Thursday 8 December 2011

Woodcock at Canning Town tube station - RIP

I was surprised to find this fleshly dead Woodcock on the platform of Canning Town underground station yesterday afternoon, at 3pm!!! There was no glass nearby, so I guess it had hit a incoming train?

Monday 5 December 2011

Jam tastic weekend away in Norfolk - Western Sandpiper

Back in the summer when we booked a weekend away in early December in north Norfolk for my daughter's 14th birthday, little did I think at the time I'd be jamming in on a mega rarity. This is the 3rd time this year I have been back to the cottage, in Thornham. The first time involved a week away over Easter, and tickwise it went horribly wrong. During that one week I missed out on 2 life ticks elsewhere; Little Crake and Black Stork; 2 birds I have yet to catch up with.

So last Thursday when the Semi-P that had been present for a few days at Cley, firstly changed from a Semi-P to a poss Western, then onto a definite Western Sandpiper, I was thanking Jammyious Dodgerus (the Roman god of, er, jamming in on birds), that the little yank would hang on for at least 12 hours so I could get there.

At 7.30am Friday I arrived at Cley in twighlight, and walked the short distance to the hides. There was probably 50 or so birders already there spread quite evenly between the 3 hides and luckily, the bird was on show in front of the hide i opted for first, feeding frenetically, with Dunlin. In poor light it was not easy to get any photos as you will see. There I was Sibley in one hand trying to pick out the key featues to confirm why it was a Western and not Semi-P when a Merlin shot through, putting everything up. The small group of Dunlin (and the sandpiper) relocated on a small island much further away and directly under the sun, which was now just above the horizon. Everyone started chatting as is the way and no one noticed a small flock of waders flying low past to the next pool. Well everyone but me that is, as I was Billy no mates that morning, I was actually checking out the teal to try and locate the one with the vetical stripe to grip off Hawky, so followed the birds and relocated the Western Sand. Off I went to the next hide to get a better view, unfortunately, this hide was much more packed, especially after the bird had just flown in. So after cranning my neck for a further 10 minutes I decided to call it quits and head home, for a well deserved fry up! Tick and run!

The weekend didn't produce any other suprises birdwise. One trip to Titchwell failed to produce the Yellow Browed Warbler. I picked up a Tawny Owl beside the road on the way up and late afternoon on Friday, a Barn Owl provided cracking views for the family, as it hunted close to the road. Oh and of course thousands and thousands of Pink Feet provided the usual daily spectacle.

Saturday 26 November 2011

In Bruge

A few pics from my visit to the beautiful city of Bruge, Belgium, with work mates: Ray, Michael, Cheryl, Laura, Debbie and Lisa.

Swan Lake

Not all special offers are as good as they may initially seem!

They must have known I was coming

Lisa, Cheryl and Laura

Debbie, Lisa, Laura and Cheryl

Monday 21 November 2011


I might be able to build a replica of the solar system but I still can't work out how to use bloody HTML, as my previous blog entry clearly demonstrates!

The wonders of the solar system

So what did you do on the weekend? After twitching the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper on Saturday, Sunday was a a family day. Jamie had been asking me for a few days to help him with a science project that had to be in, today, Monday.

The task was to build a replica (not to scale!) of the solar system. Easy, I thought, no problem. Off to the Hobby Craft we went to buy various sized polystyrene balls to use as planets. I already have loads of coloured paints for MY art project, but that's a story for another time.

We spent the first couple of hours painting the planets and letting them dry, cunningly fashioning Saturn's rings from a circular cheese spread box. At this point we still had no idea how to display them, as they had to be in the right order from the sun. Plan A was to slot them onto a number of rods pushed though the sun, but a trip to B&Q and Homebase failed to produce anything anywhere near what we needed. We needed a plan B. After much head scratching we came up with plan C; use the cardboard tray that our newly bought fridge had been sitting in; at approximately 1m square, we could paint it black as a back drop. I was worried that the paint wouldn't dry in time to start putting it together, so with a slight alteration to plan C(a), we taped black bin liners to the inside of the cardboard tray.

Next we had to work out a way to display the planets. Thinking back to my Blue Peter watching days, it soon came to me. Egg cartons! Off we went to buy a dozen eggs, and were soon back cutting up the box to leave 10 cup shaped holders to place the planets in. First of all, we had to paint them black and let them dry, an hour later we were ready to start assembling the piece. Each painted holder was glued into the appropriate position, and allowed to dry.

While allowing for the glue to dry, here's a quick test for you. Now come on, no cheating. Name the planets in the correct order, nearest the sun first.

Got it? Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and for this project's purposes Pluto, that is no longer, as you no doubt know, officially a planet.

With the glue dried, the planets were placed in position. All that was left to do was to compile a table of extra information for each planet; distance from the sun, orbit time, revolve time, surface temperatures etc, all researched, typed out and stuck down. And that was that. Well sort of. The model was so big that there was no way Jamie could get that to school on a bus. So my final act of helping out was to drive him to school this morning. All I can say is I hope I, sorry Jamie, gets a deserved A+. It only took a mere 7.5 hours, but it was worth it!

Voila! Who needs Doctor Brian Cox!

Saturday 19 November 2011

Sharp Tailed Sand Bagged!

Wow what a morning! With me and Bradders Jnr still needing Sharp Tailed Sandpiper we couldn't resist the lure of the 1st juv of this species since 1975. With Bradders needing to be back by 2pm we set off early to get to Blagdon Reservoir, Somerset, for 1st light. We were joined by big listers John Archer and Rich Bonser, who had between them seen more Sharp Taileds than I had ha hot dinners, but they had not seen a juv in this country.

We arrived at Blagdon at around 7.45am ( journey approx 2.5 hours) to be told there was no sign. Bugger. There were around 30 - 40 birders on site already, so we had a quick look around from the car park, bagging Red Crested Pochard, Long Tailed Duck and Goosander, before deciding to head to the other end of the reservoir to refind our sandpiper! Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but Bradders quickly found the Ring Necked Duck and John a Ring Billed Gull, and there were 8 Bewick Swans too! All amounting to a strong supporting cast, but where was the headline act!

It was now 9am, we had about an hour before we had to start thinking about heading home. Bradders and I headed back to the car, as John and Rich headed off in the opposite direction to try and get better views of the Ring Billed Gull. 10 minutes later we were in the car when the pager bleeped: SHARP TAILED SANDPIPER - CHEW VALLEY RESERVOIR!!

The tyres screeched as we zoomed up the winding lane trying to find the others. 2 minutes later we were all in the car, doing a u-turn and heading the short distance (2-3 miles max) to Chew Valley.

We pulled up to find out it had just a few moments earlier flown out of sight. A adult Spotted Sandpiper had also been there until a few minutes earlier but had also just flown. Nooooo. More and more people began to arrive to swell the numbers to over 100. Another 30 minutes passed and still it had not been relocated. Then, "There it is!" said someone, direction were shouted 1 or 2 people got onto it. I managed a fleeting glimpse though someone else's scope before it walked out of sight again. Aaargh. And Bradders and John had not seen it yet! A few minutes later a small flock of Dunlin wheeled into sight and plonked themselves down out in the open, and there it was, in amongst them, providing much better, and longer views. Phew.

Monday 7 November 2011

Short Eared Owl - Rainham

A late afternoon trip to Ferry Lane, Rainham, eventually produced a smart Short Eared Owl, hunting at twilight over the silt lagoons. Hopefully I'll enjoy many more of these lovely birds over the coming winter months. Unfortunately it was far too dark for pics by the time it was seen.

It was also really good to meet fellow birder, Marco, for the first time and discover after a brief chat, a family connection. Well, sort of.

Monday 17 October 2011

Cliffe Cracker - Isabelline Shrike

The ticks are coming thick and fast now; that's 4 in 2 weeks! Feeling decidedly unwell today I called in and booked a day off leave. After a couple of emergency visits to the bathroom, I was lying in bed feeling quite sorry for myself, when a text from Hawky read: Issy Shrike still there! Refering to the adult male bird at Cliffe in Kent. With Cliffe just 40 mins or so from home, and I had not been sick for over an hour, that was it, I was off.

The bird was showing immediately on arrival 100+ yards away, just a tad too far for good photos. The pics below certainly do not do this stunner justice. Perched, fanning its lovely chestnut tail and flashing its black mask it really was a little cracker, and BOU tick 386 for me (UK400 no 399). If I can fluke an unexpected tick or 2 over the remaining months of 2011, then perhaps I can reach the BOU milestone of 400 next year. Who knows, I'll enjoy trying though!

Sunday 16 October 2011

Booted Warbler in the bag - literally!

Hot on ther heels of yesterday's Raddes Warbler seen in the hand at Weybourne in north Norfolk, today I was lucky to see this stunning Booted Warbler at close quarters, at Landguard, Suffolk. Not much more I can say, than superb!

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Monday 10 October 2011

Woodchat Shrike, Lowestoft, Suffolk

A few pics of the very showy juv Woodchat Shrike at Lowestoft, Suffolk.

A male Brambling adding a splash of colour to proceedings.

Please move along - there's nothing to see here

For each of the last 4 years, a few of the lads have had a week or long weekend away in October. Last year it was Shetland, and the 3 previous years it was Scilly. This year myself, Shaun, Hawky, dirty twitcher Jono and Dave Mo were off to Norfolk!

With south westerly winds off the Atlantic hitting our shores for the last gazillion weeks; American megas have been tripping over each other on Scilly. Even Shetland has been relatively quiet. After a failed last ditch effort to convince the lads to write off Norfolk, take the hit on the accommodation costs and head off to the Scillies, we were on the A12 heading north on Thursday AM.

A couple of hours later we arrived in Suffolk to take in the Sandhill Crane again. Dave Mo, was the only one in the party to not have already seen it and with Norfolk being totally devoid of any birds, we took the scenic route. The bird was pretty mobile in the hour or so we were there providing ok views.

Next we took an even more scenic route to Horsey where we hoped to make it a 2 crane day. I must admit I had never heard of Reedam Ferry across the Broads until Thursday. Well now we have. £4 to travel 30 metres had us wondering if in fact we were on the Scillies. I am sure that the ferry company must have a deal going with Garvin, taking numerous unsuspecting drivers across country and to that ferry! Anyway, needless to say, despite a good look, no cranes could be found. Well by now we were in Norfolk so the cranes were just preparing us for the next few days. Hawky luckily spotted a ringtail Hen Harrier on route to the cottage, which livened up the journey a bit.

Despite not a lot to see, the next few days passed in no time. We had good views of common waders, a fleeting glimpse of a Yellow Browed in Wells Wood, a couple of not overly great sea watches and er that was that. 3 days, no birds, well no bird of the quality were were hoping for anyway. We decided to throw in the towel and come home a day early. Sunday AM we split into 2 groups, with one so bored they went straight home to watch some paint dry and the other; me, Hawky and Jono, again taking the scenic return journey via Suffolk.

The journey home, although quite long, produced some cracking birds at last. Firstly, we located 2 Common Cranes. near Horsey. Next it was off to Lowestoft for a very showy juv Woodchat Shrike. Superb. Pics coming soon.

We continued south to Minsmere were the Glossy Ibis showed pretty well too. Finally we arrived back in Essex, back to Coalhouse Fort, for a look at the now long staying Semi Palmated Sandpiper, of which we had good but brief views.

The moral of this story is; if you are going to pre book a birding break in October each year, use your loaf and either go to Shetland or the Scillies. Ok you might get a duff year every now and then, but nothing like it was in Norfolk. We'll take that one on the chin and start planning next year's trip. I suppose at least we didn't miss anything gettable anywhere else!

Oh hang on what's this on birdguides:

Probable Blue Rock Thrush, East Runton, Norfolk, for 2nd day on Sunday 9th October, no sign today. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Monday 3 October 2011

Sandhill Crane, Boyton, Suffolk (not Aberdeenshire)

Someone once said about something, "It's a funny old game", and he (or she) was right! Less than 2 weeks ago Hawky and I seriously considered for about 30 minutes twitching the Sandhill Crane in Aberdeenshire; a whopping 550 miles each way, costing god knows how much in juice, one turns up just up the A12. Well someone else also said "Good things come to he who waits". Well wait we did and voila! The crane flies about 500 miles south and plonks itself down in Suffolk, a drive of about an hour and 20 minutes from home.

After securing the afternoon off I was on the road by 1pm. By 5.30pm I was home in time for dinner. Superb. That's 2 quality local ticks in 3 days. If that Solitary Sand hangs on I hope to bag that on Thurs too, which would a make it one hell of an already tick-tastic week.

The best I could get at distance in heat haze.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Best cure hangover ever - Semi P Sand! (and 2 paracetamol)

This morning was the morning after the night before after a late one on the sauce last night. Still in bed at 9.30am enjoying a a lay in I was rudely but happily awakened by Shaun telling me that there was a Semi P, yes a Semi P, just down the road at Coal House Fort, on the Thames. Shaun was already on his way after giving up calling my mobile, but a quick call to Hawky to arrange a pick up, meant we were on the road just 30 minutes a later, and on site viewing the bird about 20 minutes after that. Well done to the finder; Paul Wood!

The bird povided good scope views, along side Little Stint and Dunlin for comparison purposes, but was too far for any pics as in my hungover state forgot my small camera for any digiscoping.

Bearing in my Shaun and I had considered twitching the recent Hants or Somerset birds; this was a real result. Essex rocks! Pallid Harrier and now a Semi P in 2 weeks!

Sunday 25 September 2011

Should I stay or should I go? Go you f@cking idiot, go!!

Oh dear, sometimes everything just goes to pot and this weekend has been a prime example. Earlier in the week the Scillies was ram jammed with yank rarities and Hawky and I had hatched a plan to day trip the beautiful islands hoping for at least one or two of Black and White Warbler; Northern Waterthrush, Solitary Sandpiper, Baltimore Oriole, Red Eyed Vireo and perhaps a splash of colourful Bee eater. By midweek half the birds had buggered off leaving by Thursday just the Waterthrush and Solitary Sand, with both playing hard to get a lot of the time. Should we stay or should we go? With no new arrivals we felt it too risky that either one or both birds would disappear or could not be pinned down during the short 4 hour window a day trip would allow. We needed a plan B.

Plan B duly arrived in the shape of another yank mega, this time a much bigger one, in the form of the Sandhill Crane found in Aberdeenshire! Our initial enthusiasm was significantly dampened when it dawned on us it was almost 550 miles away, equating to a 10 hour+ drive each way. We agreed that although the bird was rare, it was not work 20 hours in a car! We decided to do the sensible thing, stay at home and hope something would be found nearer to home. Much to my delight, come 6pm on Sat, I had the choice of 2 life ticks; a semi p in Hants or an Arctic Warbler in Norfolk. For me no choice, I have already missed out on one Arctic Warbler when the A12 in Essex was closed meaning we couldn't make the relatively short trip to Landguard.

The next choice was do we go on no news or wait? Well I'd had enough of sitting in doors, waiting until half the day had gone, to find out if a bird was still present. I hadn't had a full day out birding for a couple of weeks, and after all it is late Sept and there's already an Arctic Warbler and a Pied Fly at Burnham Overy so what else is there. So that was it a day birding in Norfolk!

At this stage I am going to cut a long and BORING story very short:

1. There was no sign of the Arctic Warbler :o(

2. There was no sign of hardly any birds in AT ALL in Norfolk

3. The semi p showed well all morning in Hampshire

4. The waterthrush and Solitary Sand showed pretty well all weekend

5. Ditto the crane

Anyway here are some pics of what little we did see.

Long tailed Duck - Titchwell

Convolvulus Hawkmoth

Sunday 18 September 2011

Pallid Harrier, Colne Point, Essex

Yesterday afternoon I continued the trend of going with Shaun to get him a tick, this time, for a juvy Pallid Harrier, in our home county of Essex. After eventually finding the site we had an anxious wait of around an hour until the bird, which had been resting, out of site, on the ground in a field, decided to give itself up and provide good scope views. It was my 2nd Pallid Harrier after catching up with a smart adult male a couple of years back in Cambridgeshire.

It must be my turn for a tick next? We'll see.

Monday 12 September 2011

Olympic Park Visit

Had a quick tour of the Olympic park site this afternoon. We had to stay on the mini bus apart from one stop off at the handball arena. To be honest it made me even more annoyed that like many, many people I didn't get any tickets to a "proper" Olympic event. I don't count football!