Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Red Backed Shrike, Fairlop Waters, East London

Is there a smarter scarce visitor to our shores than an adult male Red Backed Shrike? If there is I can't think of it. This one very helpfully turned up just 20 minutes up the road too.

Arriving late afternoon there was just 3 birders on site when I arrived (inc. Dirty Dick) and that soon became one, me. I pinned the bird down and had it all to myself for about 20 minutes until Lee Brown and his Dad turned up. 

Great stuff.  

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Greater Yellowlegs Twitch - phew!

All day Friday and Saturday the Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield NNR (Hants) had typically been showing well when I couldn't go. So Sunday morning I was awaiting the news that it was still playing ball and was raring to go. By mid morning the inevitable message came though, "no sign", typical. Oh well back to the DIY. I just got out my tools, when, another message appeared " Greater Yellowlegs still"! I was quickly on the phone to Shaun and Hawky, looking for a partner in crime (I am not too keen on solo twitches thsse days). Hawky had been out bashing Rainham Marshes RSPB all morning and Shaun was also DIYing. Bugger. Back to the DIY myself. 45 minutes later, Shaun had cracked, and was on the phone. Not giving him the time to change his mind I said I'd pick him up in 15 minutes. And we were off.

 Two hours and 10 minutes later, at around 3pm, after a very smooth journey we were pulling up at the nature reserve. A departing birding advised us that the bird was showing well on the south scrape, it was looking good. We hot footed it to the visitor's centre to pay our £4 entrance fee. I popped to the loo as Shaun sorted out the money. I rushed back to be greeted by Shaun, "It flew off 15 minutes ago, message just came through to the visitor's centre on the radio"....."ffs". We weren't the only ones to arrive just too too late. We decided to head to the south scrape and hope the bird would come back. On route, we met Dave, a birder I had chatted to on previous twitches and had seen the bird fly off. He suggested we head round to a hide on the other side of the reserve, where the bird had been seen in the morning. About 1.5 miles and 25 minutes later we were in the hide, the bird wasn't there. By this time another Greaterleg-less birder, John, had joined our group. We decided to head back round to the south scrape, via another 1.5 miles and 25 minutes frog march. John suggested he head off to check another site a few miles away where the bird had been seen previously and we carry on to the south scrape. As we departed we decided to exchange phone numbers and keep each other posted.

 In the hide looking out at the south scrape it was obvious the bird was not there. After 10-15 minutes of scanning I dropped John a "no sign here" text, almost simmulataneously a text popped up " Found the bird! Call me for directions!" I advised everyone in the hide and we were off. I called John who gave us great directions. Three birders jumped into the back of my car and we zoomed off up the road. Ten minutes later we were speed walking to find John. He gave the thumbs up as we approached, the bird was asleep on the flash, c80 yards in front of us. After a few minutes it decided to play ball, woke up and provided great scope views. Phew. The walk back to the car was much more relaxed, with plenty of metaphorical back slaps etc. We dropped everyone back their cards, all shook hands on a good job done. Many thanks, particularly to birder John for the news. It's good to talk!

Not our bird but one on Sanibel Island, Florida (2013)  

Monday, 11 May 2015

Here's what I have been up to in recent weeks

Around three weeks ago Shaun Harvey and I made a dash after work to Bowers Marsh RSPB for a pair of Blacked winged Stilts. These birds are becoming very regular with it becoming quite straight forward to catch up with them each year. Two birds showed quite distantly as the sun set.  

I spent much of April visiting the stone barges area of Rainham Marshes which proved to be quite rewarding with numerous Wheatear, Hobby and 2 early Cuckoos.

The first big twitch in a while came at the start of May with news that Britain's 3rd Hudsonian Godwit was still at Meare Heath in Somerset. Five of us crammed into the new Braddersmobile for the three hour drive. Mega ticked we also bagged Bittern and at least 3 Great White Egrets before finding a local pub for a celebratory pint and lunch. On the way home we had a quick stop off for my 6th UK Green Winged Teal.    

I spy with my little eye something beginning with H

Yesterday, Hawky and i decided to go south to the south coast hoping to connect with the now long staying and very erratic Greater Yellowlegs. The bird is being seen every now and then at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire, but when it does show it seems to be available all day. We placed ourselves at Thursley common to await news. We did get news, but it was not about about our bird. Britain's first mainland Citril Finch has been found in north Norfolk. We were 30 minutes walk from the car and around 3.5 hours drive from north Norfolk, plus a good 30 minute walk the other end to Burnham Overy dunes. 

The decision was made. Thursley was cracking, we'd spend the day birding (not driving) and hope the Greater legs would reappear. We'll half of our plan worked. We walked miles and had great views of all the key heathland species, including: 7 Dartford Warblers, 4 Redstart (3 males), Tree Pipit, 2 Nightingales and a number of showy singing Woodlarks.                 

Dartford Warbler  


Tree Pipit


I took all my gear to work today hoping the Citril Finch would do the decent thing and allow an after work twitch however it was not to be. Hopefully we'll  connect with the Greater Yellowlegs before too long. Watch this space.     

Monday, 9 March 2015

Brecks Birding

At last a full day out birding. Free time has been pretty scant so far this year, with opportunities to get out and spend some time birding limited. But Sunday I was free and I wanted to see birds, so where better to head on a sunny March day than the Brecks.

First stop was at the usual Stone Curlew site just off the A1065 but alas none could be located. A short hop up the road and we were at Lynford Arboretum. Here we had much more joy with at least 3 possible 4 Hawfinch providing good scope views as they fed on the floor among the fallen leaves. Brambling and Nuthatch showed well on the feeders and we were now on a roll.

Next we headed to Santon Downham where we had all too brief views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, before heading off to look for the long staying Great Grey Shrike. A lovely walk along the river adding Grey Wagtail and Kingfisher to the day list, before we arrived in the area we believed the shrike favoured. We walked along the river bank scanning fence lines and bushes without realising the bird was actually in a tree just in front of us, only noticing it when we accidentally flushed it just 30-40 yards in front of us. We spent the next 30 minutes watching as it caught plenty of beetles, all on our own, not a person in sight. It certainly was nice to have the bird to ourselves, quietly enjoying it.        

Marsh Tit

We headed to the local Goshawk view point which proved disappointing. Distant views were had which we were not happy with. We headed a mile up the road hoping to find a better view point and luckily managed to get one half decent view of a bird having a disagreement with a circling Buzzard.

The weather had now turned. It was windy, overcast and the temperature was steadily dropping. We ended the day at Mayday Farm, which was full of mountain bikers and walkers and empty of birds! We spent our final hour at the drinking pool watching common species at close quarters coming down to drink, hoping we'd be treated to a Crossbill, but it was not to be.        

I'm looking forward to many more bird filled days out in the near future.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

First tick of 2015 - you're having a laugh!

I am off and running. After dipping the Little Bastard on 02/01/15 it has taken 6 weeks to get on the tick trail (BOU 411). Lee (indoorstoomuch) and I have a pretty good twitching record (apart from the bustard) although that day we still got the Blyth's Pipit, which wasn't  a tick for me, but was a very good bird and a tick for Lee.   

Fifteenth of Feb is my birthday (yes today!) and a year ago on my birthday Lee and I headed north to Newcastle and connected with the Yellow Rumped Warbler that had been found on the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. A year later, I got a pass from the Mrs to go out all day on Valentine's Day, and head to the north west. 4 hours after leaving home I found myself in New Brighton, Liverpool, within 100 yards of where I had spent some considerable hours looking for and not seeing a Little Swift a few years back. This time it was much more straightforward. 

We pulled up at the marina and there it was flying past the car. It disappeared for 20 minutes or so but then it was back posing for the birders who had come to see it. We watched it at close quarters for around 1.5 hours before heading off on the trail on more yanks.      

Two hours later we were in Nottinghamshire, thankfully half way home, where we spent around 1.5 hours with a few locals scanning at distance hundreds of Wigeon looking for a yank one. It must have been there but despite trawling through them over and over (and over) again, we could not locate it.

Next stop, Northants for a Ring Necked Duck. If the American Wigeon was tough, this yank was a bordering on impossible. We stopped for around 10 minutes viewing ducks from around 1/2 a mile through trees when we gave up and decided it was a waste of time.

Happy with the gull we headed home, satisfied with  our day's efforts. Hopefully the next tick wont be too far away and I am already wondering if I'll get another tick next year for my 48th birthday.            

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Little Bastard

Yorkshire and in particular East Yorkshire has been very hit and miss for me in terms of connecting with rare birds. A round trip from Essex/east London is a good 9 hours in the car and well over 400 miles so a twitch that far north has to carefully considered. In facr my first three twitches to East Yorks, all, yes ALL/100%, ended in dips. Pechora Pipt, Brown Shrike and Brown Flycatcher all ended in disappointment,  but at least I have seen a Brown Shrike (London) and Pechora Pipit (Unst, Shetland) since. My last two adventures to East Yorks have actually been very successful with a memorable twitch for Ivory Gull and just a few months ago, Masked Shrike, so when a Little Bustard showed up on New Year's Eve I was up for another long trip north.

My partner in crime on this occasion was Lee Brown. I could go on 1st Jan but had plans to see the New Year in with my family and close friends Jack Daniels and Stella, and anyway, I doubted it would still be there the next day, so it was decided, if it was still there at dusk on 1st Jan we'd be there for first light on the 2nd. I was toying with going on news but that is equally risky with limited day light hours at this time of year and it being a pig of a journey when jo public have gotten out of bed and are on their way to some shopping mall or other.

The added bonus of the trip was in the form of a mega eare Blyth's Pipit 90 minutes from the Bustard site in West Yorkshire. Easy, tick the Bustard by 9am, see the Pipit by midday and be on the way home by early afternoon.

Lee picked me up at 4am. I think I had about 30 minutes sleep so felt terrible, not helped by a cold that had been passed to me by my Mrs. Four and a half hours later via a trip the wrong way over the Humber Bridge we arrived on site. Already in position around 100 very cold birders. It didn't look good. Scopes scanned the field the bird was last seen in from all angles.  If it was there surely it would be obvious.  A very cold hour later it was obvious.  The bird was gone, dead, who knows. Bollocks.

We headed to the pipit site for a consolation prize. The Blyth's Pipit is very rare. I have seen one previously on Scilly in 2008 I think. The bird was supposed to be easy. Roll up, see bird, take some pictures and go home. On arrival we were told it had not been seen for a while since it flew to cover.  We set about refinding it. Checked various sites from various angles. No good. 90 minutes later we'd had enough.  Walking back to the car the group of birders huddled by the KFC appeared to actually be looking at something.  They were. The pipit was showing. We got in place and waited and there it was, standing proud in the wispy grass. Lee was not able to see it so I quickly called for him to move to where I was positioned. Out it popped again and showed well briefly. Thank bleep for that.

And that was that.  worth a mention is a nice a touch made by the KFC staff who provided free hot chocolate to the freezing birders, which went down well.

And finally,  as the day wore on I heard rumours from a few people that the farmer who owned the field that the Bustard had been in had deliberately flushed the bird after dark after poor behaviour from a small minority of birders on site the previous day, including blocking the  entrance to his farm with inconsiderate parking and then his wife being verbally abused when she asked for the car/s to be moved. Who knows if this is true. If it is I just wish he'd told people he was going to do it to save me a long journey and another East Yorkshire dip.
Crowd at the Blyth's Pipit Site

A Bustard free zone

Sunday, 9 November 2014

If you do not like Desert Wheatears, look away now

Go see a Desert Wheatear down to 20 feet or spend  5 hrs in the car to tick a roosting gull (Franklins) - no choice really. Desert Wheatear smart, Gull boring. Hawky and I waited on news before heading to Reculver, Kent to pap the smart showy bird.  

The wheatear (my 3rd in the UK) showed fantastically well as you will see below. I have to warn you there is Desert Wheatear overload below, so be warned. It was a shame it was overcast and dull but you can't have everything.


Not a Desert Wheatear phhoto - Shore Lark