Saturday, 30 December 2017

Review of the year 2017

My car mechanic delivered by car back after it's MOT in late November with the line "You do some miles you do! " I did think I averaged around 15,000 a year, little did I know I'd actually clocked 26,000 between MOT's. Many thanks to all those birders I shared some great moments with throughout the year including New York, the Scillies, Scotland & Cornwall to name just a few.
Red-necked Phalarope (Brian Thompson)
Red-necked Grebe

Despite the problems at Salford Priors we still managed to record 137 species with the highlights being the Red-necked Phalarope & the Red-necked Grebe. It's been very testing throughout the year but all the teams hard work was worth it with these great birds.

In terms of new lifers I managed to add a very reasonable 27 to the total which puts me in with a chance of reaching 400 by the time I'm 50 in 2021 (original target of July 2025). May & September were the most successful months with five each, whilst Dorset recorded four lifers. On the downside, the dip list included Red-breasted Goose, Black-throated Thrush, Caspian Tern & Greenish Warbler.

Full list is as follows:-
1) Pacific Diver (Cornwall) January
2) White-billed Diver (Lincolnshire) January
3) Little Bunting (Bedfordshire) February
4) Bluethroat (Lincolnshire) February
5) Black Duck (Argyll) February
6) American Coot (Western Isles) February
7) Golden Oriole (Dorset) May
8) Short-toed Lark (Dorset) May
9) Eastern Subalpine Warbler (Dorset) May
10) Marsh Warbler (Suffolk) May
11) Savi's Warbler (Suffolk) May
12) Honey Buzzard (Yorkshire) June
13) Bee-eater (Nottinghamshire)
14) Elegant Tern (Sussex) June
15) White-rumped Sandpiper (East Yorkshire) July
16) Marsh Sandpiper (Kent) July
17) White-winged Scoter (Highlands) August
18) Stilt Sandpiper (Dorset) September
19) Least Sandpiper (Dorset) September
20) Leach's Petrel (Cheshire) September
21) Red-throated Pipit (Suffolk) September
22) Radde's Warbler (Suffolk) September
23) Scops Owl (Tyne & Wear) October
24) Rock Thrush (Gwent) October
25) Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Isles of Scilly) October
26) Wilsons Snipe (Isles of Scilly) October
27) Cory's Shearwater (Rutland) November

This year's locations have been very memorable, from the Outer Hebrides & the Highlands with the Captain to walking out in the dark to see the Elegant Tern with Tawny Owl calling, after leaving home at 1am it was definitely memorable. I managed to finish with 259 species on my year list which is my second highest to date.

1) Eastern Subalpine Warbler - Staying on the Devon & Dorset border is ideal in late May to head either way & experience a real range of habitats. Day two of my Dorset break in 2017 changed dramatically when this beauty was found at Dawlish Warren. Thankfully I was parked & marching down to the reserve within thirty minutes of the bird being found. I had some cracking views and managed to take shot above before the warbler disappeared. This was denitaley a case of right place right time as the bird was not seen again.
2) Raddes Warbler - A Saturday morning Suffolk raid was rewarded with a double thanks to a Red-throated Pipit at Landguard & then a Radde's Warbler just up the coast. Regular blog readers will know how this warbler was on my most wanted list for a long time. This Radde's is typically illusive however the Mayor & I re-found the cracker to get a short but impressive view. One of best moments of the year. 
3) Rock Thrush - Pwll-du on the Welsh border delivered an unexpected bonus in October. Early reports were negative the day after it had been found but late morning news gave us the excuse we needed to head to Wales. A dramatic landscape made the sighting even sweeter & we managed to avoid the awful weather that we drove through heading home. 
4) White-winged Scoter - A whistle stop brilliant weekend in Scotland with the Captain resulted in an addition for the year. This find was seriously difficult taking us many hours searching through thousands of sea ducks. Thankfully for us there were three other nutty birders, one whom re-found the duck to our delight. I'm already looking forward to next years barmy trip with the Captain.
5) Scops Owl - My first attempt to see this Owl ended in re-direction to Spurn as this tiny bird opted to roost elsewhere on the day I booked off to go. Thankfully it was re-found on a week I had off work so despite the long drive to Sunderland, it was great to see this unexpected surprise. The last one was back in 2007 so certainly a good bird to see.
6) Leach's Petrel - We do some mad trips as birders and driving up to merseyside in driving rain & winds was certainly up there among the maddest. This was a very memorable mornings birding in many ways. To see these Petrels at all I would have been happy but the close proximity that birds flew past feeding on top of the water was astonishing.
7) Bee-eater - Another species that was mythical for me as I was never in the right area when seen. Thankfully seven settled in Nottinghamshire which was perfect for a late afternoon twitch when news emerged. Sadly the birds didn't manage to breed but given how regular they were seen more will return next year. Certainly the most attractive bird of the year.
8) Least Sandpiper - How often do you get two lifers on same reserve ! Well this was a huge turn up in September at Lodmoor (again in Dorset) when both a Least & Stilt Sandpiper where within a very hundred metres of each other. It was a very long day but well worth it.
9) Bluethroat - I think myself & the Squire were the only UK birders never to have seen a Bluethroat prior to February. We thankfully broke this hoodoo when we caught up with a very obliging male Bluethroat at Willow Tree Fen in Lincolnshire.
10) Yellow-billed Cuckoo - A crescendo of pagers went off as headed over to St Marys for our first trip in the Scilly Isles in October. Surely we can't be this lucky ! This exhausted Cuckoo was found on St Agnes so after a quick game of drop the bags & run we went to see this shattered individual. One of my most wanted American birds to see but only figures at number 10 as the poor bird was struggling. 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Upton Warren Whooper

When updating a few records I realised I'd never seen a Whooper Swan at Upton Warren so after a very long cycle on the Christmas Eve morning I headed over for a late afternoon session.

Misty & overcast the long staying Whooper Swan did its best to avoid me sleeping on the side of an island I couldn't see from the east hide. A few gun shots from the local farm, apparently taking pot shots at Canada Geese, flushed most birds but did wake the sleeping Whooper. As I walked around from the east hide 10 Curlew fed in the A38 field whilst a male Peregrine watched from a distance.

When reaching the west hide I manage to get some great scope views of the Whooper Swan and other highlights included 7 Pochards, 2 Little Egret, Bullfinch, drake Wigeon & a calling Water Rail. 

Social media calling out Cemex

I've not really been able to find the words to blog about the gravel pits as my last visit with Jon really revealed the true devastation of the area. Whilst accepting restoration is always needed Cemex should never have moth-balled the site to save cash flow. This delay saw so many species of bird & wildlife settle only to now be completely crushed in the so called restoration. 

After Jon & I had visited the site to do the WeBS count I decided enough was enough and the work of CEMEX needed to be shown to a wider audience. Many thanks to my followers who retweeted the photos and added their own words of dismay to the actions of this blue chip company. 

The count produced the following return :- 8 Little Grebe, 11 Cormorant, 4 Grey Heron, 21 Mute Swan, 425 Greylag (site record), a Shelduck, 22 Gadwall, 127 Teal, 435 Mallard, 1 Chiloe Wigeon, 2 female Pintail, 21 Shoveler, 13 Pochard, 56 Tufted Duck, 2 male Goosander, Sparrowhawk, 133 Coot, 88 Lapwing, 85 Herring Gulls over flying SSW, 600 Wood Pigeon, 200 Fieldare in orchard, a Raven & 6 Reed Buntings.

Additional sighting from the week, care of Chris Lane & Mike Inskipp included 3 Wigeon, a Snipe, Brambling (Broom), 3 Jack Snipe (Pophills) & an excellent finch flock of Chaffinch & Linnet.

We will have to see what 2018 brings however the pools at the far end will not be checked very often due to the access & distance. 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A muddy thrush influx

Geese flocks building by the week
Thrush galore
Central lagoon
The old Reed Lagoon
 Looking back towards the main pit
Only remained reeded area remaining 
The new reed lagoon ! 
Main pit with new raised sides
Two distant Goosander on main pit
A heavy downpour late Saturday was always going to make Sundays WEBS count difficult. The paths & service road where we once walked have gone as the site has been restored (restored is the term Cemex use).

As soon as I moved into the patch boundary there were significant number of Redwings & Fieldare feeding on the last of the summer fruit & winter berries. You really know winter has arrived when you hear  the Fieldfare clicking call. Meeting Jon we headed off on our regular circle to count as much as possible.

Over looking Pophills were the regular pair of Common Buzzards whilst on the edge of the water there was a Common & Green Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail. Yet more thrushes were perched high as we walked back towards the main pit. In the main field there were over two hundred Greylag Geese including one smaller goose (as much as we tried it was still a Greylag). Three Redpoll flew south over our heads.

Total counts included 16 Little Grebe, 54 Cormorant (mostly flyovers from Ragley), 4 Grey Heron, 26 Mute Swan, 333 Greylag (more feeding at south area), 420 Canada Geese, 3 Shelduck, 6 Wigeon, 1 Pintail (south lagoon), 10 Gadwall, 48 Teal (large drop from last year), 205 Mallard, 7 Shoveler (split between areas), 54 Tufted Duck, 2 Sparrowhawk, 5 Buzzrad, 3 Kestrel, 141 Coot, 106 Lapwing, 7 Snipe, a Common Gull, Raven, two Siskins and 12 Reed Bunting.

The old reed lagoon has now been turned into a raised area which looks like it will have more trees planted in it. The two furthest south lagoons are thankfully in place still and should remain so. The one pool will in all probability become to overgrown in time. 

On our return to the main pit I picked up a pair of Goosander which was an excellent addition. After a good morning birding and a good catch up with Jon we headed to opposite directions to see if we could find any Golden Plover flocks. Neither of us did, however there were two Great Crested Grebes at Salford Priors & Jon found another 120 Lapwing at George's Elm Lane in Wixford. As I reached Dunnington a Red Kite passed flying west, this is my first record for a number of months.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Back to real gravel pit birding

 Uncommon Great Crested Grebe
 Drake Pintail
 Marsh Tit
 Blue Tit
 Coal Tit

With the site restoration now coming to a close I opted for just the one visit at the weekend. It's all very uninspiring to see the site completely flat. Large numbers of birds & mammals have all been displaced to all corners. The once glorious bunds that held breeding Grasshopper Warblers and many more species have all gone. Viewing on the main pit is very difficult as there is no cover at all for us & movement naturally unsettles the birds on the main pit.

Only Chris Lane & I have been on site in last few weeks so the chances of a late decent Autumn record has been minimal. 

Sundays highlights on a very cold morning included a Great Crested Grebe, adult Yellow-legged Gull, 7 Shoveler, 70 Lapwing, 4 Pochard, a drake Pintail & 4 Redpoll. I did venture across to Hillers on my walk where there were 2 Marsh Tit & 4 Redpoll around the garden centre.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Cory's Shearwater at Rutland Water - Honest !

Cory's Shearwater
Photos difficult with distance & light

I was all set for my normal Thursday early finish at work followed by a long bike ride when suddenly CORYS SHEARWATER - RUTLAND WATER flashed up on the phone. Surely not,was my thoughts like everyone else's. I then checked on Twitter to see a report by Leicestershire birder Andy Mackay he had found a Cory's in the North Arm of Rutland Water.

I waited another twenty minutes for photographic evidence to be on social media and I was off surging east towards the summer hot spot for Ospreys. The journey took around 1 hour 50 and regular updates looked positive until I got within 30 minutes saying 'out of site flying around peninsula'. Having cycled around Rutland I knew the area pretty well so I bypassed the fishing lane and headed through Hambleton to the end of the road.

A two minute walk and low & behold the Shearwater was flying straight past me towards the south arm with the the stunning Normanton Church in the background. How brilliant was this. I probably watched the bird for about two minutes before it went out of view. Knowing the direction of flight I jumped in the car to drove five minutes to a different spot overlooking the south arm.

There, in the distance, was the Cory's Shearwater sat on the middle of the expanse of water with Mute Swans. The scope views were excellent & the pale pinky yellow beak stood out. I did expect the bird to be slightly larger but it seemed the size of a large gull. After five minutes on the water the birders were then treated to some outstanding flight views. What was strange was the days weather was very calm and didn't really project any thoughts of seabirds being blown off course.

Highly satisfied I headed for home & not even a couple of slow local tractors blocking the road denied me of a very good afternoon in Leicestershire.

From checking the records it's only the third ever inland record for a Cory's Shearwater with the previous records being at Chasewater (Staffordshire) & one in flight over Regents Park London. 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Scilly Season Day 9 - Homeward bound

Great Northern Diver
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Ringed Plover
Unwelcome guest for lunch
Turnstone of beach outside house
Black Redstart
With an afternoon departure myself and the Squire made the most of time available in the hope of finding a last hour superstar. Seven Fieldfares flew over as we reached the highest point of the Garrison before dropping down to the coastal path where I found a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver edging out of Portcressa bay. 

Despite a real grilling we couldn't find anything else so we headed to Lower Moors to re-find the Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Hawfinch, Black Redstart & four Redpolls flying over.

The crossing back home was thankfully very calm but quite bird less until we edged into Cornish waters were sightings included 2 Balearic & a Sooty Shearwater, a flow of Kittiwakes & Auks, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and our final addition was an Arctic Skua flying our of the bay found by Paul, giving the Squire his fifth lifer of the week.

So in terms of a first visit to the Scillies did I achieve what I wanted to ? 

  • Go on a mega Scillies Twitch ✓ - The Yellow-billed Cuckoo was a great trip to St Agnes

  • See two lifers ✓ - Hopefully so with the Cuckoo & Wilson's Snipe

  • Visit all the main islands ✖ - Only walked St Marys, St Agnes & Tresco but did visit the coast of Brhyer & St Martins. 

  • Meet new friendly birders ✓ - The house was full of great characters. Many thanks to Paul, Adam, Brad, Jake & the Squire for great company throughout the week.

  • Walk 10 miles a day ✓- We certainly did, I may have dipped under that amount the day I wasn't feeling 100%.