Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Last Blog of the Year

The big result is in folks. The 2008 "Beard of the Year" is..................

A tie between.......................

Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. And..........

Tom Jones. That's not unusual!

I think this'll be my last blog entry for 2008. If you enjoy reading it then that's great. If not then I'm sorry, but the world wide web is your lobster.

I'm sure there'll be more nonsense, and some birding as well, in 2009. Perhaps not so much mention of Eurovision though. Without Wogan I don't think I could take much interest in it, just like Formula 1 without Murray Walker.

My cold has improved a lot now, so the first four days of January should be jam-packed with birding time. It'll be interesting to see how many bandwagon-jumpers will appear at Uttoxeter Quarry, especially if the Brent Goose is still around on New Years Eve (still there yesterday).............

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas Goose

Wednesday 24th December, Uttoxeter Quarry, 12:30 - 14:30.

Quite a successful couple of hours at the quarry on christmas eve. Firstly, a personal site tick in the form of a Jack Snipe that took off out of the sedge, and very nearly gave me a heart attack! Even though I saw where it landed nearby, could I find it again? Nope.

On the far side of the main gravel pit there is a field. Usually there are Canadas and Greylags grazing here, as well as the three grown-up Cuckoo Geese (remember them?, they're still alive). Today however there were a small number of Barnacle Geese with them.

Imagining myself being on Islay, for a bit of a laugh I decided to count them (16 in the end). However, in amongst the geese was something much smaller and darker. "Bejaysus!" I thought (or words to that effect), that's a Brent Goose!

Certainly was, of the dark bellied race, and that is a site tick. It never ceases to amaze does it? You get towards the last few days of the year, you don't think there's going to be anything new to see (and thoughts are turning towards the new year).

At the time of writing I'd hoped to get out birding again. But ever since christmas morning I've had this rotten cold. I don't know where this "man flu" nonsense comes from. Even this cold I've got, which is quite a bad one, when you've got flu you really know about it!

I managed to visit family on christmas day and boxing day, but for nowhere near as long as I would've liked. I probably should've stayed at home, gone and spread my germs around now.

Hopefully I'll be out again soon. I must be improving if I'm on the computer again. In the meantime I've been catching up on some quality telly. I've just watched "Carry On Up The Jungle" on G.O.L.D. Then later on, on BBC2, the best ever episode of "The Young Ones" is on later, Bambi! I think I'm on the alumni at Scumbag College.

Monday, 22 December 2008

A Taste of the Med

As promised, back to birds............

Monday 22nd December, Stubber's Green, West Midlands, 10:30 - 13:30

After being so impressed a few weeks ago, Andy and I felt that another attempt for Caspian Gull at Stubber's Green was called for.

No sign of Caspian Gull again though. However, about half an hour in I caught onto a gull with white primaries. Apologies to Andy, thinking I meant Glaucous or Iceland, I actually meant this:

Fresh in from Mediterrania, it's an adult Mediterranean Gull! Admittedly they're not as rare as they used to be, but I've never found too many of them before. So I'm dead chuffed with it.

But what a great place Stubber's Green is for gulls. Gulls are an area of birding that I know I need to improve on, and this is the ideal site. So much better than viewing them miles away at a roost on a reservoir, in fading light, when they're coming in from all directions. Not to mention while freezing your bits off for your efforts.

One thing I have noticed however, is that Mediterranean Gull is missing from the latest gull equivalent to Wisden, the Blurred Birder's guide to gull identification. What's all that about?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Simon Cowell Ruins Christmas (again!)

Bah, Simon Cowell gets his christmas number one again, despite "The Jeff Factor". Geraldine reached number five. She should've ingored Paul McCartney and released "Blankety Blank" (or R Wayne's should've released "Do The Hucklebuck"?).

Perhaps if messrs Waterman, Chapman and Fox let Disco Dave through the audition, he would've had more success?

I see that Chris Hoy was Sports Personality of the Year last week. Another prediction that went wrong, not that I have a problem with that though. I've been to his island on Orkney, but least said about the old man the better (boom boom).

Normal service will be resumed soon, with some birds on this blog!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Geraldine for Christmas Number One!

I'm so glad Channel 4 repeated "Britain's Got the Pop Factor, and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice" last night. I missed it when it was on last time, whilst in Shetland.

Now that Simon Cowell has his new money-making toss-pop victim to exploit, I really Really REALLY hope that Alexandra (no offence I'm sure she's lovely) is pipped to the christmas number one by Geraldine McQueen:

Who looks nothing like Peter Kay dressed as a woman. But once you've heard the song and seen the video, which is not at all annoying, it'll make you want to buy it and ensure Cowell misses out this year!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

And so this is christmas, and what have you done.......

Saturday 13th December, Uttoxeter Quarry, 13:45 - 15:40.

What a foul morning. No good for birding but at least I got my christmas cards written and posted. Just a couple of hours round the quarry when the rain eventually stopped.

The undoubted star today was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, albeit a brief one. Too far away and gloomy to make out a red cap with the bins, then took off (which really gave it away) before I could get the scope on it. But nevertheless a site tick for me, associated itself with Blue Tits. Also around were 2 Goosander, 12 Wigeon, 24 Snipe, 4 Great Crested Grebes, 6 Song Thrush, 103 Greylag Geese.

Time to go and get ready for my work's christmas do at the Alton Towers hotel.

Sunday 14th December, Brookleys Lake, 09:00 - 10:00

The departure time out of Alton Towers gives away the amount of alcohol consumed the night before. Thank goodness there were free bottles on wine on the table, because there was no free bar and at £3 a pint, there'll no binge drinking from me!

I was quite impressed with the Alton Towers resort actually. Especially the lift music in the Splash Landings hotel, next to the water park. Which included the theme tunes to Hawaii 5-O and Captain Pugwash!

It was well worth not getting completely wasted anyway for two reasons. One, buffet breakfast! Two, Brookleys Lake next door. After finding 13 Mandarins here a few weeks ago, imagine my surprise to count 51! I wonder if there's a commute going on between here and Bradley Dam near Ashbourne?

A short time was then spend at the Ramblers Retreat in Dimmingsdale. Plenty of feeders are up at the moment. Thankfully the regular Marsh Tit appeared, plus a Raven overhead.

A nip back home to drop some things off, then over to Blithfield. The main reason being to help out one of the regulars there, Richard, with setting up his new digiscoping equipment. For an astrononmical fee of course! No, not really.

Once this had been sorted out, a couple of surprises greeted me in Stansley Wood. This is the first one:

The old Tad Bay hide has gone! In a way I'll miss those planks to sit on in front. However, I won't miss the seats inside the hide.

There are also some feeders up in Stansley Wood. There's some really heavy-duty ones that look very Squirrel proof and should last for years. But it did make me think of something reminiscent. Well, you know there's Tad Bay and Blithe Bay? This photo makes it look like there's now Guantanamo Bay!

Free the Blue Tit one!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Wax on? Wax off.......

Sunday 7th December, Uttoxeter Quarry, 12:00 - 14:00

Just before a visit to the quarry, a quick look around Lidl and Tescos in town first. A small flock of Waxwings were sighted here a few days ago, but not at the moment. The Lidl car park does have two small rowans, that still has quite a lot of berries on them yet. That's still another possibility for Waxwings in the near future.

Unsurprisingly most of the water was frozen over today, but still managed to attract 6 Goosander, 7 Wigeon and a Shoveler. And two personal site ticks, which were Herring and Great Black-Backed Gulls. Also plenty of throstles. Isn't it time a Black-Throated Thrush was found in amongst all the Redwings and Fieldfares?

Well folks, at the moment I'm uncertain on how much birding will be done next weekend. Saturday should be ok, but in the evening it's the work christmas do. Sunday may depend on how hung over I am!

Due to the christmas do I'm going to miss the big X-Factor final, who's going to win? My money is on Eoghan. There's one particular reason why, I'll let Harry Hill explain.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Really Local Birding!

Saturday 6th December, Walk round home, 8:50 – 10:00

It is good just to have a walk round home with the binoculars. Not literally round home of course, as that wouldn’t take very long. I ought to do it more often really, but it is something I intend to do more of this winter. Especially when I have a couple of weeks off over Christmas (aaargh, there’s that word for the first time on this blog!) and after finding that Firecrest last March, was that around all winter?

In almost exactly the same spot as that Firecrest were a pair of Tree Sparrows. They’re unheard of in the eight years I’ve lived here, so that could be quite an important discovery.

Park Hall Country Park, 12:40 – 14:25

After nipping into Hanley to buy a new mobile phone, and to check some rowan trees that I know of in that part of the world (no Waxwings!), I had time for a walk round Park Hall. Unfortunately no sign of any roosting Long-Eared Owls today. In addition to a Willow Tit and a flock of about 250 Golden Plover was this smart Little Owl:

Well folks, the jungle fun is over for another year and the Stenders lad won (congratulations on your winnings Reg, don’t spend it all at once!). By the way, in case you were wondering about the the quiz answer from the last blog entry, Teresa Bazaar. I know some rubbish facts me!

We are now heading into some important “end of year” awards. At the time of writing the comedy awards are about to start. I wonder how many awards will go to “Gavin and Stacey” this year? No, I’ve never seen it either!

There’s sports personality of the year. I think Lewis Hamilton will win, but I’d quite like to see Rebecca Romero win it (Olympic medallist in two different sports). I would also mention the Christmas number one, but that’s been ruined by Simon Cowell!

However, by far the most important end of year award is “Beard of the Year”. For those of you familiar with Test Match Special, Jonathan Agnew does read out regular updates from Keith Flett of the BLF (Beard Liberation Front). This is probably due to the presence of TMS scorer and statistician, Bill Frindall, the bearded wonder.

In the last two years the award has gone to Robert Plant and Monty Panesar. I’ve just found this year's nominees and can be viewed here! Bearders is a nominee once again, as is Robert Plant. I think it might be between Jarvis Cocker and Roy Keane. When the result is announced, shortly before new years eve, you'll hear it here first folks!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Jungle Update

Thankfully "The Mallett" has gone. Am I the only person that wants David "I used to be in Dollar" Van Day to win?

Quiz question. Who was the other member of Dollar? I know.

Monday, 1 December 2008

South Staffs Day Out!

Sunday 30th November.

It was very kind to be offered a day out birding with Andy, Nobby and Mad Malc.

Stubbers Green, 10:30 - 11:30.

When being told we're off to Walsall, my thoughts were "Its a bit of a trek to Poland isn't it?". No, I jest of course!

Unfortunately for us it appears that Sunday is not a good day for the regular Caspian Gull to make an appearance. The local tip isn't working, so old Fidel Caspo must head off somewhere else to feed and wash during the day. I shall return at some point however!

Cannock Chase, 12:00 - 14:00

A smart pair of Bramblings on the bird tables at the Marquis Drive visitor centre, then over to Katyn Memorial.

Rather quiet on the heath really. 2 Ravens, a Redpoll calling overhead, Green Woodpecker, a few Reed Buntings. Not even a Stonechat!

Chasewater, 14:30 - 16:00ish

I must admit I haven't done a winter gull roost for years, and was hopelessly out of practice. They always remind me of being cold! Chasewater's definitely the place to be for a gull roost though. We managed to find an adult Mediterranean Gull however, as long as the bird was sideways on!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Time's Time Captain!

Saturday 29th November, Attenborough Nature Reserve, 10:00 - 12:15 (aagh!)

I should've got over earlier really, but the weather forecast (pah!) predicted thick fog possibly lasting all day. Well, it wasn't that bad at home, and only a mist at Attenborough.

I must've missed the Penduline Tit by about 45 minutes (bloomin weather forecast!), when it took off from the reedmace in Tween Pond towards Long Eaton. Absolutely no sign during my stay there. A pair of Egyptian Geese helped to pass the time.

I decided to head back to the car for a bite to eat. At that point I received a text along the lines of "Kindly vacate yourself from Attenborough, and move your posterior to Barton-under-Needwood for a Cattle Egret!". I then did an Egyptian Goose impression! Time to get over then. When zooming along the A50 another text appeared saying the Penduline Tit was back, five minutes after I left!

Still, I suppose I could've been at Attenborough at that point and still not seen it by being in the wrong place. I still decided to head to Barton, fully knowing that the day could go all horribly wrong.

Barton-under-Needwood, 13:40 - 15:00

It got worse when it seemed that no-one knew where to look south of the village. I even spoke to Mr Steve Nuttall, migrated from Belvide for the day, who was just as puzzled as I. Thankfully the Cattle Egret was eventually located, in a field with an Oss in (for viewers in the south of England I mean a Horse!), along Captain's Lane in Barton Green.

A cornucopia of Staffs birders duly arrived, including the Blurred Birder. It's about time a Cattle Egret was found in Staffordshire bearing in mind the sheer number of them in the country over the last year.

The Egret was eventually flushed by a pair of hikers, who then decided to stroke the horse! I'm not sure if sugar lumps were handed out, to the horse that is. It appeared that the Egret didn't fly too far away.

Realising there was a bit of daylight left I got over to Attenborough again. But the Penduline Tit hadn't been seen since 12:30. But I gave it half an hour until nearly dark, no sign. Hopefully the Penduline Tit may stick around for a while. There's definitely a good sized patch of reedmace at Tween Pond. And a good area of reeds on nearby Clifton Pool, where the Sora Rail was four years ago.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Bring on the Wall!

I've been waiting for ages to use that as a blog title!

Sunday 23rd November, Tittesworth Reservoir, 11:15 - 13:30

I went into lazy twitcher mode today. That being wait to hear on news of the Spotted Sandpiper before making my way to Tittesworth. Even switching my mobile on as soon as I woke up, there was a text from Kay asking for news as they were on their way up from Birminnum. Thankfully I knew that Andy was going up there first thing. A few minutes later there was the positive news in his text message. Cheers my friend, much appreciated!

Later in the morning I arrived at Tittesworth and made the walk to the dam. Which was rather eventful actually. Including a young enthusiastic dog trying to bite my ankles off, a sleet shower, and a text from Kay saying "some twit has flushed the bird taking a photo too close". Thankfully there was another text as I nearly arrived at the dam to say the bird had been found again. You might guess where this is going folks!

On arrival at the dam, with Kay and Max was Stuart the Alrewas Birder. The Spotted Sandpiper was along the outflow of the River Churnet below the dam. And was showing well, until some moron (who will be referred to from now on as "Mr Wazzuck") decided that he just needed to get closer than everyone else. When I say close, I mean directly opposite the bird on the river, and the Churnet is a narrow river here. Unsurprisingly, Mr Wazzuck flushed the bird and it flew back to the dam wall.

There's always one isn't there? Mr Wazzuck was definitely old enough to know better, I blame the kids. I don't know why some birders feel the need to do this. Not only did he disturb the bird and had a wasted walk, but especially in these days of the internet and digital photography, the likes of me will photograph and shame you in front of the internet!

Here's Mr Wazzuck making his way back to the dam.

In a way I suppose I should thank Mr Wazzuck as eventually the bird made it's way across the dam wall, but I was happy with the view I had before he felt the need to move it on. I don't really understand why most birders there continually followed the bird along the whole length of the dam. I prefer to wait for the bird to come to me (told you I was a lazy twitcher), especially as it's a Sandpiper on a concrete dam wall. Here's the result, thanks to Kay for allowing me use of her photo.

The clouds were gathering, so we decided to head back to the car park at the other end of the reservoir. Any thoughts of visiting Park Hall Country Park were most definitely cancelled when it rained the whole walk back and I got soaked to the skin.

Spotted Sandpiper is a Staffordshire tick for me. There was one at Belvide in 2005. I didn't have a permit for Belvide then, although I have since seen the light.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Into The Valley......

Saturday 22nd November.

You know folks, it's only last weekend I was thinking to myself "I haven't been to Drakelow for a while, I must get over there". Imagine my shock and surprise last Wednesday night, when the information services started mentioning a Blue-Winged Teal there! Albeit on the previous Saturday however.

This species does seem to have gone quiet in the midlands for quite a while now. There were quite a few during the nineties. I recall seeing them at both Branston and Willington Gravel Pits, and a cracking male at Monsal Dale in Derbyshire.

After doing a bit of research on the Derbyshire Ornithological Society's website, it turned out that the bird was seen with a flock of Shoveler and Tom "Mr Drakelow" Cockburn only saw it for a few minutes. Between the time it took to get a book from his car and return to the main hide the bird had gone and not to be seen again.

With this in mind, I thought it was time to spend a day's birding around my roots. The magnificent town that is Burton-on-Trent. To quote Bruce Springsteen, my hometown ("Born in the USA" is a great album!). You know Israel is known as "The Land of Milk and Honey"? Well, Burton is the land of Beer and Marmite! I know what I prefer. That's enough waxing lyrical, Burton's great.

Willington Gravel Pits, 8:15 - 10:00

An excellent selection of 42 different species here this morning. Highlights included 1 Redshank, 2 Goldeneye, 16 Gadwall, 41 Pochard, 21 Shoveler, 30 Wigeon, 32 Teal, 6 Skylark, 4 Willow Tit, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 6 Bullfinch, 1 Song Thrush.

Drakelow Nature (formerly known as Wildfowl) Reserve, 10:50 - 13:30

Again, another very good selection of stuff. In amongst 38 different species, 10 Goldeneye, 6 Snipe, 3 Siskin, 1 Green Woodpecker.

At this point, I could've got over the Burton Albion's game against Stevenage Borough. But I decided to carry on with birding. The Brewers are at home again next Saturday, and I'll have been paid by then! BTW, we won 2-0, come on you Brewers!

Whitemoor Haye/Croxall Gravel Pits, 14:30 - 15:45

This'll impress the Alrewas Birder! Back into Staffordshire and to Whitemoor Haye. There seems to be quite a lot of setaside here at the moment. In amongst the taller stuff there were a number of Mute Swans where I could only see their heads bobbing up and down. Thankfully in amongst them was the bobbing head of a Whooper Swan. By the gravel pit entrance were a Goosander and 13 Goldeneye.

At Croxall Gravel Pits were another 10 Goldeneye. Then walking under the railway to the east side, and the newer scrape created by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, were a pair of Little Egrets.

A couple of years ago, I remember some miserable so-and-so writing in the comments section in the East Hide here, stuff like "What is the point of this scrape?" and "there goes another decent trent valley gravel pit for birding".

Admittedly the hide on the west pit is a bit pointless, but I think today makes the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust well and truly vindicated with the work done east of the railway line, and well done to them I say. As well as attracting wintering Little Egret (how many more are there in the county? Not many I can tell you!) it looks like a great habitat for Snipe and Redshank.

I'd finally had enough of the cold, got my supermarket shop for the week done in Uttoxeter and went home. Getting home I realised that a Spotted Sandpiper had been found at Tittesworth. From my experience wintering birds can hang around for a while, so fingers crossed!

Thursday, 20 November 2008


Oh no, please no. Who decided to put Timmy sodding Mallett in the jungle?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Hmm, Juicy Mandarins!

At the time of writing, my copy of the West Midland Bird Club annual report arrived in the post. This is the first one I've received actually. After only joining the club proper this year, following many years of just a Blithfield permit. Looking through the list of names at the back, low and behold there I am! Mind you, so are lots of other people as well.

Sunday 16th November, Uttoxeter Quarry, 11:50 - 13:20.

Deary me, I shouldn't feel too disappointed with 3 Green Sandpipers and not much else should I? Most notably no diving duck. Still, days like this make the good days all the more sweeter, I'm still pleased with what was achieved a couple of weeks previous. There wasn't much more here the previous day either, although I thought 3 Willow Tits was notable.

Brookleys Lake, 14:00 - 15:00

13 Mandarin
1 calling Tawny Owl
16 Siskin

Hmmmmmm. Not those kind of Mandarins of course, I mean the Duck form. Although we are into the time of year for Satsumas and the like.

The first I heard of Brookleys Lake was three years ago when a Ferruginous Duck turned up there. After looking where it is, amazingly I realised it's only a few miles away from home and right next to Alton Towers. Even then for my first visit I was impressed with the number of Mandarin here, about 8. So 13 is a record count for me.

Also lots of Mallard and Coot, but again no diving duck, Tufted Duck, Pochard and the like. Where have they all gone?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Pre-Work Doxey

Friday 14th November, Doxey Marshes, 7:50 - 8:35

Oh sorry, White-Fronts not Y-Fronts!

I do apologise for that old gag. They're not my undercrackers by the way. And unlike another midlands blogger (that'll be Archie "ASBO" Archer then!), there'll be no pictures of me in that kind of attire! Sorry ladies.

But anyway, I finally got over to Doxey Marshes to see the White-Fronted Geese before a hard day's work. There have been as many as 45 over the last couple of weeks, but seven when I was there. They always seem to leave the marshes towards dusk as well. I'd like to know where they go to.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

I'm A Celebrity, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

There's so much stuff on telly these days I really don't like. All these genres like "Reality TV", so-called Talent Shows (apart from the early X-Factor shows on, with the eejits who sing like me!), and anything that features so-called "experts" that just humiliate people (apart from Dragons Den, cos that's great!). Especially that "Dr Gillian McCeith". I'm with Dara O'Briain on that one!

But there one exception to all this, and that's "I'm A Non-Entity, Get Me In There!". Perhaps it's the thought of being out in the wilderness? Or perhaps it's just Ant and Dec taking the mick out of the contestants all the time?

Anyway, I've just seen this year's contestants. I've only heard of half of them. Those being Esther Rancid (I'm old enough to remember, and suffer, "That's Life"!, btw, whatever happened to Doc Cox, aka "Ivor Biggun"?), Kilroy (an inspired choice!), Martina Navratilova, Dani Behr and has-been pop star Simon Webbe (he used to play for Port Vale, it's true, there's some triv for you!).

Plus a couple of WAGs, someone out of Stenders, some Star Trek bloke (I can't stand Sci-Fi!), and the other one who ran for London Mayor. Not Red Ken either (does he still keep Newts?), although wouldn't it be good if it was Boris Johnson?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

8th/9th November

Not much birding done really this weekend.

Saturday 8th November, Neumann's Flash, Northwich, Cheshire.

I was really busy on Saturday morning getting various jobs done, but the main one was sorting out my Visa application, so I can get into India in February. A little bit of hassle is involved but not too bad. As well as filling in a form, the Indian consulate in Birmingham require TWO passport style photos. They don't accept cheques but a postal order or bankers draft instead.

Burton Albion had a re-arranged game at Northwich Victoria today, as we got knocked out of the FA Cup at Kettering the other week. We won't be troubling Manchester United this season, concentrating on the league!

Spitting distance from the Vics ground is Neumann's Flash, so I spent an hour or so here before the game.

There was an impressive flock of Teal, but not much else really. As for the game, a hard fought 1-0 victory took us the the top of the Blue Square Premier. That's all very well, but being top at the end of season is when it counts, long way to go yet.

Sunday 9th November, Uttoxeter Quarry, 8:15 - 9:50

I saw the weather forecast last night, the afternoon looks like armageddon. So an early start at the quarry was called for. Well, as early as I could wake up anyway.

There were also some other birders here, what's going on? Mind you, after this morning's haul that's probably the end of that! After last weekend's haul that included Water Pipit, Whooper and Bewick's Swans and Common Scoter, not a lot at all really. Although the place was absolutely crawling with thrushes, could've been well over 1000 Fieldfares and Redwings. Also a personal site tick in the form of a Siskin.

As there appeared to be a break in the rain around lunchtime, where else could I go locally, bearing in mind it could pour down at any moment. Like Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer used to say on "Shooting Stars", don't know how much time I've got (but at the end you'll here this noise!, St-St-St-Studioline from L'Oreal!).

Anyway, I went to Consall Nature Park to check the bird tables round the visitor centre. A bit gloomy for digiscoping Nuthatch. There was also even more Fieldfare and Redwing, Great Spotted Woodpecker and about 20 Chaffinches, but no Brambling with them. Could well be worth keeping an eye on in future though.

As there's been a distinct lack of photies recently, here's some picturesque autumn colour:

Sprink Meadow didn't actually have that much colour, but it reminded me of this:

This is Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in India. Although Sprink Meadow didn't have one of these:

Roll on February!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Americans Have Decided............

They went with Barry O'Bama. To be sure, to be sure. Tanks a million!

Not that I'm putting over any Irish stereotypes, honest! Seriously though, Ireland is brilliant, I can't recommend a trip there highly enough.

America however, hmm not so sure. Although, Yellowstone Park is good, very good in fact (apart from "Old Faithful" which is really tacky, like Niagara Falls so I'm told). Also, Las Vegas is unlike anywhere I've ever been to before. But, it's a big place. Perhaps there are other parts that are worth exploring?

Monday, 3 November 2008

A Century at Utch!

Saturday 1st November.

Uttoxeter Quarry, 11:30 - 13:50

Cor it's gone cold! So much that I've had to stock up on coal for the fire. Filled up the boot of the car at Harrisons in the Milton area of Stoke (all packed in nice clean bags by the way!). After filling the shed, over to the quarry, as Andy had found a female Common Scoter, great stuff.

An initial scan of the main pit produced hardly any diving duck, certainly no Scoter. Then a walk along the River Tean produced a number of Fieldfare and Redwing (they're everywhere now!) and a Treecreeper! Site tick, up to 99!

Then walking back to the main pit, I heard the call of a Redshank! Wayhey!!!!!! For some inexplicable reason, after all the different waders that appeared in the spring, not one Redshank. A single down to fine leg for a hard fought century!

A flock of Tufted Duck had reappeared, and in amongst them, low and behold was the Common Scoter. Up to 101! Also present were 4 Goosander, 1 Curlew, 1 Stonechat and a Weasel.

Swallow Moss, 15:45 - 17:00

I skipped Burton Albion's game today. I didn't fancy standing in the cold. So I went to Swallow Moss instead to, er, stand in the cold! But at least I could retreat to the warmth of the car and scan from there.

On arrival there were a group of squaddies out on manouevres. Not to be confused with Swaddies by the way. Mind you, I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of a group of Gresley Rovers supporters either! There is a lot of MOD land surrounding Swallow Moss, but thankfully not on the moss itself. This might explain why some areas of the moss have been fenced off.

It was very nearly dark when I had just about given up, after watching huge numbers of Starlings and Fieldfares, plus a single Red Grouse. I had turned the key in the car to switch the ignition on and wound the window down. With literally the last scan with the binoculars, there was THE most magnificent male Hen Harrier! The "ghost of the moors" is very a apt name. Flew around the heather for a couple of minutes, then dropped down to roost.

In fact this wasn't a full adult male, but a second winter male. The difference being he has a brown back, but pale grey everywhere else. I've never seen one of these before. The brown back makes it reminiscent to a male Marsh Harrier I thought, but this was definitely a Hen Harrier!

Sunday 2nd November

Blithfield Reservoir, 12:20 - 13:20

Let's give this Long-Tailed Duck at Blithers another go. On arrival at the causeway I had a good chinwag with a couple of Blithfield regulars, Eric and Richard. I didn't realise the voluntary wardens get a fleece! One of the perks of the job.

After that, time to start looking for the Long-Tailed Duck. After a short time the Brightside Bloggers appeared. Eagle-eyed Kay found the Long-Tailed Duck, between St. Stephens Bay and Ten Acre Bay.

After a while the duck took off and landed between St. Stephens Bay and the causeway, and gave us magnificent views close in. At this point I realised that I've really been slacking with the digiscoping these last few weeks. Sorry folks, I must try harder. Would've made some great photies as well. Just look at Kay's blog as linked above, there's some great pics of the Long-Tailed Duck there!

I then faced a dilemma. On one hand, over at the quarry this morning, Andy had 14 Bewick's Swans fly over, and a strange Pipit. Either Rock or Water, but wasn't sure and it didn't stay around long enough for a good view. On the other hand, there's a Purple Sandpiper at Belvide, which would've been a county tick. What do I do folks, just what do i do?

Uttoxeter Quarry, 13:50 -15:40

The Purple Sand was very tempting, but I had to find this mystery Pipit. Either Rock or Water Pipit would be a site tick, and Water Pipit would be a lifer for Kay and Max. So I decided to show them round the place.

On arrival at the main pit this time were six Swans. Looking through the binoculars, they were all adult Whooper Swans! They quickly caught onto us though, and soon took off in the direction of Rocester to the north west.

Onto the pit along the River Tean, we caught up with a couple of Pipits flying around. Certainly one of them was very pale underneath. Eventually one of them landed giving us a good view through the scope. I had took a field guide along with me just in case.

This Pipit was a grey-brown on top, and white (no buff) below. Two clear wing bars, white on the outer tail feathers and a prominent supercilium. That's a Water Pipit alright, brilliant stuff! I just wonder if the other Pipit that was flying around was another Water Pipit, but that'll have to wait for another day. Also around were 1 Goosander, 4 Curlew and a pair of Stonechat.

As well as being known as "The Producer" (thanks Max!), I think Kay and Max will start calling me "Pipit Man", after getting them onto their first Tree Pipit at Hawksmoor in the spring. Ah well. But after this weekend, Uttoxeter Quarry is giving it's much larger and famous neighbour six miles down the road (the mighty Blithers!) a run for it's money again!

I'm now up to 103 at the quarry. Or am I? Well, Birdtrack says I am. However, that does include White Wagtail and a couple of very dodgy Barnacle Geese that appeared one day in the summer. But even so, without them I'm at 101 so still past the century.

Well folks, I suppose next time I do a blog entry, our American chums will have decided on their new president. All that coverage over here and we can't vote for them. I thought we were the 51st state? At least we've got X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing to vote about.

But which is better? John "The Oven Chip" McCain, or Irishman Barack O'Bama (it's a Cork name, trust me!)? There's only one way to find out! Fight!!!!!!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Paying Homage to El Presidente!

I’m so glad I found this on Youtube, I only saw it on “Have I Got News For You” earlier. As we all know, “Autumnwatch” is back. Bill Oddie and Kate Humble were being interviewed on BBC Breakfast to plug it, and it was obvious that Bill wasn’t happy with the quality of sound from his earpiece. All can be seen here!

I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you watch it I’m prepared to back him up on this one. I don’t blame him for getting annoyed with those two halfwit newsreaders, who in the end were just down right rude (perhaps they should join messrs Woss and Brand?). How on earth Kate Silverton got to present “Big Cat Live” the other week is anyone’s guess. At the end of the day, who’s the one with the OBE?

Bill Oddie was certainly an inspiration to me as a young lad. I also think his unpredictability, as well as his enthusiasm, makes him worth watching. I can only think of one other celeb who’s probably more unpredictable and that’s John Lydon. Now there’s an idea for a new wildlife presenter!

Here’s some more tributes that I’ve found to the great man, president of the West Midland Bird Club and the undisputed king of Ecky Thump. His classic appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks a couple of years ago, and Kitten Kong!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Where's Wossy?

After 18,000 complaints to the BBC, I wonder just how many of those people actually listened to the Russell Brand show on Radio 2 on the 18th October? I didn't, I was on a ferry! That must qualify me to complain as well?

Although I think it really has turned into a witch-hunt, if it can get Jonathan Woss off the telly then I'm all for it!!!

PS, Errata. Last Sunday I mentioned there were no site ticks at Uttoxeter Quarry. In my very old age, I can't believe I haven't seen Goldcrest there before. But unbelieveably it was a site tick. Which takes me to 98. Two more to go, then I can raise my bat for the century.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Back To Reality

Saturday 25th October.

I've done enough travelling over the last couple of months, time to concentrate on some old stomping grounds nearer to home. Despite news of a Welsh double-whammy, namely Little Blue Heron and Siberian Thrush. I can't be bothered.

Blithfield Reservoir, 11:00 - 13:30.

A walk round the deep end first. Wasn't half windy, just like being on Shetland. On arrival at the sailing club, this area of water had been taken over by windsurfers. Meaning that the Long-Tailed Duck had moved on. It must've been on the reservoir somewhere but I didn't see it. Never mind. As a matter of fact, I saw my first Long-Tailed Duck at Blithfield in 1988!

2 Pintail and 9 Goldeneye in Tad Bay, and a Grey Wagtail on the causeway. When about leaving Blithfield I received a text from birding pal and fellow Uttoxeter Quarryman, Andy, of a Jack Snipe there. Time to cut my losses at Blithers for today. I also saw not one other birder here, has everyone gone to Wales?

Uttoxeter Quarry, 14:00 - 16:00.

Needless to say I didn't see the Jack Snipe. But there were three new site ticks for me this time, in the form of 5 Fieldfare, a pair of Stonechat and a covey of 23 Red-Legged Partridge.

Following the quarry, and making the most of British Summer Time, a drive up into the North Staffs Moors for the evening produced a Short-Eared Owl. There do seem to be quite a few in the Peak District at the moment. There's an intruiging article from the BTO recently, with the discovery of the numbers of Kestrels migrated from Scandanavia after such a successful breeding season. No doubt Short-Eared Owls have gone the same way as they share similar prey.

On arrival back home, I found the comforting news that there was no sign of the Little Blue Heron, and the Siberian Thrush is still only a possible. Phew, vindicated! I also made the welcome discovery that now dark nights are here, my world of the ridiculous has been boosted by the return of "Harry Hill's TV Burp" on the telly. Hurrah!

Sunday 26th October.

Uttoxeter Quarry, 12:30 - 14:15

No new site ticks today, but there were 2 Pintail, 1 Goosander, 1 Green Sandpiper, 20 Snipe. Whilst at the quarry my thought were turning to another drive up into the moors again. Looking at my watch, hmm, nearing 3pm I'm cutting it a bit fine. Then arriving back at the car, I then realised I hadn't put my watch back an hour. Doh!

Another trip into the moors until dusk produced a male Merlin this time. Just need Hen Harrier for the set now!

Just an aside. Has anyone been watching the Electric Proms? In particular, the first one with Burt Bacharach? I don't mean to have a go at him because he's one of the greats. But after watching it I can understand why he got other people to sing for him (well, apart from Cilla!), because he murdered "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head"! Almost of Paul Shane proportions!

There has also been the "Saturday Night Fever" prom as well, which included the song "Disco Inferno". My particular favourite re-enactment of that song was performed by Keith Lard on Phoenix Nights (another child orphaned). I can't believe I can't find it on Youtube. That may be because of Keith Lard's other habits, and Peter Kay's large payout to Keith Laird!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

World Tour of Shetland, Part II

Wednesday 15th October.

A bit of a bump down to earth today. It threw it down the whole morning. There’s only so long you can sit in the car reading newspapers! It’s also quite a trek to Isbister from Lerwick, about an hour. Four Whooper Swans were at North Roe.

A few other birders were at Isbister on arrival. When the rain cleared, giving way to a lovely sunny afternoon, a walk around surrounding fields produced a Whinchat and a Blackcap, but alas no Pechora Pipit. Perhaps to find this bird again was always going to be an impossible task.

Knowing it was going to be a long trek back to Lerwick, a stop to have a look around Voe produced 9 Whooper Swans, 12 Redwing and a Woodpigeon.

Thursday 16th October.

Really tough conditions for birding today. Really strong winds and frequent showers. A bit of a write-off for finding passerine migrants, but I was hopeful the afternoon might improve. Which in the end it didn’t!

In the morning at Loch of Spiggie were 25 Whooper Swans. Then a bit of a seawatch at Bigton, near St. Ninians Isle, produced 4 Red-Throated Divers.

As there was not much out at sea despite the strong wings, I decided to return to Toab. A walk along the gardens eventually produced a brief view of a Barred Warbler. It then made a couple of brief jumps deep into other bushes in the garden. Very typical Barred Warbler behaviour from my experience!

A walk around Exnaboe produced a Brambling and Chaffinch, unfortunately not the Great Grey Shrike. Not very much seen after that, hopefully the wind will die down a bit for the next couple of days. In fact, at Pool of Virkie, this was the best thing I saw!

As I’ve previously mentioned Bod, there’ll be no references to Geoffrey, Zippy, George and Bungle.

Friday 17th October.

Nowhere near as windy today, thank goodness. However, it appears it has produced a clear out of migrants. Days of westerly winds has finally taken its toll. No sign of the Bluethroat at Channerwick after two visits, but there was a Woodpigeon.

I did finally manage to get the Great Grey Shrike at Exnaboe, plus a Yellow-Browed Warbler and Chiffchaff at Toab. Not a lot else though. This view of Fair Isle however:

Saturday 18th October.

Just going through the motions now, in anticipation for the ferry back home. Another visit to Channerwick still didn’t reveal the Bluethroat, although a pair of Fieldfare flew over, my first for the trip and taking the total for the week to 82. There’s a patch of Japanese Knotweed there, the Bluethroat could stay in there for days and still not be seen!

Another visit round Trondra, Burra and Scalloway, for flocks of Eider still didn’t produce a King Eider. Almost giving up, just one last visit to Kergord. A birder told me that the White’s Thrush was still around, and sure enough I managed to find it. I can’t believe I would be able to view this species on my own on the mainland. Also a Yellow-Browed Warbler, Chiffchaff and loads of Goldcrest.

This is Scalloway by the way:

So that was about it, apart from buying tourist tat in Lerwick and a very civilised pot of tea and slice of cake (too early for beer). Checking in on the ferry, they seemed much more understandable about not having any photo id. Just goes to prove that people are nicer up north. Speaking of which, I bought this DVD a couple of months ago:

It’s a documentary starring top singer/songwriter John Shuttleworth, and the people of Shetland. It’s well worth buying if you’ve ever been, or are thinking of going.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

World Tour of Shetland, Part I

As you can probably tell reader (do tell the other reader!), I’m back from my great world tour of Shetland.

First of all, a word of caution regarding the ferry from Aberdeen. Apparently, as of the 1st May, photo id is required at check-in. I wish this was mentioned on the Northlink Ferries website when I made the booking (in July!!!), because I didn’t have any on me!

If this is law or company policy I don’t know. But the way I see it is, what’s the most common form of personal ID with a photo on? Answer, a passport! I should not need a passport to travel around my own country. Not all of us are terrorists or drug dealers.

Not knowing of this slight detail that was missing on their website, and more importantly the confirmation e-mail, I made my feelings on this issue well known to the chap at check-in. No-one messes with me, and so they let me on the ferry.

Sunday 12th October.

Not the best night’s sleep out at sea, but still better than I can ever do on long-distance flights. After docking at Lerwick I paid one of first of many visits to Loch of Clickimin and the Helendale area of Lerwick. A leafy suburb in Shetland terms, although nowhere near as leafy as Woking.

A Slavonian Grebe and 3 Goldeneye were on the loch, and migrants at Helendale included Blackcap, Goldcrest and Siskin.

A short drive over to the isle of Trondra was called for next, especially as a King Eider was here a week before. On arrival at a mussel farm in Cliff Sound there was a huge raft of Common Eider, plus three Long-Tailed Duck (two of them were cracking winter-plumaged drakes!), but unfortunately the king had left the building.

Loch of Tingwall had 2 Slavonian Grebes, then at the Kergord plantation there was a Yellow-Browed Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher.

Starting to flag from the lack of sleep at this point, a quick check of Loch of Benston produced 6 Whooper Swans.

By this time I was poised to return to Lerwick to check into my B&B, when a text on my moby mentioned a Red-Breasted Flycatcher at Helendale! Aaagh. Strange how you wake up when that happens! On returning there I did manage a brief view of it in the gloom. Also by now a Long-Tailed Duck and Goosander at Loch of Clickimin.

By the way, I decided to use a B&B and not another form of accommodation in Shetland, a Camping Bod.

No not that one! Although whenever I see these in Shetland, it always reminds me of this memory from childhood. Even now I can still whistle the theme tune. Do you remember Farmer Barleymow, Aunt Flo, PC Copper, and Alberto Frog and his Amazing Animal Band (I wouldn’t say no to a milkshake!)? All narrated by the dulcite tones of John “Sergeant Wilson” Le Mesurier!

Monday 13th October.

Over to the south mainland today, in particular to Toab for the Little Bunting. No sign of that, but a Richard’s Pipit had replaced it. Also a Whitethroat, Wheatear and Brambling. I also met local birder and photographer, Jim Nicolson.

A walk around Sumburgh Head produced 2 Twite and 2 Redwing. 5 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese at Pool of Virkie, plus two Brents and a Pintail at Boddam Voe. I had about finished birding for the day, and was stocking up with drinks at Tescos in Lerwick. Then a text appeared that REALLY got the adrenalin running. Unbelievably, considering the weather conditions, White’s Thrush at Kergord! Wow!!!

As soon as I saw that, and knowing there would be a bit of daylight left I zoomed off in the car and twenty minutes later I arrived. I managed four flight views of the bird. The first three were in the tops of the trees. My thoughts were yes it’s a thrush, not a Blackbird or Redwing, and I’ve seen no Mistle Thrushes here, so I’ve no reason to believe that’s not it. The last view, however, was much closer and lower. You could see the bird’s head and the large white patches on the under-wing.

Absolutely fantastic, not many twitches I go to these days really do make me physically twitch, but this one did! It was one of the big Siberian rarities I was secretly hoping for while I was here, and I’d got one so early into the trip. There were also Sparrowhawk and Merlin overhead during the evening’s entertainment. I also knew where I was returning to in the morning!

Tuesday 14th October.

I just had to return to Kergord, in case I could manage a better view of the White’s Thrush. On arrival I spoke to another local birder and photographer, Hugh Harrop. A group of us had gathered in the plantation. After a while most had dispersed but I stayed put.

The Yellow-Browed Warbler appeared again, then after a while a thrush landed in a conifer tree. A look in the binoculars, and would you believe it, it was the White’s Thrush. What a magnificent bird it is with all the scaly plumage, just wonderful. Its reclusive nature meant that it didn’t stay in the tree for very long, and a lot of birders missed it at that point.

I decided to move on, thinking I wouldn’t get a better view of the White’s Thrush now. News also filtered through of a Shetland mega at Sumburgh Head, a Long-Tailed Tit. It's quite odd to see a mass exodus of birders for a Long-Tailed Tit, but it was only the 4th one recorded on Shetland. It still didn't float my boat.

Back to Loch of Tingwall. There was the Ring-Necked Duck, 2 Scaup and still 2 Slavonian Grebes. Another look at Trondra produced absolutely no Eider at the mussel farm, I couldn’t believe it actually.

I just spent the rest of the afternoon mooching round Lerwick again. Seafield didn’t produce much, apart from a very furtive Robin that got me going for a moment. At Helendale were a Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Grey Wagtail and another Sparrowhawk. Loch of Clickimin produced another Ring-Necked Duck, I assume it must’ve flown here from Loch of Tingwall at some point during the afternoon.

At this point, just when I thought I was running out of birds to see, a text appeared. Pechora Pipit at Isbister! Right at the northern end of the mainland. Unfortunately too late to get over there today, but I’ll be over there tomorrow. Can this place get any better?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

2-1 to the Pub Team

Saturday 4th October. Uttoxeter Quarry, 11:45 - 13:05.

Just a quick look round the quarry before heading over to see the mighty Brewers against Crawley Town. 1 Wheatear and 3 House Martins was about as good as it got, birding wise anyway. Not bad considering we're now into October.

As for the game (apologies to Nigel Clough and Ben Robinson as it's only the second game I've been to this season). I really wanted to go to this one as us Burton Albion supporters have a history with Crawley Town's manager, Steve Evans.

As manager of Boston United, following an FA Cup game there about nine years ago that ended 1-1, Evans was quoted as saying "we made Burton look like a pub team". We won the replay 3-1, and ever since then that "pub team" remark has followed him. Especially after our last minute penalty that won the game, the chants of "2-1 to the pub team" filled the Pirelli Stadium.

Sunday 5th October, Uttoxeter Quarry, 13:15 - 16:00.

A most pleasant afternoon's walk around the quarry, which also produced by far my most unexpected find so far.

Whilst walking along a hedge trying to get a view of a Chiffchaff, when out of a Hawthorn, in the middle of the afternoon, a Barn Owl flew out and away from me! What's all that about? That's unbelieveable, because there's been absolutely no sign of any during the summer. If it was a cold day in the middle of winter it would be a bit more understandable.

So in addition to the Barn Owl there was a good mix of "season cross-over" migrants. 1 Redwing, 6 Swallow, 30 House Martin, 1 Chifchaff, 1 Green Sandpiper, 11 Snipe, 1 Dunlin, 4 Curlew.

Well folks, this is the last blog entry for a couple of weeks or so, until my return from my birding week in Shetland. Unless I find any free Wi-Fi access in Lerwick. Even if I do I'll be too busy birding during the day, and in the evenings I'll be more interested in finding the produce of the Valhalla Brewery.

Monday, 29 September 2008

One Goes Mad In Cumbria

Just one more twitch day out, I thought, before my week in Shetland. After missing the Stilt Sandpiper at Coombe Hill Meadows in August, what a better excuse than to try for another one at Campfield Marsh RSPB reserve, on the Solway Firth in Cumbria.

In fact, I've only ever birded once before in Cumbria. That was back in 1996, to pay homage to a certain little Spanish Sparrow (and the Golden Eagles at Haweswater). Arriba! He was a little cracker, probably Cumbria's most famous resident since Beatrix Potter. Cumbria is as famous for that bird as Staffordshire is for Nutcracker (it's nearly the 17th anniversary).

Sunday 28th September. South Walney, 10:20 - 12:40.

In addition to the Stilt Sand, there was also a 1st winter Rustic Bunting at South Walney Nature Reserve. It's kind of on the way, and would also be a lifer, so "let's go for it first" was the thought.

With the view of Piel Castle on arrival, the wardens said the bird was still around. As Jeremy Clarkson says, how hard can it be?

As it happens, as Jimmy Savile says, it took a wait of nearly two hours for the bird to appear. The wardens had laid some seed down on one of the footpaths, so that was the place to view. It was getting to the stage where I was wondering "how much longer should I give it?", when on an umpteenth scan with the binoculars this time it produced a bird flying towards us.

It landed on some brambles about 20 feet away. A first look, yes it's a Bunting. Then you make out the crest and the broad cream stripes above the eye and at the bottom of the face. "Jesus H Corbett, that's it!". It's the Rustic Bunting, and you have to be careful how loud you say it. One, you look like a plonker if that's not it. Two, you don't want to scare the bird. Some people may say that's the wrong way round.

It dropped down and out of sight for about ten minutes, then appeared along the path to feed on the seed. That was definitely one of my most satisfying ticks, one that I really had to put the effort and patience in. The following picture is a bit blurry, but it shows the crest off well, and the bird's jizz (for reasons I won't go into, I always think that's an unfortunate phrase).

Other birds seen at South Walney were a couple of skeins of Pink-Footed Geese (totalling around 60 birds), 2 Stonechat, 1 Whinchat. That's the starter, now onto the main course, Stilt Sandpiper.

Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve, 15:40 (!!!!!!) - 16:10.

A harsh lesson learned today. Cumbria is a big, big place! I couldn't believe it took three hours to drive from South Walney to Campfield Marsh. Imagine having that to do that to cover local patches?

But eventually, driving through Barrow, Ulverston, up the M6 and through Carlisle, and arriving on the Solway Firth, the Stilt Sandpiper was dead easy to find. Most of the time it was accompanying a couple of Black-Tailed Godwits.

It really was a fantastic wader, just like a large Curlew Sandpiper. It just felt that giving it only half an hour really didn't do it, and the Solway Firth, justice. I've always thought that I should spend some time and do some birding along the Solway Firth, and in a way I still haven't. I just looked at a small pool.

But time was getting on. It was the right decision to leave as well. In addition to filling the car up in Wigton, getting lost in Wigton due to a closed road, and roadworks on the M6 north of Preston that took an absolute age to get through (and of course, no-one was actually doing any work on the road, grrr!). But once through them I cheered up knowing I'd had two ticks in a day. That doesn't happen every often for me these days!

Nuff respect is due to those twitchers who do this every weekend, my hat goes off to you. I couldn't do 14 hour days out (and no doubt more!) like this all the time.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

To infinity, and beyond!

I noticed on the news the other day of this Swiss chap, who flew across the channel in his jet pack:

Did he really base his design on watching Toy Story? It worked though, and can be watched here!

Saturday 27th September, Uttoxeter Quarry, 12:00 - 13:45

On the 27th July, I took this photo of the quarry:

And this is it today!

Amazing what all that rain did the other week. Thankfully the water pumps have been put to work, it shall return to it's former state I'm sure. And a new site tick today, in the form of a Pintail. A flock of 40 House Martins dropped in to feed on the water's surface for a short time, then all flew up high.

But perhaps the most spectacular sight was of a patch of flowering Ivy that was swarming with insects. Mainly of bees, that's got to attract a passing Shrike surely?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Autumn Migrants..........

Oh eck, have I picked the wrong week to go to Shetland? My feet are itching, palms are sweating, with what I keep reading that's appearing up there over the last couple of days. And I've got two weeks to wait yet!

Siberian Thrush, Brown Flycatcher, Red-Flanked Bluetail, Blyth's Reed Warbler. Admittedly some of them are on Fair Isle, I don't think I'll be tempted off the mainland. Can you fly there and back in a day from Sumburgh?

I have decided that this autumn I'm determined to finally nail by bird nemesis, an embarrassing omission from my british list. That being Pallas's Warbler. I don't know what it is about them, but every time I try for one they disappear.

And before you say, yes I should've gone for that one in Congleton a few years ago. Dunno why I didn't now. Perhaps I knew it would disappear as well? Perhaps I didn't realise how near Congleton is to home? I do now though, I worked there for a year.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Norfolk Weekend

Shiver me timbers, arr. Oh hang on, talk like a pirate day has gone for another year!

Where was I? Oh yes, I was in Norfolk over the weekend. Once again, many thanks to Jo and Ian in Norwich for putting me up, or putting up with me. Whichever is most appropriate, either way it is much appreciated.

For the next month I'm fully armed with Rare Bird Alert's text message service, as I'm too tight to get a pager again. It'll cover me for when I'm in Shetland, in three weeks time, as well. It's really good actually as you can set it to a single county (or any number of counties), and set the date and time of when you want to start and finish to receive SMS's.

Saturday 20th September, Cley, 9:20 - 13:30

As it turned out to be a lovely sunny day again (oh eck, see Spurn Pointless!), I thought a morning at Cley would be the best bet, then if anything along the north coast turned up on the moby, then we're set to go. A Dotterel was also seen at Cley the evening before.

Unfortunately there was no sign of the Dotterel today, but over the morning it turned out to be a classic Cley selection of stuff. Including 16 Little Stint, 4 Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Spotted Redshank, 9 Little Egret, 4 Marsh Harrier, 3 Sandwich Tern, 7 Bearded Tit, calling Cetti's Warbler, Avocets, loads of Golden Plover. Also 7 Swallows and 2 Yellow Wagtail, hanging onto summer.

Despite the feeling of inferiority, photography-wise in some of the hides, compared with photographers that seem to have the hubble telescope on a camera. My best attempts at Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint are below.

Titchwell, 14:30 - 16:50.

Over the course of the morning it was clear that the best bird seen along the North Norfolk Coast was the Red-Necked Phalarope at Titchwell. When arriving at the freshmarsh, in addition to an overhead Hobby, the waderfest continued!

Sure enough the Phalarope was there, swimming and spinning away, as if it'd been bowled by Shane Warne! Or one of those clockwork toys you can buy for the bath. Now there's an idea RSPB, if you're reading! I want the royalties, or I'm off to Dragon's Den with my own prototype!

Whilst watching the Phalarope, I overheard one of the wardens mention a Pectoral Sandpiper. Right, I'm after that! We managed a Water Rail along the edge of the reeds first. Then not long after that I managed to locate the Pec Sand, thanks to the scope zoomed up to 60x. Turn your amps up to 11 for that one!

A bit of a seawatch (ugh!, apologies but I'm from the midlands!) produced an Arctic Skua, 1 Red-Throated Diver, 2 Eider, 1 Gannet, 3 Great Crested Grebes (I don't know about you, but I always find Great Crested Grebes on the sea a bit odd!). Also waders on the beach such as Grey Plover, Bar-Tailed Godwit.

On the walk back to the car, Kingfisher, another calling Cetti's Warbler and more Bearded Tits. In over 20 years of birding, this was by far my best day ever for Bearded Tit. No wind helps no end! Other waders on the freshmarsh include Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, loads of Ruff.

Sunday 21st September, Winterton Dunes, 9:15 - 11:00

During the course of the previous evening, the best bird received on the moby was a Wryneck at Winterton Dunes. Not a lot else to go for, so I thought we may as well try there. It's also somewhere in Norfolk that I've never been to before. Despite the good weather and the possibility that it could fly off overnight, you never know, it could still be around in the morning.

Behold the proof as below!

I must've been the first person to find the Wryneck that day. Thankfully we were watching a Redstart on the same patch of bramble. As soon as that flew off something flew onto it. My first thought was "that's a funny looking thrush". Then "ooh, aah, thats it!, Wryneck!!!" It's strange how often that can happen. You're looking at a bird in a particular spot, then something will either join it or replace it.

There were a couple of other birders there who had been looking in the same area of bushes in the dunes for over an hour. And there we were, straight away and pointing it out to them. At least they were grateful. As much as I was, it's one of the best views I've ever had of this species. A couple of minutes later it flew off into the bushes and performed more usual Wryneck behaviour, i.e. I didn't see it again! I'm really pleased with this shot of a Redstart that we got there however.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me............

Ahoy me hearties, ha-harr! This lily-livered landlubber be in Norfolk this weekend, off to find some ornithological booty. So no bloggin', rapin' and pillagin' till next week. Arr!

Until then a quick reminder (before the grog takes effect!) that this Friday, 19th September, is Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Never mind Jack Sparrow, the greatest pirate o'em all to sail the seven seas has to be this man!

In case you were wondering. Captain Pugwash's colleagues were never called Master Bates, Seaman Stains and Roger the Cabin Boy, it's all an urban myth! Or a mythyth.