Little Ringed Plover (from 21st), a Jack Snipe, Redshank, Curlew (only record of year) ,Rock Pipit (27th), White Wagtail, 15 Chiffchaff and a Firecrest (28th). 
April was probably the best month of the year and thankfully the hours put in by all of us reaped some real rewards. I finally recorded by first Ring Ouzel (28th), a major relief, and one of my personal targets. The month highlights included three returning Turtle Doves, a Brent Goose (23rd), two Red Kites, Marsh Harrier (7th), two Peregrines, Hobby, Merlin (24th), Water Rail, three Great Crested Grebes, a stunning Black-necked Grebe (23rd – sites second record), two Oystercatcher, two Avocets (8th), a Ringed and six Little Ringed Plovers, 25 Golden Plover, Jack Snipe, Curlew, Whimbrel (23rd-24th), Redshank, four Green and seven Common Sandpipers, Cuckoo, two Whinchat, six Wheatear, & both White and Yellow Wagtails.
A late red headed Smew was recorded in May (10th).  I managed to miss the two Avocets yet again (7th) however my Short-eared Owl find was a personal highlight. Wader movement was limited to two Ringed and six Little Ringed Plovers, two Golden Plover (1st), a single Whimbrel (1st and 5th), two Dunlin, six Turnstone and nine Common Sandpipers. Four Black Terns (10th) & five Common Tern, a Grasshopper Warbler and three Yellow Wagtails added to a good months return.  
Treecreepers bred again in the plantation in June, whilst the Shelducks & Water Rails booth produced a brood of six that did very well in difficult circumstances. A Spotted Flycatcher was the only additional migrant. This was followed by a very quiet July of which we had regular visits by a pair of Common Tern.  
July saw confirmation of the breeding of he Little Ringed Plovers again, who seem happy to move around the site to breed,  and also one juvenile Turtle Dove was seen.
The edge was taken off my own summer holiday when the pits produced some notable August records. Mike Inskip found42 Common and 17 Black Tern.  This was followed up by Jon with a Garganey on Pophills, Red Kite, Curlew Sandpiper, 4 Little Stints, 6 Dunlin, 1 Greenshank (all main pit), 1 juvenile Med Gull (main pit), male Redstart , 2 Whinchat, Wheatear and a Grasshopper Warbler. A brood of Sparrohawks proved to be great watching throughout the month.
I finally recorded my first Greenshank in September (Stayed 5 weeks) to much relief. Jon added a brilliant Pomarine Skua to the site list, another one missed myself (must stop twitching). A Honey Buzzard was recorded at Morton Bagot & nearby Coughton so did we miss it at the pits! 17 Wigeon & two Pintail retuned indicating autumn had started. 
October gave us a mega day in the pits history as myself & Chris Lane found five adult White-fronted Geese on the main pit. A cracking record and I pleased I was able to get some excellent shots. A rare species Jon has not seen on the site. A fall of 600 Meadow Pipits proved a genuine spectacle.
Chris Lane magical year continued when we found four Bewick’s Swans on the main pit in November. Unfortunately they didn’t stay very long as they were spooked by the local Greylags so only Chris & I connected with this handsome foursome.
December has proved rather dreary as the water levels have been low to attract and different wildfowl. He shall plough on regardless. More trees are being planted on the north side of main pits which may discourage wader looking for water. I know that CEMEX were seeking advice from RSPB about these trees so you have to remain hopeful.  There is not a visit that passes when we comment how this could have been a fantastic reserve if managed by West Midland Bird Club.
Many thanks to all the regulars – Jon, Chris, Paul (Alcester Squire), Mike and Mark who kindly contributed to the sightings. With some recent new additions to the text group you never know what 2017 will bring.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Blyth’s Pipit becomes Blagdon Lake's treat from the east

 Blyth’s Pipit
 Blyth’s Pipit
 Blyth’s Pipit
 Looking east towards the dam
Stunning landscape
 Senior & Junior Buford join the locals
Not a bad place to spend a morning

With a number of lieu hours owing from earlier in the year I opted to take Tuesday off to wrap up a few Christmas jobs at home and spend a few hours in the orchards at Salford priors trying to find our own rare Thrush.

After waking up at my normal time and checking the previous evening Twitter feed it seemed a Blyth’s Pipit had been discovered at Blagdon Lake, Somerset. I had never seen one but I didn’t fancy hanging around a long grassed field hoping for a three second  look of a very shy bird. The locals reported the bird was  actually “showy” and been present for six days but it was only the previous day the ID had been confirmed. When positive news was published & with access news I thought I’d go for it.

The journey took just under two hours and given there were parked cars outside the gate I parked there as I expected it to be at capacity inside being a county first for Somerset. That was definitely a mistake as most of birders present drove inside and then round the lake to the viewing spot. On the positive note I met up with Karle Burford & his very polite son and we walked round the edge of the lake taking us about 20 minutes.

The team from Bristol water & local birders were very welcoming to everyone. These twitches can be difficult when on private land, so a huge thanks.

This was probably one of the easiest twitches of the year as soon as we reached the birders the Blyth’s Pipit was in the company of a Meadow Pipit on the shoreline. This first winter bird was quite distinctive but certainly showing signs of a long journey. The bird was very upright at times like a Richards Pipit but smaller yet ran & scampered like a Wheatear.

Quite what the Pipit made of the damp lakeside habitat & being watched by 40-50 birders we will never know however it must be far away from it's natural habitat in Mongolia for winter. 

Whilst not the most attractive bird it is certainly one I valved seeing as since I've been birding seriously there has only been one reported in Yorkshire which was really seen well in flight. Happy days........

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Last count of the year

A somewhat frustrating visit to Salford Priors on Sunday. I'd arrived pretty early and had a tough first hour trudging through the fog until Jon arrived with his magic wand to lift the gloom. Pophills was restricted to two female Wigeon, two Grey Heron, three Green Sandpipers (late morning) and the regular wildfowl. There were 295 Greylags and 110 Canada Geese feeding in the fields towards Ennister Wood with our resident Buzzard sat on the barn.

Down at the south lagoon the recently seen Stonechat wasn't playing ball however a Kingfisher, 14 Cormorant & calling Water Rail were recorded.

As we checked out the hidden pools a Raven was swooping low over the main pit causing trouble. The Common Snipe were very tough to find with just four being counted and sadly no Jack Snipe. Very grim considering we had 20+ last year. We came across six Hares and two Roe Deer. 

On the main pit there were 15 Little Grebe, 18 Mute Swan,  37 Gadwall, 92 Teal, 225 Mallard, nine Shoveler, 13 Pochard, 53 Tufted Duck, 127 Coot, eight Lapwing ,five  Common and seven Herring Gulls. 

Other highlighted sightings included a Tawny Owl being mobbed in the plantation, a Grey Wagtail, five Meadow Pipits, a Marsh Tit, Treecreeper and five Siskins and three Redpolls flying over.

Divers & waders at LLandulas

With the coast only seven miles away and the light improving we headed up to LLandulas for a couple of hours. The sea was really calm and practically flat as high tide was reached. The good viewing conditions helped us pick out six Red-throated Divers almost immediately. There was a large Common Scoter flock however the distance just stopped us getting any positive ID on any Surf Scoters which was a shame. Two Slavonian Grebes were feeding frantically and there were large numbers of wintering Great Crested Grebes. On the shoreline there were flocks of Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstones with a few Knot.

Other sightings included Meadow Pipits, Oystercatchers, Cormorants and two Grey Heron.  With the optics safely packed away we were soon heading back down the M6 in plenty of time for the final of Strictly. (Despite the rumours, the Squire wouldn't make any comment about replacing Len Goodman as head judge next year)