Monday, 31 August 2009

The Fea's Factor

We arrived at Porthgwarra car park around 1am. Luckily JL has a Ford Galaxy that with the seats folded away creates a decent sized sleeping space. Stuart had brought a small tent that he set up on the grass and by 1.30am JL was snoring away and I was lying there wondering what mega we would see tomorrow. I always get a bit excited the night before a birding trip and can't sleep and this was no exception. I managed about an hour and a half before the alarm woke us too early at 5.30am so we grabbed another hour before getting up and ready for a day's sea watching. By 6.45am we had carried all our gear for the day up to our viewing position, seats, food, kettle etc and were in position and were staring out at the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. We had expected quite a crowd as the weather conditions looked promising but surprisingly there was only 1 person there.

The day started well with constant traffic of Sootys and Manxs. We didn't have to wait long for our first real excitement. Probably having been there less than an half an hour JL shouts "large shearwater!" But what was it? Well to be honest we are not 100% sure. Stuart having some experience of Cory's Shearwaters counts out Cory's. We decide it almost has to be a Great Shearwater (life tick 355) as it dwarfed the Manx is helpfully sheared past and was too dark for a Cory's.

The next four or so hours we were fed a constant procession of Manxs (150 ish), Sootys (30+) and Storm Petrels (35+) and a large Basking Shark feeding along the shore line below us was a life first for Stuart.

At about 10.30am experienced Cornwall sea watcher Martin Elliot joined us and we chatted about Black Browed Albatross's and what he thought our large shearwater was earlier from our description. He was pretty sure it sounded like a Great Shear too. The pleasant chit chat however all came to an abrupt end at just gone 11.20am:

ME (that's Martin Elliot not me) "Great Shearwater! Heading towards Runnel Stone from the left. Hang on, f*ck me, it's a Fea's! It's a f*cking Fea's Petrel! Is everyone on it? Fea's Petrel!"
(life tick 356)

Luckily we had all had our scopes trained on the very spot as we had been watching a steady stream of Storm Petrels in tha area. We had good continuous views for a couple of minutes as it slowly sheared over the ocean and eventually out of site.

After high fives were exchanged all round, calls and texts were made back to our birding buds back home so they could share in our good news! Well something like that

A "lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky bastard" according to Hawky

We were over the moon. All the effort to get there had paid off. Within 2 hours we were fog bound and sea watching was no longer an option. We twitched the Citrine Wagtail at Marazion which was just a 20 minute drive away. The bird had not been seen for a few hours so rather than stand there chatting we decided to go and look for it. This was almost a big mistake. We followed what we thought was a circular path which in fact took us further and further away from where we wanted to be. Eventually we climbed a stile and found ourselves on a main road a good 2 miles from where we had been. We started the long walk back when the pager bleeped to tell us "Citrine Wagtail showing well exactly where you had been standing, you idiots!" The pace quickened to by the time we got back to the entrance to the reserve we were jogging. Luckily we made it back and had very good views of the bird (life tick 357) for just a couple of minutes before it flew a short distance out of sight and I believe it was not seen again that day. Phew!
Pic borrowed from Surfbirds (not mine) With thanks to Brian R Field

It was time to head home. The weather was now very poor. We stopped in Devon (Beer Head) for Wryneck, but we could not even find Beer Head let alone a Wryneck. Anyway who cares, I had 4 life ticks that I did not have 2 days ago and one of them was a Fea's Petrel! My target of a 360 life list by the end of 2009 now looks much more likely after such a cracking weekend.

Ground Tern Day

Having been away for a few days in Wales I did not think that I would be leaving again for a sea watching trip to Cornwall within 2.5 hours of arriving home. Fellow birder Jonathon Lethbridge (see had hatched a plan to do a sea watch from Porthgwarra as the south westerlies looked promising. I must admit I felt a bid bad walking out the door just a couple of hours after arriving home but permission was granted and I was going. I had about 30 mins to get together everything I needed and by 5pm we were on the M25 heading to Farmoor Resevoir which I had left approximately 4.5 hours earlier. Joining us was Stuart a Wanstead based birder JL had recently met on the flats.

All 3 blackish terns were duly seen again and with the sun setting rapidly we continued on our way south west via a supermarket for essential provisions, beer and snacks, and a fish and chip shop.

Tern Tick Tastic

Last week I took the kids to Wales to see, feel and live some of their family history. Staying with Cousins in Neath we had a great couple of days in particular the visit to Big Pit. I know this is supposed to be a birding blog but just a few words about this great place first.

At Big Pit you get to see what is was like to be a miner over the last couple of hundred years and what terrible conditions they were forced to work in. Firstly you travel down 300 feet in the cage to the tunnels then take a guided tour of the mine shafts, it's really interesting and educational (especially if you have a family history based around mining).

Anyway luckily the evening before I was due to come home from South Wales to London the American Black Tern was located at Farmoor Resevoir in Oxfordshire, very conveniently about half way home. It was either stop at services on the M4 and pay £5 for a crap sarnie or knock up a packed lunch and stop off for the tern. Choices, choices!

By midday we were at Farmoor Res and ticking American Black Tern (life list 355). Seeing it with WWBT and Black Tern in the same scope view was a real help on the ID front. We continued home via the M40 and 11 Red Kites arriving home mid afternoon. Little did I know at this stage I would be back at Farmoor within 4 hours on the way to Cornwall!

"Which one of the dots is it Dad?"

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I like this pic - Caper - somewhere in Scotland March 2009

No real reason for adding this digiscoped picture other than I really like it. Nice one Hawky.

Wood Sands at Dagenham Chase - Just!

Picture by finder Vince HF - thanks!

Luckily last night I had about 50 minutes spare between getting home from work and going out for the evening. Just enough time to twitch the pair of Wood Sands at The Chase, as I call it. A 10 minute drive and 5 minute walk later I was at The Slack but initial scans failed to spot anything resembling Wood Sands. Moving location I spotted Vince crouching low digiscoping so moved into position. I still could not see them though until they walked out from behind some reeds closer than where I had been looking. They showed well for all of 5 minutes before all of a sudden they were up and and off and obviously not coming back as they disappeared into the distance. Hawky missed them 5 minutes. Back to the car and home, the whole twitch took about 50 minutes. Phew.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Blast from the past - Oriental Pratincole Twitch

Me, Hawky, Jamie and Shaun

During the school summer holidays I had planned to take Jamie (9) out for the evening to look for his first Nightjar. We were to head to the Suffolk/Norfolk border with Hawky, Bradders Jnr and the Leth. Around lunch time however plans had to be hastily changed as the Oriental Pratincole originally found and ID’d as a Collared in West Sussex had re appeared at Dungeness, Kent. A few calls from Bradders Jnr to contacts were made to find a possible Nightjar site in Kent. By 5pm we were on the road. Shaun joined me, Jamie and Hawky in the monkey mobile for the one and half hour journey. Luckily the QE2 bridge was not too bad and the pager kept informing us the bird was still there. By 7pm we were ticking the Praticole and slapping each other on the back. Bradders Jnr and The Leth were not far behind. I tried throwing stones at it to scare it off before they could arrive but my aim was off that night.

Next we went in search of Nightjar. We had two in flight at dusk and as the light dimmed they could be heard all around us. We also had an albino Fallow Deer that freaked us out a bit at a distance but the highlight of the evening was hearing something running through the woods towards us getting louder and louder and it came closer and closer. There were a few squeaky bums as we all pretended not to be a little scared of the apparent mad wild killer two tonne bull that was approaching at 100mph. All of a sudden we realised it was not in fact a mad wild killer bull or an escaped lunatic from Broadmoor but in fact a badger. The night was rounded off with a glow worm and a calling Tawny Owl.

A lovely sssssssssummers day at Rainham Marshes

"Er, try closing the other eye"

Saturday afternoon saw the extended blow monkey family visit Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve. Our 3 year old nephew Bradley joined Jamie (9) and Sophie (11) on his first trip around the reserve. I knew it would be quiet bird wise but it wasn’t our feathered friends we were looking for. We were on the look out for Grass Snakes!

Jamie had seen his first Adder just a few days earlier when one rather stupidly slithered in front of the car whilst my wife Julia was driving down a country lane in deepest Essex. Luckily she avoided squishing it and creating the world’s thinnest Zebra/Adder crossing.
A smart Hobby was the only bird of note that we saw on route to the target pools where we guessed we would have the best chance of seeing a snake. And we were right!
All along the board walks to the south of the reserve fantastically coloured Marsh Frogs with golden eyes called and occasionally gave us a view. Reaching the targets I immediately l saw the head of a Grass Snake with its distinct white marking on the back but Jamie missed it. He didn’t have to wait long for another one. Over the next ten minutes or so we had five snakes all in the same area; four were pretty small with one much larger adult. Two Marsh Frogs also showed really closely in the open here.

Another lone Grass Snake was seen off the board walk around Aveley Pools to bring the total to 6 in one visit. The only other thing of note we saw was a lovely piece of home made cake back at the visitors centre that rounded off a great couple of hours out with the family.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The most expensive sausages in the world

On Saturday I hosted a moth night BBQ. This was not some sort of cruel bush tucker challenge. It was in fact a night of boozing in my garden with 16 or so fellow birders and friends followed by a moth trapping session.

The day did not start well. Rather than buy sausages and burgers from my local supermarket I opted for the tastier option of using my local butchers. They may be a bit more expensive but its worth it. Unfortunately, as it turned out my trip to the butchers didn't turn out to be "worth it". I parked my car as usual and walked the 100 yards to the butchers. In a time quicker than Bradders could be in his car from the time his pager mega alerted, I had my car clamped! I was away from my car for less than 5 minutes. W*nkers. Anyway after much swearing at my friendly tattoed clampers, I paid the £300 extortion fee and they got back on their horses, shouted Yee Ha and rode off into the sunset to mug some other defenceless law abiding citizen. I have since complained to Trading Standards and contacted my local councillor and MP. Trading Standards were worse than useless, my councillor (not that sort of councillor!) was been very sympathetic and my MP James Double Barreled La-De-Dah Tory Boy, is yet to acknowledge my email, but to be fair he is probably busy draining his moat or getting his cravat and smoking jacket dry cleaned at my expense so I'll give him another day or two. You'll just have to wait and see which one of these pillars of our great British establishments actually does something to protect those of us who are law abiding etc against the scummy, pikey b*stards of our society who seem to be taking over and getting away with it. I'm sorry if you find the term "pikey" offensive but the home-made tattoes and hedgehog cooked in clay sandwiches gave them away. By the way has anyone seen my fishing tackle ?

Anyway onto a positive note. As the light faded, the moth trap was set up (Thanks H). Bellies full of £25 burgers, £15 sausages and £4.99 red wine we watched and waited hoping for a something exciting, and eventually we got just that; a glorious Red Underwing. (photo courtesy of Hawky), I was busy urinating in a wardrobe somewhere I think. Needless to say, the hangover was not great the next morning. Thank God there was nothing that needed twitching as I am not sure I could have got out of the skip that early in the morning.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

You Just Can't Win

I fully understand that I get to go out and do what ever I want to do more than my fair share of times. If I am not twitching something or out birding, I am, between August and May, watching West Ham Utd. I have been attending most home matches since 1983, have been to almost 60 away grounds and have had a season ticket for the last 18 years. I have quickly come to the conclusion that something had to give. 2 years ago I started sharing my season ticket with a friend to cut the number of games down by half and after much deliberation and soul searching I have decided not to renew my West Ham season ticket for the forthcoming season. Not only does this save me a few quid but more importantly it means I can concentrate on birding and spending some time with my family.

On Saturday whilst trying to justify to my wife why I wanted to go back to Norfolk for the 3rd time in 9 days to hopefully see the Great Spotted Cuckoo, Sophie my daughter added to the discussion, not knowing I had ditched my beloved West Ham,:

Sophie: Why don't you choose between birding and football, that would be fair

Me: (thinking well said Sophie) In fact Soph I have not renewed my season ticket so I wont be going West Ham any more, so I have done exactly that and chosen birding, I as I realise it is a bit too much doing both

My wife Julia looked up from where she was sitting and said very matter of factly "You chose the wrong one".

Monday, 3 August 2009

Dip Dip Hooray

Yesterday morning at 7.20am I somehow found myself walking along the path at Kelling hoping I was about to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo for the 3rd time in 9 days. I had about 3 hours sleep Friday night whilst camping with Jamie at the scouting Dads and lads night and could really have done without another 4.30am alarm call. Amazingly as per usual with an early start for a twitch I still managed to wake up before the alarm went off. My wife Julia was not overly impressed that yet again I was disrupting our weekend plans for a twitch so I promised to be back around lunch time to at least salvage some sort of family life in the afternoon.

This time fellow dipper from last week Shaun drove, which was a shame really as I was hoping to test my theory that my car would be able to find its own way there . Very helpfully the M25 was shut and we had to take a cross country route via Chelmsford to join the M11 at Stanstead. Luckily Shaun managed to make up time with some top level rally driving.

Anyway, back to Kelling. As we pulled into the car park two birders were driving out. Surely this was a good sign. They wouldn't be leaving unless they had seen it? Then I remembered how confident I was 9 day ago as I walked with Jamie from the car at Salthouse, big grin on my face, just for it all to be dashed as we missed it by seconds. All of a sudden I had convinced myself it would all go wrong again .

The long walk along the path to the beach seemed to go on forever. No other birders were seen. Ah, another good sign, they must all be looking at the bird, or, oh no, looking for the bird. I bet it's disappeared again, I convinced myself.

Eventually we reached a surprisingly small gathering of half a dozen birders to be told the good news that the cuckoo had been showing well and had just dropped out of sight from a bush about 75 yards ahead of us, and not to worry it will soon be back. Not to worry! Are they mental? Anyway, our confident new birder friends were right and after just a few anxious minutes a Great Spotted Cuckoo (life tick 353) was back sitting up nicely in the bush in front of us. Yes! We watched it on and off for around 30 minutes at times down to 50 yards. Unfortunately it did not sit still for long enough to allow any decent digiscoped shots so my blog still remains photo-less. Shame, but I didn't care, we had seen the bird and were both very happy and relieved.

With cuckoo ticked, bagged etc by 8am this allowed us the luxury of a long route home via Breydon for a quick go at the now Pacific Golden Plover. Surely it wasn't going to be a 2 tick morning!

An hour or so later we pulled into the Asda car park and headed the short distance to a group of 20+ birders all staring at the same patch of undergrowth where we were reliably told they had seen the PGP disappear into an hour ago. Checking the time I had no more than 45 minutes before we had to leave. After 45 minutes of fruitless checking it was time to go, ploverless.

A painfully slow 2.5 hour journey home down the A12 was interrupted by a call from Bradders Jnr to inform us the PGP had reappeared not where we were looking but approximately 1/2 a mile further around the path and exactly where the said Mr B had said it would be. Due to my tight timescale I just didn't have the time to search properly but to be honest as much as I would have loved my 2nd lifer in 3 hours I was just so pleased to have seen the cuckoo (at last) that the plover would just have to live to see another twitch.

I don't think I'll be rushing back up to Breydon in a hurry. It's a real pain in the backside of a drive and it's not exactly the most scenic of spots.

What odds that if it is there next week, that I'll be there too!

Monkey's list of things - HE ACTUALLY DID THIS WEEKEND

Take Jamie on the annual Scouting Dads and lads camping trip on Friday night - Yes

Take the boys fishing for a few hours on Saturday morning/early afternoon - Yes

Find out the Great Spotted Cuckoo has re appeared in North Norfolk.

Get text from Shaun and decide much to my wif’e’s annoyance to go back up to North Norfolk for the 3rd time in 9 days to try and see a Great Spotted Cuckoo

Get home mid afternoon unpack camping gear and get ready to go out Saturday night – Sort of - replace with chuck camping gear in the shed and get scope, bins and camera ready by the front door

Go out to friends house for dinner Saturday night, have a few beers (and worry about how the hell I am going to get up at 4.30am after having approximately 3 hours sleep the night before, so leave at 10pm)

Take garden rubbish stuff to the tip on Sunday morning – No - Replace with - Go to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo in North Norfolk

Sort out garden furniture in preparation for BBQ at ours next weekend late morning Sunday - No - Replace with – Dip a Pacific Golden Plover at in Great Yarmouth

Either a) do some food shopping or b) change name by Deed Poll to Mrs Hubbard – Hello Let me introduce myself ; Hubbard’s the name, Monkey Hubbard.

Visit both sets of parents as not seen them for a few weeks as been too busy dipping Great Spotted Cuckoos
Hmm - Replace with – phone parents to see how they are and dig out photos to remember what they look like

Take the kids to play badminton as I have been promising for a few weeks but unfortunately a certain Mr G S Cuckoo had booked all the courts No - Replace with – Promise to take kids badminton next week …again!

Monkey's List of Things to do this weekend

Take Jamie on the annual Scouting Dads and lads camping trip on Friday night

Take the boys fishing for a few hours on Saturday morning/early afternoon

Have BBQ at camp site for lunch

Get home mid afternoon unpack camping gear and get ready to go out Saturday night

Go out to friend's house for dinner Saturday night, have a few beers and chill out

Take garden rubbish stuff to the tip on Sunday morning

Sort out garden furniture in preparation for BBQ at ours next weekend late morning Sunday

Either a) do some food shopping or b) change name by Deed Poll to Mrs Hubbard

Visit both sets of parents as not seen them for a few weeks as been too busy dipping Great Spotted Cuckoos

Take the kids to play badminton as I have been promising for a few weeks but unfortunately a certain Mr G S Cuckoo had booked all the courts