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.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Sunday 14th September

North Staffordshire Moorlands, 12:20 - 17:00

Instead of another Sunday at Uttoxeter Quarry and Blithfield, I thought an autumn visit wandering the moors would make a change. An occasional wander of the moors once in a while is good, but to do it regularly would probably have serious consequences for my sanity.

I've mentioned it before that moorland birding is different. Whereas places like gravel pits, reservoirs, and even spring woodlands have birds set up on a plate for you, with moorland you have to work at it, be patient, scan horizons regularly, and a bit of luck helps as well. Sometimes if you see anything at all, well, apart from Meadow Pipits, then you've done rather well. Remembering that on the good days does give a good sense of achievement.

Even after five hours of searching, my total list for today ended up at 15 species!

Thankfully in that list was a selection of raptors including a female Merlin, juvenile Peregrine, Buzzard, Raven, plenty of Kestrels. Unfortunately the large passage of Honey Buzzards across the country didn't make it here this time.

At Knotbury, there were also 1 Whinchat, 5 Wheatear and 13 Red Grouse.

PS, Rick Wright RIP.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Hill Has Eyes!

Friday 12th September.

No birding done today in case you were wondering. Just a strange episode that happened. As I left home for work and turned to see round the back of my car, there was the sad sight of a freshly knocked over Badger that must have succumbed during the night. I didn't have time to do anything with it now, but I thought I would move and bury it somewhere when I got back in the evening.

After an afternoon of go karting provided by work (at Midland Karting near Lichfield by the way, great fun!), I remembered my Badger burying duty before heading to Alton in the evening. However, when I arrived home it was nowhere to be seen.

I've noticed this fairly regularly. If I see a knocked over animal on the way to work, by the time I'm coming back home it's nowhere to be seen. What's going on? I think it's safe to assume they haven't come back to life. The council don't clear roadkill do they?

My only other explanation is that someone has taken it for the pot. Which reminds me of a fantastic programme that was on BBC2 at the start of this year, The Man Who Eats Badgers. Which featured the exploits of Arthur Boyt, who collected roadkill around the roads of Bodmin Moor. I wasn't happy about Barn Owl, or indeed most of the contents of his freezer, as you can see in the above Youtube link. Apparently he used to lead the Watford RSPB group. No answer to that.

Saturday 13th September, Big Birdforum Berry Hill Bash, 8:00 - 11:40.

A cracking morning's birding at the mighty Berry Hill Fields in Stoke, arranged and agreed by various local members of Bird Forum. What's more it was a lovely sunny day!

Not a bad selection of stuff actually, although no-one could match the recent highs of Lapland Bunting and Hoopoe. Highlights included 4 Whinchat, 2 Stonechat, 1 Redstart, 2 Wheatear, 2 Willow Tit.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Blog Hits!

After setting up this blog with the ClustrMaps website, I see I'm getting around 50 hits to this blog only after a few days. Who in their right minds actually reads this rubbish? I dunno.

All I'll say is, just get out there and find something. But not Blithfield, Belvide and Drakelow, because there are people who WILL find something before you will. But not Uttoxeter Quarry because it's mine! Actually, now it's a deep water desert for the time being you can, because there'll be nowt decent to see there for a while.

Yes, unfortunately, all the rain has taken it's toll on my beloved quarry. It is full to the brim with water. Hopefully as it is still a working quarry, they will sort the water level out eventually. Unlike some of the gravel pits in the trent valley. Newbold at Branston/Barton, and Alrewas by the A38 for example.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Spurn Pointless

Sunday 7th September.

That title's a little harsh by the way, as Spurn is one of my favourite places for birding. The plan was brilliant. With all those rarities making landfall to the north, it would only be a matter of time before they made their way towards the Humber. And nearer to home as well. What could go wrong?

This was the large spanner in the works, not a cloud in the sky! I couldn't believe it, after all that rain at home it was a lovely, warm and sunny day here. Despite reports of an Icterine Warbler, most birders there hadn't seen it.

The best of the passerine migrants seen were a number of Whinchats and Wheatears, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat. Other than a few Gannets and Sandwich Terns out at sea, absolutely zip in terms of Skuas and Shearwaters. Didn't even manage to see the over-summering Shorelark from the Chalk Bank hides, but a nice selection of estuary waders. You just know when it's not your day! It didn't seem right to look for Shorelark on a day like today anyway.

It just shows how reliant bad weather is on forcing migrant birds to land, and with the wind in the right direction. The rarity fall was odd in the end. It only really occurred along the coasts of Northumberland, Durham and Cleveland. Nothing along the east coast of Scotland, and very little south of Scarborough.

If every day was filled with rare birds it would just become boring. At least I hadn't joined up with a well known birding tour company that were also at Spurn today. Spent all that money for the privilege of seeing very little.

One thing I've never noticed at Spurn before is this:

It's one of those sound mirrors. They were used to listen out for enemy aircraft, until radar was invented during the war. I've seen Coast on BBC2, I know what I'm talking about!

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Do de do do, do de do de do doody...........

Saturday 6th September. Blithfield Reservoir, 11:40 - 15:30

Its on days like today when I know how
Eric Morecambe felt. I'm wet through folks!

It was worth it though. Especially when news of a Grey Phalarope filtered through, to be expected really given the weather conditions. It took some finding however, but eventually showed well swimming in the middle of the deep end. The White-Winged Black Tern also showed well, better views than I had on Wednesday night.

Also around the deep end during a good old soaking were 9 Black Tern, 24 Arctic Tern, 2 Hobby, 2 Wheatear, Yellow and Grey Wagtail. There's also a rather angry Bull (Guernsey I think?) in the field between Ten Acre Bay and St. Stephens Bay, which was a rather unnerving experience when it trotted down the hill to pay me a visit. Strange how thin that fence wire looked!

Just a quick look in at Tad Bay next. Osprey perched in a dead tree in the plantation, 1 Little Egret, 2 Pintail. Alas, there's no muddy shoreline anymore, just grass up to the waters edge. That might put pay to any more waders this autumn? I didn't check Blithe Bay however, I'd had finally had enough of the rain and was developing trench foot!

Who I really feel sorry for today are the organisers of a charity rock gig in my home village, Air Aid 08. I thought about getting a ticket the other week, but the thought of it raining all day put me off. I didn't think anything of rain like this though.

We've also had the annual fun fair in Cheadle this week.................

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The perils of leaving your optics at home...........

..........and leaving your mobile switched off!!

Wednesday 3rd September, Blithfield Reservoir, 18:45

This was one of those days when I really had to concentrate at work, connected to a customer site all day sorting their software out, and then leaving the office late. I didn't even think to check When low and behold, whilst on way home, text messages appeared of a White-Winged Black Tern at the mighty Blithers!

The following thoughts entered my head. "Aagh, I need that as a county tick, lets go! Oh no, my bins and scope are at home!"

25 minutes from work in Stafford to my home, which is a usual time anyway. But then from home to Blithfield in record time I think. In the pouring rain as well, I was like Lewis Hamilton in the wet. For once I was quite glad to see heavy rain, as there was no chance the bird would do a bunk in that weather, would it?

Of course it wouldn't! I parked up at the Admaston end of the causeway and picked the bird up pretty much straight away, about halfway between the causeway and the dam. I should've headed to the dam really, but I thought I would be better off with the rain to my back. Forget digiscoping in these conditions!

After a while the rain stopped, and all the terns tended to congregate around the dam then, including about 8 or 9 Black Terns.

That was a county tick for me, despite all those that have terned up (see the pun?) at Belvide over the years. I really ought to get over the Belvide more often. I think it's because coming from Burton, Belvide was always a real trek to get to. I find it surprising how near it is once you get south of Stafford.