Sunday, 28 July 2013

Never, ever, write off July

The main reason for not doing much blogging this year was because, year-on-year, I found that I was ending up typing the same stuff that I did the year before, and the year before that, etc.  But looking through my notes over the last few weeks, there's quite a bit to write about actually.

Always plenty of after-work daylight in July of course, and eventually the pollen goes away.  This one's a been a bit hot though.  But after last summer, that shouldn't be a reason to complain.

The juicy stuff's on the way.  But going back to the July 7th, this smart(ish) male Ruff was found at Uttoxeter Quarry.  Still with quite a lot of it's summer plumage intact.  But one disadvantage of a hot, sunny day is that it's difficult to see anything in the camera when digiscoping.

A Garganey was found by Andy at Croxden Quarry a few days later, on the 10th.  Unfortunately I was indisposed that evening, but it was still present the following day.

Image courtesy of Andy B, not one of mine!
The white tail was a bit of an oddity, must just be slight genetic mutation going on.  The weekend of the 13th/14th produced some good waders at Blithfield.  Including a Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank and also these four drake Common Scoters.

Then onto the madness of the last few days.  When looking at the pager on Wednesday evening, "Caspian Tern in Cheshire, Acre Nook Sand Quarry".  That's nice, I thought, and thought no more of it, apart from let's look for it around home the next evening!  So when I was on my way to Uttoxeter Quarry that evening, there was a call from Andy.  "Shall we go for this Caspian Tern?  It's back in Cheshire!".  In a way it was a bit of a blow, but after 20 years since seeing my last one in Britain (Willington in 1993), what the heck, let's go.

Acre Nook Sand Quarry is situated near Chelford in East Cheshire, about halfway between Knutsford and Macclesfield.  On arrival at 9:20pm, it was starting to get rather dark, but the Tern was visible enough.  A very nice relaxing way to end a day, a little trip into Cheshire.  But the thoughts of "where's it been all day?" started going through my mind.

The next morning, whilst on a short break from doing some work and a little flick through that font of all birding knowledge on the web, Bird Forum!  Someone on the rare bird thread had mentioned that the Caspian Tern flew into Acre Nook from the south-east last night.  It then set me thinking "has this bird been getting to Tittesworth or Rudyard?". 

So a couple of hours later, when the news broke that the Caspian Tern was indeed at Rudyard, it wasn't an entire surprise.  But it did make the Friday afternoon at work so much more nerve-wrecking!  What was a pleasant Thursday evening in Cheshire turned into a Friday evening that was much more serious, with a home-county tick at stake.  So come 5:30pm it was out of the office door on the dot, and raced up from Stafford, via Meir, Weston Coyney, Wetley Rocks, Cheddleton and Leek.  By the way, it wasn't a race up because that route is riddled with speed cameras.  It felt like an eternity to get to.

Just prior to arriving at Rudyard Lake, I drove past the familiar face of Mr Lee G.R. Evans parked up on the roadside, chatting on his phone.  No careless whispers there then!  Thankfully some other familiar faces of Steve Edwards, Heather Forbes and Ian Burgess were on hand to point out the Caspian Tern to me, pheee-ewwww!  And later on this was reciprocated with Steve "The Snapper" Richards.

Steve and I watched the bird fly around the reservoir, catch a fish and then flew north.  If that returns to Acre Nook, then this could easily return the next day.  And it certainly did, both roost at Acre Nook and return to Rudyard.  So a bit of time was spent with the Caspian Tern the following morning (27th).  Got to make the most of it while it's here!  And did the pictures improve with the sun now behind me?  No, not really.

What a fantastic bird so close to home.  But what's at Uttoxeter Quarry?  Well on arrival there were 2 Black-tailed Godwits and this juvenile Med Gull.

Look carefully reader, and you'll see this bird has a white plastic ring on it's left leg.  Usually whenever a gull has a darvic ring on, they're always too far away to read them.  But I could read this one.  The details have been submitted onto the Euring website, and looking through the ringing schemes I think this bird originated from either Belgium or Holland.

As for today.  Unfortunately the overnight rain meant that Uttoxeter Quarry has momentarily lost it's wader shoreline.  But Blithfield had a good selection of birds, which included these two Knot and adult Med Gull in Blithe Bay. 

Nothing to see in July?  Pull the other one!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Come on you Whites!

Oooh hello!  I'm still here you know.  One day, there'll be some birds appearing on this blog.

However, my dear old thing, there's something far more important starting this week.  It's The Ashes!  And after that, by jiminy, it's another Ashes series in Australia this winter.  After all the  exictement of the 2005, 2009 and "that last one in Australia" seriesies  (basically, whenever we win!), no wonder I couldn't be bothered to see that 2005 Sooty Tern on Anglesey.  I think that's a little confession coming through.  There was a little bit of Ashes Fever!

And just to commemorate.  Here's a little ditty by my favourite band, The Duckworth Lewis Method!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Catch up time, and an aboomination!

I really had intended to do a bit more blogging over the last month or so.  But for a variety of reasons, such as a change of car, change of phone, shaking off a cold, I haven't had the time or inclincation. 

And I also intended to finish off the Cape May tale, but during the last couple of days of the trip my notes kind of went to pot, mainly due to a heavy cold developing.  Bit of a struggle to keep going, but keep going I did.  Thankfully, Kay finished the tale off in fine style.  Particularly that Waterthrush, yabbadabbadoo.  But should anyone be interesting in going and how do it, just get in touch.

Some highlights since getting back then.  The weekend of 18th and 19th of May (blimey, was it really a month ago?) was productive.  After heading over to Derby sort out a new car on the 18th, a check of Blithfield revealed a Whooper Swan in Mickledale Bay.  Seems odd mentioning Whoopers in the middle of June, mind you it was pretty odd in the middle of May too.

The majority of the 19th was a struggle to see anything, on a calm sunny day.  Very little was seen at both Branston GP's and Uttoxeter Quarry.  But when just finishing at the quarry, the pager mentioned 2 Common Cranes at Blithfield, at the very end of Blithe Bay.  Gosh, lets give it a go.

In the end it turned out to be a rather frantic experience.  Taking the car down Blithe Bay is always a slow affair, particularly when I was in the old car and sold it the previous day!  And then realising that the Cranes had taken off when parked up, oh no they've gone.  But after a few minutes of scanning the skies, there they were, thank goodness for that!  There was even time to run back to car, and get the camera for a couple of shots.

It was at this point, to my horror, that Eric "Sam" Clare still hadn't seen them.  To grip him off from 50 yards would've been unthinkable.  So another run was done, and we both observed them gradually rising in the sky until out of sight.

With the exception of Belvide's Spotted Sandpiper on Sunday 26th, the other highlights from the Bank Holiday weekend came on Monday 27th.  A bit of a breeze had built up, and a Sanderling at Uttoxeter Quarry gave me a bit of hope.  Moving onto Blithfield, three more Sanderling were along the causeway.

Then setting the scope up and scanning the reservoir between the causeway and Beech Tree point to count the Terns.  Hang on, the bill on that one is the wrong colour, it's yellow!  Hey hey, it's a Little Tern!

And ever since then, other than a Black Tern at Uttoxeter Quarry on the 29th May, it's been pretty quiet around home.  Over the last week there's been a couple of drives into Derbyshire, in particular for the Marsh Warbler at Carsington Water on June 10th, and a rather elusive but very vocal Golden Oriole at Padley Gorge last Saturday (15th).

As for Sunday, with hindsight I suppose I should've gone for the Pacific Swift in Suffolk.  But I really wanted to see the Greenish Warbler, at Turton Golf Club, just north of Bolton in Lancashire, and a bit put-off by news of the access for the Saturday.  So that's what I did, and is perfectly scopable from across the fairway. 

But on arrival I was told that a maximum of three people at a time could cross the fairway for a closer look, as long as no golfers were around.  I don't know if that happens every day, maybe I got lucky.  But when crossing the fairway, the views of the singing Greenish Warbler really were incredible.  It also helped for getting a better idea of where the bird was getting to when you're back across.

Well done to all those who saw the Pacific Swift by the way, but please, please, please.  There appears to be a growing number of twitchers using the word "Boom" when getting a tick.  Nothing beats the thrill of a tick of course, but really, it's a truly awful use of the English language.  An abomination (or an aboomination if you wish) and it has to stop!  Otherwise, I may have to hang up my binoculars *.

* actually, I might not do that bit!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Cape May, The Sequel. Part 33 and a third.

So where was I?  Oh yes, Cape May.  Where men are men, and the moths are scared!

The 13th May started again at the Belleplain State Forest, to see if we could catch up with some of the birds we missed a few days ago, and also to explore the forest for ourselves.  An excellent start was had with this splendid White-breasted Nuthatch.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Another Magnolia Warbler was seen, plus Eastern Wood-Pewees, Scarlet Tanager, Pine Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.  Spending more time by the damp woodland at the Sunset Road bridge, a skulking Hooded Warbler was heard again but not seen.  Then after a time, a bird was seen to land on the road.  Only a stonking male Prothonotary Warbler!  After a hop about on the road, the bird spent a number of minutes in the overhanging branches of a tree, giving absolutely wonderful views.

Following that success, the remaining time at Belleplain revealed Summer Tanager, Eastern Bluebirds, Red-tailed Hawk, an Eastern Phoebe, American Goldfinch and 2 Wood Thrushes.

American Goldfinch
Eastern Wood-Pewee, image courtesy of Kay

Wood Thrush
The rest of the day was spent at the Cape May Point State Park.  It could've been very easy just to sit at the Hawkwatch platform and slowly nod off to sleep, so some walking was done to make sure that didn't happen.  One each of American Coot and Ruddy Duck were new for the trip, it would've been easy to overlook them before now. 

Plenty of Cliff Swallows were around too, hawking insects from the lagoons.  Someone had also claimed a Cave Swallow here, which is like a paler version of Cliff Swallow and really should be in Mexico.  But alas, as hard as we tried to pick it out, all we could see were Cliff Swallows.  Never mind, and not something I was expecting to get.

The next day, the 14th May, took us back to Higbee Beach for a morning walk.  We had our first Hairy Woodpecker here, plus 3 Great Crested Flycatchers, female Summer Tanager, Black-throated Green Warbler and a cracking male American Redstart.  Over the course of our time spent in woodland, we had noticed these web things in trees and bushes.

I had assumed they were spiders webs of some kind, and thought nothing of them.  But after talking to an American birder, they are in fact caterpillar cases of the Gypsy Moth.  Which would explain why this morning in particular, they were proving attractive to hungry birds.  A natural bird table for Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, but particularly for a Baltimore Oriole and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Baltimore Oriole

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Another check of the state park had 3 American Wigeon this time, plus an excellent selection of soaring raptors which included a Broad-winged Hawk in amongst the Red-tailed Hawks, a single Bald Eagle, Turkey and Black Vultures.

An afternoon walk around the Rea Farm produced an American Kestrel which was new for the trip, also a female Prothonotary Warbler, a sight never to be tired of.  I also did my good deed of the day here.  Whilst taking a walk through some damp woodland, along a disused railway line, we found a Terrapin flat on it's back and unable to move.  The reptile must've thought it was one of those Ninja Turtles, so when climbing over the metal railway line it would've flipped itself over, before it could have chance to say "Cowabunga!".

Now, in nature you're not supposed to interfere.  But you couldn't help feeling sorry for this little chap, it could've been stuck there for hours.  So I flipped the little fella back up again, and we made sure it carried on it's way after successfully climbing over the other side of the old railway line.

Great Crested Flycatcher at the Rea Farm, image courtesy of Kay
Brown-headed Cowbirds at the Rea Farm
During the course of the day, we decided that we really ought to try somewhere at dusk, for the possibility of Owls or Nightjars, that kind of thing.  So following dinner, we took a 10 minute drive over to the Cape May Refuge, along the Kimbles Beach road, where we saw the White-crowned Sparrow previously.  The songbird trail here had a good mixture of mature and new trees, so it looked a likely spot. 

As darkness descended, something flew across out of the corner of my eye.  I thought it was the size of an Owl to begin with.  Thankfully the bird flew back towards us and we could tell it was a Nightjar of some kind.  After a process of elimination, the clucking sound it made plus no white on the wings, meant that it was a Chuck-Will's Widow!

Much larger than our European Nightjar, and slightly larger than a Common Nighthawk.  When it was almost pitch dark the bird landed on the ground in front of us, and you could make out it's huge head in proportion to it's body.  Great stuff, a brilliant way to finish a day.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Cape May, The Sequel. Part 2 and a half.

When studying the guided walks and tours back home, I was glad to see there was a Higbee Beach walk on Friday 10th.  I tried this area of Cape May Point a few times last year, but couldn't really get the hang of it for one reason or another.  Either the size of the place and getting lost, or the heat.  So this was one walk I felt we really had to attend.  To increase the height of excitement, the overnight winds changed to a useful south-westerly, to bring some migrants in from up the coast and across Delaware Bay.

And on arrival at the Higbee Beach parking lot (sorry, car park!), my goodness me, the whole morning was a complete birdfest, you just didn't know where to start looking and when to move onto the next bird.  Straight away out of the car, there's a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and I missed a Ruby-crowned Kinglet while paying the guides. 

Just from the car park migrant birds kept appearing in the trees. Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-and-White Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Baltimore Oriole, a Yellow-throated Vireo and the jewel in the crown, a superb male Blackburnian Warbler!

Walking was taken at a snail's pace, it had to be because the birds just kept on coming.  Blue-headed Vireos, 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers flew over, 2 Orchard Orioles and a Yellow-breasted Chat holding territory.

Yellow-breasted Chat
When entering a patch of woodland the fun just continued, with at least 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers, a Magnolia Warbler, female American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireos (with their song "I'm up in the tree, look at me, look at me!") and Great Crested Flycatcher.  And not to be outdone, this Northern Cardinal put on a splendid show.

Northern Cardinal

In fact, I think the only bird we dipped on the walk was a Veery, which would've been veery veery nice to see!  But nonetheless, that was one of the greatest birding experiences I've had bar none.  High fives all round!

The migrants kept on coming at the state park later on, where this time we did find a Veery (which indeed was veery, veery nice!), and crippling views of Magnolia and Black-and-White Warblers.  Also present was a single Royal Tern.

Magnolia Warbler
Black-and-White Warbler, image courtesy of Kay

After a short afternoon break to escape the heat of the day, the remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring the Delaware Bay beaches.  Fewer waders around than when I was here last year, obviously more Horseshoe Crabs had laid their eggs by then.  But over at Reeds Beach plenty of gulls were feeding away on the Horseshoe Crab eggs that had already been laid and washed up.

Laughing Gulls
American Herring Gull
The day ended with a White-crowned Sparrow, which turned out to be quite a late winter migrant.

White-crowned Sparrow
There aren't too many reliable spots for Prothonotary Warbler in the Cape May area.  Belleplain Forest is one, and the other is known as the Beanery, which is where I saw one last time.  So the Rea Farm, as it's also known, was the starting point for the Saturday 11th.  Unfortunately the weather had turned decidedly wet and windy this morning. 

Alas there was no sign of a Pro-tho, probably because of the weather conditions, but we did pick up a few birds such as some Savannah Sparrows, Downy Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, Green Heron, Blue Grosbeak and warblers which included Yellow, Magnolia, Black-and-White and Northern Parula.  A subsequent look around Higbee Beach revealed far fewer birds than the previous morning, talk about getting the timing right.  But we did manage good views of Great Crested Flycatchers, a personal grip-back of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and more Scarlet Tanagers.

During the Higbee Beach walk, one of the guides recommended a walk around Cox Hall Creek, but I couldn't work out where it was.  None of my books mentioned it.  But asking at the Northwood Centre, it turns out it's also known as Villas.  So the site hass been renamed, just like the RSPB do I suppose.

So now knowing where to go, with the name Cox Hall Creek we were expecting more saltmarshes and lagoons.  But how wrong we were!  In fact, this site used to be a golf course and is now a managed nature reserve, with a wonderful mixture of woodland, grassland and ponds.  Birding highlights were cracking Chestnut-sided and Blackpoll Warblers, plenty of Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Wilson's Snipe, a flyover Northern Flicker, a Great Blue Heron stealthily fishing away and incredible views of a Blue Grosbeak.  A brilliant afternoon walk, at a new site for me which was a complete and utter surprise.

Great Blue Heron

Blue Grosbeak
One of the un-missable highlights of a trip to Cape May is a boat trip, exploring the saltmarshes and creeks, on The Osprey.  So that was the plan for Sunday 12th.  Prior to this however, a cracking male American Redstart was seen at Higbee Beach.  As for the boat trip, once again it was brilliant.  I suppose the main difference doing this trip this time, a bit earlier, were the numbers of Brent Geese and Hudsonian Whimbrels.  But also present were plenty of Great Northern Divers, nesting Ospreys of course, a perched Red-tailed Hawk picked out by Kay, a few roosting Black-crowned Night Herons and a magnificent Yellow-crowned Night Heron! 

Coming soon to Tad Bay!
Double-crested Cormorants
Red-tailed Hawk
Hudsonian Whimbrel
A Swivel-eyed Loon.  Sorry America, that won't make any sense to you whatsoever!
And time to foam at the mouth, Yellow-crowned Night Heron!!!
Also present was a Scoter sp., which the guides seemed to dismiss a little.  Probably because it was a dull, dark duck and not a snazzy, summer plumaged Great Northern Diver.  Thankfully I took a distant photo of it, just presumed a Surf Scoter and thought nothing of it.  Well you wouldn't, considering all the other great birds on offer.  But looking at the picture later on, you know, this is a White-winged Scoter!  The scarcest of the three Scoters in Cape May.

White-winged Scoter

Lots of boating goes on at Cape May.  Whilst on the boat trip, I couldn't help but notice some of the names of the boats, and for a short while this took priority over birding.  Some personal highlights were as follows:

Carry on Boating!  Barbara Windsor's boat?
Yes I still don't understand what "The Whole 9 Yards" means?
Now this one I can understand.  A chap's escapism, just like a beloved allotment over here
But I shudder to think what happens on this boat!!!!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Cape May, The Sequel. Part 1

A year ago, I undertook a birding trip to Cape May in New Jersey.  Despite it being a really enjoyable trip, visiting at the end of May it felt like it was a little bit too late for the spring passage.  It had gone past it's peak.

Following that trip, fast forward a few months to October, and a few evening drinks in the Scillonian Club with that Black Redstart fancier, Ochruros.  After getting somewhat annoyed by overhearing certain birders moaning that there's nothing to see on the Scillies and no yanks (despite there being Blackpoll Warbler, Solitary Sandpiper, Ring-necked Duck and American Golden Plover present on the islands), a random response from me, a bit like Father Jack, was something along these lines:

You want Yanks?  Let's go to Cape May next spring! Drink!

So that's what we did, with all the arrangements done in March and on Tuesday 7th May off we went.

Birding commenced with a morning spent at the Cape May Point State Park on the 8th.  Highlights included 2 smart Palm Warblers, a mysterious pair of Vireos that we eventually realised were Blue-headed Vireos, an all too brief Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow Warblers, a single Cliff Swallow, Savannah Sparrow and an excellent all-round selection of birds that one would expect to see.

Purple Martin, image courtesy of Kay
Tree Swallow
Northern Mockingbird, image courtesy of Kay

Eastern Kingbird
Following a lunch of American pancakes, it was over to the Cape May meadows refuge.  Water levels were rather high, but it didn't stop this Tricoloured Heron from searching for fish.

Tricoloured Heron
The Northwood Centre (not Center!) is the main place for getting bird gen in the area, there are sightings sheets that can people can fill in.  Looking through these sheets, a Western Grebe had recently been seen out at sea from Cape May point, so this was the next port of call.  After spending some time scanning the sea and finding 44 Black Scoter, the bird eventually swam into view and un-Grebe like, spent no time diving at all!

Western Grebe, not easy in the waves!

Not realising it at the time, but this is quite a mega for New Jersey, with only about 20 previous records for the state.  Finishing the day off round the saltmarshes of Nummy Island (also the site of my tick incident last year!), highlights included a lucky view of a Clapper Rail, a pair of Black Duck, a few Hudsonian Whimbrel, Brants (or Pale-bellied Brent Geese to you and me!), 2 Common Loons (Great Northern Divers, don't start me off on that one!) and this Boat-tailed Grackle.

Boat-tailed Grackle
The following day (9th) started further to the north, at the Belleplain State Forest, where we joined up with a guided tour.  As I mentioned last year, lots of organised trips are on offer in Cape May.  No need to pre-book, just turn up.  And at Belleplain in particular, the guides know the best spots across a large area.

A cracking start began in the car park with good views of Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Scarlet Tanager.  Also Acadian Flycatcher, with it's call apparently sounding like "Pizza", couldn't recognise it personally.  Add in Great Crested Flycatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Worm-eating Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, singing Hooded Warbler but not seen.  The tour finished with excellent views of Prairie Warbler and a smashing Blue-winged Warbler, something I didn't really expect to see.

Prairie Warbler
The rest of the day was spent in the saltmarshes to the west of Belleplain, at East Point, Heislerville and Thompsons Beach.  East Point revealed some of the American waders like Willet, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, a few Bonaparte's Gulls and a Fish Crow, it's call separating it from American Crow.


Bonaparte's Gulls

Fish Crow
Over at the Heislerville refuge, the mixed Cormorant and Heron colony was in full swing, the first Orchard Oriole of the trip was seen, as were 40 Black Skimmers.

Black Skimmer
Finishing the day at Thompson's Beach and Jake's Landing, birds at these sites included at least five different Clapper Rails, a Bald Eagle being mobbed by Osprey, Seaside Sparrow, Northern Harrier and Marsh Wren.  Although when finding somewhere to wine and dine for the evening, a look in a Stone Harbour Golf Club looked a bit too posh for my liking, but there was a Cattle Egret feeding on the lawn, so well worth going.