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!!!!!!