Saturday 28 December 2013

A Fairytale of New Auk - Brunnich's Guillemot

Picture the scene, Boxing Day lunch time. My extended family was on its way round for a day of board games, football on the TV and general festive merriment, when I decided to check Birdguides for the first time in a few days. I was a little surprised to say the least to see that a mega rare Brunnich's Guillemot, had decided to spend its winter holidays down south and had been bobbing around Portland marina for a few days, only having being formally identified from photos circulated via Twitter that day.

Luckily I had already arranged to keep Friday 27th free for a birding day out with Hawky (et al)  and like the vast majority of British birders having not seen this rare visitor, the decision was made to journey down to windy Dorset the following morning.

As with the Ivory Gull twitch just a few days earlier, at first it didn't look good. We expected early news, and with nothing half an hour after day light it didn't look promising. Eventually positive news arrived, phew, and we were only about 30 minutes away. We arrived in gale force winds to be told the bird had "apparently" been seen earlier but by very few people, and it had flown over the sea wall and out of view.

Almost an hour later there was still no sign of any rare Guillemots, but we were treated to horizontal freezing rain, as well as a Black Guillemot (my first in England) and a smart Great Northern Diver.

Then Hawky calls an auk flying in at distance, heading towards shore. We pick it up but it disappears from view behind the sea wall. It's again picked up at distance on the sea, and people are now calling it as our target.

All of sudden on mass around 300 twitchers are up and moving along the path the get a better view. 200 yards later, everyone lines up. It was getting closer, but was diving very frequently and moving amazingly far under water in just a short time. One minute it was to my right, 50 yards out, then it dives and re appears 50 yards to my left just 20 yards out. We quickly move along, get ahead of the bird and it re appears again much further away than anticipated. Just once did I guess right and was treated to about 3 seconds on the surface before it dived again.                        


Again the bird disappeared but this time it headed further out and settled for a rest in the relative calmness along side moored boats.  And there it stayed,    

Another exciting twitch and another mega seen that I thought I would probably never see.

Just up the road in Weymouth we stopped for a Glossy Ibis on a flooded football pitch which showed pretty well.       

We headed home via Hampshire's long staying Lesser Yellowlegs that again provided good scope views.

Surely that's it now for 2013? I am off to north Norfolk for a few days over new year so will enjoy some birding/walks up there.

Happy New Year to everyone!     

Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas Cracker - Ivory Gull, Padrington, East Yorkshire

Ivory Gull on my list, and my 400th BOU tick. Boom! However when we first arrived on site it looked like  it might all go badly wrong.

Me, Jono, Shaun and Nick set off on the 4 hours journey north bright and early, at around 4.30am. We planned to arrived just after first light to hopefully see the now long-ish staying Ivory Gull eating its pre-prepared breakfast of fish on the grass by the pumping station near Outsray Farm on the banks of the River Humber.  

We arrived to find around 100 birders staring at a pile of dead fish, no Ivory Gull in site. Bugger. Each of the previous days of its stay, the bird had been present at first light feeding on the fish. This didn't look good. Half an hour later, still no sign and people started drifting off. Oh ye of little faith. Admittedly as an hour approached and still no sign we began to wonder if 2013 was going to end on a big fat dip. Then............

One of the crowd says, "the bird's been seen off Spurn, (c1.5 miles away) heading our way! With that everyone done a 180 degree turn and scanned into the distance for  white dot! Two minuets later, someone calls a white dot! Could it be? It get closer. It's very white! Closer and closer it gets. Now at about 3 - 400 yards. Yes that's it. Whoohoo!     

Scanning for the white dot on the horizon 

The gull was heading straight for us and no doubt looking for some brunch. A few of us quickly moved to get a prime position on the grassy bank by the fish. Thirty seconds later, Bam! it appears from around the back of the pumping station and plonks itself down around 30 feet in front of us.       

Shaun in green, checking is full framers with the gull to our left
We enjoyed cracking views of this mega rare gull for around 30 minutes, until it had had enough fish for one sitting and decided to head off for a while. Many high fives were had. Especially for me being my 400th BOU tick. I am so pleased this milestones was achieved with such a smart bird and exciting twitch. 
On the way home we stopped off for a Velvet Scoter at Eyebrook Reservoir in Leicestershire, which provided the best view I have ever had of the species.     

All in all what a brilliant way to round of the 2013 twitching calendar Merry Tickmas!.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Have you got a better bird on your garden list?

My work colleague, Leigh, has gone home to Boston, USA, for the Christmas holidays. This morning I got an email from her, with photo attached saying, look what she'd seen in her friend's back yard. I think the best I can do in my back garden is Waxwing! What a Christams cracker!

Sunday 1 December 2013


I very rarely swear on my blog, but be warned, this post will make up for my previous lack of expletives.

I live in a regular suburban terraced street, and like many parts of outer London, the houses are crammed close together. I was slightly concerned yesterday when I awoke to see a huge marquee had been erected in the back garden of the house two houses down. 

I was amazed at 9.30pm last nigh there was silence. What was going on? By 10pm we found out. All of sudden, boom, music blared out from a DJ in the marquee. Live and let live and all that, people should celebrate big occasions. On my 40th I had a few people over, I had music, quite loud music in fact, but it was indoors, and I was very conscious of pissing off the neighbours, so invited then in and by 2am it was off.

So fast forward to 2am. The music was still blaring out and the marquee was packed. I started to get the hump. Do I go round there, tell, sorry ask, them to shut up? Phone the police, no that's over the top. So we decided in a very British way to do nothing just try and get some sleep.

By 4am with  no sign of any let up, I was so pissed off, I couldn't go round there as a) the house would probably be filled with drunk revellers and me barging through the house with a base ball bat to smash up the sound system probably wouldn't have been the wisest move.

So burying my head underneath the covers I just closed my eyes and tried to drop off.                

The music, still played as loud as it was when it started at around 10pm the previous evening eventually stopped at 6.07am! Un fucking believable.

So I would just like to say well done to my so called neighbours for winning the Selfish Fucking Bastards of the Year Award. What is the matter with these ignorant twats! Having a DJ in the garden is totally unacceptable. I don't want to hear Dancing Queen or Staying Alive at 4am at a million decibels from my fucking bed!

Maybe it's me and I am getting old and intolerant but come on people just think about other people for a change. Any way gotta go and get some sleep!


Monday 25 November 2013

Western Orphean Warbler Twitch

With the Western Orphean Warbler still residing in the garden of Orlandon Kilns cottage, at St Brides, deep in the heart of the beautiful west Wales countryside, on Saturday, a plan was hatched for by far my longest twitch of 2013. I was joined in the filthy twitch mobile, by driver Jono, Nick and Howard, making his long awaited come back to mega twitch scene. An early start saw Howard pick me up at 2.30am to rendezvous at Wanstead, and take Jono's bigger car on the long journey west. Around 4 hours 45 mins later (including the obligatory 20 minute stop for MacD's breakfast), the sun was rising and we were almost there.

From left: Jono, Howard and Nick

The car park was helpfully sign posted and easy to find and well stewarded by local volunteer birders, who gave directions to the cottage, and house rules i.e. keep quiet, queue up, leave when asked to leave etc, and advised us that the bird was still present. Yay! Three hundred yards up the road we arrived at the cottage and joined the queue.

This is where we queued, the garden was around the back not viewable from here
There were already 40 birders in the garden and the bird had been seen but in poor light so they were being given extra time to see it again before rotation system would kick in. Thirty odd minutes later, the bird had completed another circuit and had performed well so the birders in the garden were asked to leave.

Most did, some didn't. I am not going to write a whole section slagging off photographers, but let's just say, from what I saw there's too many that are just plain ignorant and don't give a shit about anyone/thing but themselves. And, another thing, why don't they realise that all the cammo gear actually has the opposite of what it was designed to do, and it makes them stand out like a sore thumb! Enough of that, back to the bird. We all stood in silence, scanning the bushes and apple trees for a good 15 minutes then Howard, in hushed tones called it. It had come in and was feeding on an apple towards the back of the garden, but difficult to view.

Views were obscured by branches, apples and Dick's head as he kept moving to get a better view! It made its way closer and eventually into the 2nd closest apple tree, probably 25 yards away and never right out in the open, but provided good bins/scope views for 15 to 20 minutes and then it was off again. With 40+ birders outside having not seen the bird yet we were asked to leave. We did. The same dudes that didn't leave the 1st time didn't, nor even have the decency to acknowledge the request, they just stared ahead and stayed put. Well done lads.

The best I could do

After rotating there was now no real queue so we began one and waited to go back in. Birders just turning up were allowed to go straight in, and 30 minutes later after another good show by the bird, we were back in. Same pattern, wait a while, the bird would come in, feed on apples, play hard to get in terms of photos and then head off. It was a twitch I will remember for a long time. A rare and smart bird in beautiful surroundings, set up and stewarded by some really nice people. Well done and thanks to the home owners and all the volunteers who made it a straight forward and stress free twitch.

Jono back at the make shift car park - Orpheon Warbler successfully ticked

Next we headed even further west, where after 2 miles we hit the coast. From the National Trust of Wales car park we had up to 5 Chough, with 3 feeding in the field next to the car park and a couple of noisy Ravens.

The long journey home included a very unsuccessful stop for Two Barred Crossbill for Nick in the Forest of Dean, where we could not find the birds, or even the site! Happy to take the blame although I have never claimed to be an expert map reader! At 6.45pm I arrived home, around 630 miles later, very tired after a very enjoyable twitch. I must admit I don't think I could do mega distance twitches like that too often, but every now and again, why not. On this occasion it all went well, great company and a successful tick. BOU 399 and counting, what will 400 be? Watch this space.
Howard after just finding a Dartford Warbler

Tuesday 12 November 2013

I can't count

I have had so few ticks this year, a measly 3; Dusky Thrush, Pacific Swift and now Pied Wheatear, you would think I would have been able to work out my BOU life list. Well apparently not! There was me thinking I need just one more tick to break the 400 barrier, until I logged onto BUBO and bam, staring me in the face was the number 397! Bugger. So the wheatear is number 398 and not 399 that I had somewhow got into my head. Like a lot of people I have a few potential armchair ticks in the bag, like Slaty Backed Gull, Alder Flycatcher, maybe even Northern Harrier and/or American Black Tern, but it means it's pretty unlikely I'll be reaching the 400 mark in 2013. Monkey by name and a monkey at maths!

Monday 11 November 2013

Pied Wheatear, Notts! (well actually yes it was)

It's been a bad year tick wise, with just 2 ticks to my name in 2013, for various reasons that I wont bore you with now. Anyway, late news on Saturday night of a Pied Wheatear in Nottinghamshire had me making plans to go for my first new bird in 5 months. News that the bird was still present at 8.30am the next morning came through and I was on the road to pick up Shaun before 9am, before meeting Jono just up the M11 before journeying north. Two and a quarter hours later, we were there, along with with quite a big crowd (c100).          
Shaun et al  

The bird showed distantly almost immediately and within 30 minutes or so it made it way much closer eventually providing very nice views.

This was my 399 BOU tick. I wonder what 400 will be!!

On the way home we stopped for a Glossy Ibis to cap off a good day out. Shame it was a a bit too far for good pics.    

Really enjoyed a great twitch with Shaun and Jono. It was like the good old days and I am looking forward to the next one.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Parrot Crossbills, Gunners Park, Shoebury, Essex

More good quality birds this weekend, but still no ticks. Surely I can't go the whole of 2013 with just 2 measly ticks. Last year was the lowest number of ticks in a year so far, and then I racked up a decent 10! Anyway, enough of that, back to these crackers, just 45 minutes up the road at Gunner's Park, Shoebury.

I arrived late morning in driving rain and terrible light. All 4 birds (2 males and 2 females) were in a small conifer tree, on the edge of a housing estate, feeding well but proving hard to get good views of. After 30 minutes or so the rain stopped and the birds appeared happier to move out to the open branches, eventually providing great views.

I have only ever seen one Parrot Crossbill previously, so to see 4 together was a bit of a treat.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Lesser Grey Shrike - Harty Ferry, Kent

I managed to get out for just a couple of hours this weekend, so popped down to Harty Ferry, Kent, to see a showy, if bit distant, cracking Lesser Grey Shrike. Below are a couple of digi-scoped shots that really don't do this smart bird justice.

Monday 30 September 2013

Icky dip number 9 - Scilly

If you read my previous post just a few weeks ago about my latest Icterine Warbler dip then you'll know how frustrating this species is for me. We arrived on Scilly to news that there was a long staying (c 2 weeks) individual in and around the camp site, which was proving difficult for many to catch up with. One birder we spoke to who as staying on the camp site had failed to connect despite it being reported 4 days in a row and him spending a lot of time looking for it. Anyway, to cut a long and predictable story short, over the course of the following week we (me, Hawky, Dick and Tony) tried for the bird on about half a dozen occasions to no avail. Nothing. Zip. On the Tuesday evening we decided to take a pelagic trip. As we chugged out of the harbour, I overheard one of the locals on the boat saying after his pager beeped " I see the Icky is showing at Lower Broom on The Garrison". I was prob less than 400 yards from the bird, but on a boat and heading out in to the Atlantic Ocean! Over the next hour or so the inevitable messages came through on the pager that the Icky was now STILL SHOWING XXXXING WELL on The Garrison, where it stayed, performing well all evening. Sticking two fingers up at me somewhere out at sea. Guess where I was at first light the following day? Guess what wasn't there! The Icky was not reported again all week.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Scilly Trip 21st - 28th September 2013

Just back from a very enjoyable week on the Isles of Scilly with Hawky, Dirty Dick and for 3 days Tony Brown. The weather from the off was not in our favour with the islands for 5 days out of the 7, fog bound. Not ideal birding conditions, or flying conditions!

The day before we were due to fly on, we got the call to say all flights the following day were cancelled due to dense fog being forecast. When we arrived at Lands End airdrome, Cornwall and was transferred to Penzance where we boarded The Scillonian, 2.5 hours later we arrived on St Marys.

The birding over the following week was hard and frustrating at times. The SE winds promised lots but were scuppered by the fog. Despite this we did manage to see a few birds. We put the leg work in walking an estimated 15 miles per day, trying to find new birds. Each evening we were shattered and blistered but we never gave up.

Below are some pics of some of the birds we saw or found.    

Dotterel - on the air field and seen on a couple of occasions 

Buff Breasted Sandpiper - seen twice 

Pectoral Sandpiper - found by us on St Agnes - 
or perhaps it found us as it flew in to the beach as we checked out the pipits  

Rose Coloured Starling - my 3rd ever Rosy and all 3 on St Agnes, Scilly

Lapland Bunting

Ortolan Bunting - only my 2nd ever

Wryneck - 1 of 4 seen - this one found by Dick

White Spotted Bluethroat on Higgos Pool - ok it wasn't a Northern Waterthrush or Solitary Sandpiper 
but it was great to see a good bird at this cracking man made site

Black Winged Stilt - at Hayle Estuary in Cornwall on the way home

We also managed 2 Roseate Terns, 4 Sabine's Gulls, Sooty Shearwaters, Balearic Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Pied and Spotted Flycyatchers. Despite trying on numerous occasions I DID NOT manage to see my bogey bird, Icterine Warbler, but I'll do another post on that as the irony of it just sums up my luck with that species of bird.     

Thursday 19 September 2013

Scilly Bound

We are off to The Scillies for a week on Saturday. We decided to try something a bit different this year and go a week or even two weeks earlier than we have been previously. In recent years we have favoured Shetland for our autumn birding break, but having not been to Scilly for a few years we plumped for the picturesque island of the south west coast of Cornwall. The weather looks to be pretty good with significant fronts coming across the Atlantic. Today's Baltimore Oriole on Unst, Shetland, shows the yankee megas are making it over, fingers crossed they are not all going to fall up north though. So watch this space. Hopefully there'll be plenty to see and a tick or two thrown in for good measure.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Red Backed Shrike, West Canvey Marsh RSPB, Essex

My second Red Backed Shrike in 2 weeks, this time just 30 minutes up the road at West Canvey Marsh RSPB. This bird was even more showy than the last so provided really good photo opps as it hawked insects from the fence line just 100 yards from the car park. It was good to speak with James Hunter who by the looks of it was getting just as good shots via digi-scoping as I was through my camera kit!

Maybe I'll make it a September hat trick of Red Backed Shrikes on Scilly week after next. That's if I have enough time to see one between American megas! Well you never know.