Tuesday, 29 December 2009
I seem to remember mentioning "Song of the Decade" the other week. Unfortunately, Absolute Radio's chart was rather disappointing. A worrying amount of McFly in that list, but The Killers were number one, so not all that bad.
Hmm, what else is there? Ooh I know, who won "Beard of the Year" this year? Well reader, I can tell you. It was, and completely out of nowhere until recently, Zack de la Rocha from "Rage Against The Machine":
Runner up was Slavoj Zizek, Professor of Philosophy apparently (all a bit too high-brow for me):
And in third place, ex-Policeman tantric eco-warrior, Gordon Sumner:
This is all unfair on the South African batsman, with a corking beard, Hashim Amla:
I wonder if the Ferruginous Duck will still be around on New Years Day...............
Monday, 28 December 2009
Boxing Day turned into a bit of a bonus birding day. Pity the football was postponed, as I was really looking forward to watching the Albion at Port Vale in a Staffordshire derby. But I went birding instead, consisting of Uttoxeter Quarry and Brookleys Lake.
At the quarry there was a Jack Snipe in the sedge, along with 6 Common Snipe. Then at Brookleys the first-winter drake Scaup still around, although looking a little bit smarter than a few weeks ago.
Then onto today with the same itinerary. Andy had picked up the first-winter drake Scaup at Uttoxeter yesterday, and was still there today. But there was also a second Scaup, a female, and a Pink-footed Goose in amongst the Greylags.
Then onto Brookleys Lake again. A first scan along the duck produced another "oh my god!" moment:
Bingo, one drake Ferruginous Duck. Well that wasn't around on Boxing Day. There was a drake Fudge Duck here four years ago. Could it be the same bird? Although there are a few around the country at the moment.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
You know all the usual christmas songs start popping up at this time of year? Slade, Wizzard, The Pogues, Rage Against The Machine, that type of thing? Well, how come I've never heard "Zat You, Santa Claus" by Louis Armstrong until a few days ago? It's brilliant, don't ever knock a bit of big band music.
Anyway, if anyone happens to read this then have a nice christmas, and give Satchmo a listen.
Sunday, 20 December 2009
(after consulting the copyright lawyers, most definitely Copyright Ordnance Survey, please don't sue me!!!!!!).
Gailey Reservoirs, from 1889 (no M6 there!):
Belvide Reservoir, 1892:
But most fascinating of all are these, from 1889 and 1901. Notice the names of landmarks such as "Stansley Wood", "Watery Lane" and "Ten Acre Pit", sound familiar?
It is difficult to imagine what Blithfield would have looked like before the reservoir was built. Especially imagining the mill pond where Blithe Bay is today.
Monday, 14 December 2009
A pre-christmas small gathering of bloggers in a tour of South Staffs today. Consisting of myself, Martyn and Craig, the blogger known as Midlands Birder. Although it was a shame that Kay wasn't feeling the Mae West, and was unable to attend.
Kicking off at Stubber's Green. Straight away when I arrived the third-winter Caspian Gull was found, along with 3 Goosander, a few each of Common and Great Black-Backed Gulls and a plethora of Herring Gulls in different plumages.
A quick stop along the south shore at Chasewater produced the adult Mediterranean Gull.
Throughout the morning it was becoming apparent that I was missing skeins of Pink-footed Geese closer to home, heading from Norfolk to "Lanky-Lanky-Lanky-Lanky" Lancashire. Absolutely no sign of any further south, but that always happens. North Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire is on a direct flight path between the two areas.
Never mind, and in any case lets see if we can get Craig another tick, as there had at least one Smew at Drayton Bassett. But before then, I enjoy all things weird and wacky. So a wintering Whinchat, at Tameside Nature Reserve on the edge of Tamworth, had to be investigated.
The bird appeared to be feeding away perfectly happily in the rough grass, lets hope it survives the winter. Also around were a pair of Chiffchaffs, 3 Snipe and 8 Wigeon on this small pool.
As for Drayton Bassett, unfortunately no sign of any Smew, but a first winter drake had been briefly located in the Trent Valley. We decided check Croxall just in case it had moved there. No Smew here either, but credit to Craig for finding a solitary Pink-footed Goose. We weren't to be left out of the hundreds of passing Pink-feet today, we had our grand total of one!
There was also a female Pintail and a staggering number (well it is round here in the winter) of 33 Redshank. Our day ended back at Chasewater for the gull roost for the last hour of daylight left. We picked out the adult Med Gull again, along with a few adult Yellow-legged Gulls and one of the Caspian Gulls. As for which one it was, gawd knows. But it ended a most enjoyable day.
Sunday 13th December.
Sticking closer to home today, starting at Brookleys Lake again. The first winter drake Scaup was still around, and continuing the passage of Pink-footed Geese a skein of about 150 flew over, in addition to 158 Mandarin (and there could be even more than that).
The afternoon was spent at Uttoxeter Quarry. Which had a nice selection of duck, a Peregrine, a Green Sandpiper and 6 Snipe.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
They were close enough for me. So when I got back home, I submitted the ring details to the Euring website, and I got some details back today.
It appears that these two young Flamingoes were ringed as chicks in July, some 250 kilometres to east, in Spain. But what surprised me is they did not originate from some coastal marsh or salt pan, but at a freshwater lagoon 50 kilometres north of Malaga, well inland.
Fantastic stuff, but why did they go to there? It also brings back fond memories of some warm weather!
Sunday, 6 December 2009
But anyway, the path to the site got increasingly muddy. Got job I got my wellies.
It eventually leads to a riverside meadow with scrub.
Straight away the Shrike was showing to about ten people. Over time the bird became more active, hunting around the reedmace in the river. Eventually the bird got closer, allowing for excellent views.
Also around were a Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Fieldfares, Redwings and bringing back more memories of India in addition to the Shrike, two Rose-ringed (not Ring-necked!) Parakeets.
Well that was easy, what can I do now? If I went home I wouldn't get much birding time before it got dark. There had been a couple of Serins at Rainham Marshes, which would also be a British tick. Albeit on the other side of London, but may as well while I'm down here. The traffic on the M25 wasn't too bad, although most of it had a 50mph limit.
This is the edge of the mound where they get to, which by the way, blocks off the view of the rubbish tip next door. The female Serin showed briefly, too quick for a photo, along with a pair of Stonechat. So that's Serins seen at the edge of a rubbish tip and on manicured lawns at Quinta Do Lago. Do you ever get them in true wild places?
I'm sure the RSPB reserve would have been worth exploring, but it was time to get back home. But if you're into architecture, Rainham Marshes is the place to be. Well, not really considering all the other landmarks in London. The Dartford Crossing:
The truly underwhelming Eurostar bridge:
And the downright weird looking visitor centre. Might get one of these at Middleton Lakes one day.
Sunday 6th December.
A bit whacked after yesterday's twitch and driving. While I was at Rainham Marshes, Andy found an immature drake Scaup at Brookleys Lake. Glad to say it was still around this morning.
There have also been county record-breaking counts of Mandarin duck. 104 at least this morning, but nearly one less when a passing Peregrine just missed catching one.
This afternoon we went to Copmere, hoping for some close views of roosting gulls. But apart from about 20 Black-headed Gulls, that was it. It sounds like Swynnerton landfill site has closed. If that's the case then that's a bit of a blow, as it was really good for gulls round there last winter.
Monday, 30 November 2009
Well, that item was on tonight's show. Thankfully I avoided the cameras successfully, but the film can be seen here. Towards the end of the programme, between Carol Vorderman yacking away about maths and Cliff Richard and The Shadows performing "Move It". Their last ever live performance in the UK apparently. If you ask me this is Cliff's best ever song, I don't know why he ever bothered afterwards.
Anyway, don't be fooled. Each piece to camera took Mike Dilger about four or five takes.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
Well, the plan on Friday night was to go to the cup game at Gillingham, via Staines to look at the Brown Shrike. But I've been trying to shake off a heavy cold all week and still felt rather groggy this morning. So just tootled around closer to home.
Uttoxeter Quarry, 11:30 - 13:30.
Oh yes, water, lots of lovely water!
It's already made a difference to the numbers of duck, with higher numbers of Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and a couple of Shoveler. Also a personal site tick in the form of three Ravens. Hopefully the water level will lead to better birding in the winter months ahead, as I was worried a week ago that it could get a bit dull for birding, never mind blogging.
Following some patch work, there's been a Great Northern Diver at Belvide recently, so I thought I'd take a look.
I do realise the picture makes the Diver look more like Nessie, wasn't easy to get a decent picture from the Scott hide in the afternoon gloom. But when not sticking a camera onto the scope the bird was showing well towards the dam. The white notch in the side of the neck, giving the Diver a collar-like appearance, was also noticeable.
Monday, 23 November 2009
Did I say autumn was winding down? Well, at Uttoxeter Quarry I don't think it even started. Actually that's a little unfair. The water level still looks ideal for passage waders. Trouble is they've all gone now, and there's not enough water to attract diving duck, or a rare Grebe or Diver.
I'll stick with it of course, but unless it fills up a bit, it could be a long winter. Still a nice flock of 15 Snipe around, along with 16 Wigeon and a couple of Teal.
After that I was struggling to think what to do next. That was until the pager mentioned a Snow Bunting at Belvide. Which showed really well on the shoreline in front of the west end hide, a cracking little bird. Pity I left my camera in the car, by which time the heavy persistent rain had started.
Sunday 22nd November.
Well, back at Belvide again. As it's the perfect place to go for a Shag.........
What? What else did you think I meant?
The bird did have a head by the way, but was doing a lot of preening at the time.
Pondering to myself about what to do next. I know, I'll give Aqualate Mere a try, not all that far up the road from Belvide. Although I did wonder if I had arrived in Exmoor.....
On arrival at the hide, flicking through the sightings book, both Bittern and Cetti's Warbler have been around for about a month. Isn't is strange how they don't get put out on the information networks? If it was the breeding season I would understand of course. Anyway, after a while of waiting in the hide, a familiar burst of noise came out of the reeds to the right of the hide, that's a Cetti's Warbler alright.
The day was finished at Blithfield, to check for roosting gulls in Tad Bay. Which was rather productive actually, as I managed to pick out an adult Med Gull, along with an adult Yellow-legged Gull.
Little did I know while I was at Aqualate, all sorts of fun and games started at Belvide. Make up your own mind for this wader.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Saturday 14th November.
Starting off at the quarry in Uttoxeter:
1 Redshank, 2 Green Sandpipers, 140 Golden Plover, 300 Lapwing, 55 Teal, 3 Wigeon, 60 Fieldfare.
Then at Blithfield, 4 Redshank and 6 Dunlin in Tad Bay. Any thoughts of checking the gull roost at the causeway were thwarted when an almighty shower came in.
Sunday 15th November.
A much calmer morning, so a walk around the Katyn memorial area of Cannock Chase was called for. And not a bad selection actually, considering the time of year. A few Stonechats, a single Redpoll, Skylarks, Reed Buntings, Fieldfares, Redwings, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
The afternoon was then spent in the Trent valley, most of the time at Whitemoor Haye to scan for farmland birds. Which produced very little really, the call of a Partridge got me excited for a short while, but it was Red-legged and not the Grey I was hoping for. To break the lack of birds, a short visit to Branston Water Park produced a Water Rail and 4 Snipe in the reeds at the southern end.
And that was as good as it got really. Must be a sign that the best of autumn has passed. In fact, this was the most exciting thing I saw at Whitemoor Haye. Alongside Sittles Farm is a small airstrip, about to be put to the test here........
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Well, I can't really put my finger on one song as there are all sorts of different aspects to birding. So, by the power of Youtube, here are my birding anthems:
1. The Twitcher's Anthem. "I Want It All" by Queen.
2. The Local Patcher's Anthem. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2.
3. The Stringer's Anthem. "Little Lies" by Fleetwood Mac.
4. The Suppressor's Anthem. "Our Lips Are Sealed" by the Fun Boy Three.
5. The Migration Fall Anthem. "I'm Only Happy When It Rains" by Garbage.
You get the idea with that. This is what the dark nights have reduced me to!
As a musical aside, one will notice that we're heading towards the end of a decade, and next year will be the start of a new one. To commemorate the last ten years, Absolute Radio are currently conducting a poll for the "Song of the Decade". I have used my vote wisely, and gone with "Is This The Way To Amarillo.
But I encourage everyone to vote in this poll, just to make sure that anything by James Blunt, or "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol, doesn't win! I shall be following this poll closely during December.
Monday, 9 November 2009
Saturday 7th November.
A decent selection at Uttoxeter Quarry to start with. Including 37 Golden Plover, 2 Green Sandpiper, 6 Goosander, 23 Wigeon, 4 Redwing, 2 Fieldfare, 1 Stonechat and an intruiging flock of around 20 Reed Buntings. Worth keeping an eye on them during the winter.
A check of Swallow Moss until dusk afterwards proved rather quiet. No sign of any roosting Hen Harriers yet, but perhaps the rain didn't help matters. What was around however was this Red Deer stag. Honest guv, it really is there, but it was getting dark.
Sunday 8th November.
But the real reason for the blog title is because I have a lot of time for the F.A. Cup. I still find it rather special, there's nothing more exciting in the footie calendar than the third round draw.
Thanks to Football League status these days, the mighty Brewers go straight into the first found proper. With a potential banana-skin tie at home to Oxford City to look forward to, I thought some time spent round Whitemoor Haye and Branston would be a good idea before going to the match.
That was until I was on my way getting as far as Uttoxeter, a call from the Blurred Birder informed me of a possible Long-Tailed Duck at Blithfield, off Beech Tree Point. And so it proved to be the case. Unfortunately I had left my camera at home, but thankfully I've wheeled and dealed, a "Blaggers for Bloggers" deal, to get an exclusive picture.
Also around Blithers were a Curlew in Blithe Bay. Then in Tad Bay were an immature drake Scaup, 1 adult Yellow-Legged Gull, 13 Dunlin, 3 Goosander.
As for the footy, thankfully Burton Albion scraped a 3-2 victory, with the reward of an away tie at Gillingham. If the Brown Shrike is still around on the 28th I could combine the two, hmm................
Monday, 2 November 2009
Saturday 31st October, Weaver Hills, 9:00 - 10:30.
After all the excitement of the last few weeks, back to a bit of bread and butter. A migration watch up the Weavers. Well, I did when the fog cleared............
Quite a bit of activity when the mist cleared. 200 Fieldfare, 46 Woodpigeon, 90 Starling, 10 Skylark, 12 Meadow Pipit, 1 Siskin, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Linnet and a Lesser Black-Backed Gull.
A decision next for the afternoon, Uttoxeter Quarry or another try for Glossy Ibis round Drayton Bassett? Well, it was the latter. An afternoon stood by Fisher's Mill pit and scanning around until dusk, along with the Voices of the Tame Valley, Tom and Julian.
Unfortunately there was no sign of the Ibis all day. But highlights included the Garganey, 5 Little Egrets, 1 Water Rail, 6 Snipe, 1 Guzzunder, 20 Fieldfare and 4 Redwing.
Sunday 1st November, Blithfield Reservoir, 11:15 - 17:00.
A wild and windy day, I just felt that Blithers would have the best chance of something blown in.
4 Whooper Swans in Tad Bay I was told. But that can wait whilst scanning around the dam, and not much appeared. Then a text from Mr Blurred, informing me that the two remaining Swans are Bewick's rather than Whoopers. Looking at the size of them initially, they certainly weren't much larger than the surrounding Canada Geese.....
....then a bit of movement a short while later.
Now reader, if you look at the bird on the left, I can fully understand why there may have been a bit of confusion. One thing I always remember about Bewick's is the "concave" shape of the bill. But this one looks really long and quite straight, with a large amount of yellow on it. The bird on the right a more classic Bewick's.
It just goes to show how much variation occurs on the bill of Bewick's Swans. Which as every schoolboy knows (well, those of us who remember Sir Peter Scott on the telly, and his studies at Slimbridge), the bill pattern is unique, just like our fingerprints. Fingerprints being unique that is, our fingers don't look like a Swan's bill!
Also in Tad Bay were 71 Golden Plover, 5 Dunlin, 11 Snipe, 3 Goosander, 1 Shelduck,
and 17 Pintail. Also some autumn fungi in Stansley Wood. Don't pick it if you don't know what it is, I haven't a clue!
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Saturday 24th October, Drayton Bassett, 10:30 - 12:45.
And in any case, let's give this Glossy Ibis at Drayton Bassett a try (whilst continuing to ignore pager messages about South Shields, what!).
At Fisher's Mill pit, in deepest Warwickshire (well, most of it), were the Garganey and two Little Egrets. A scan around Drayton Bassett north pit, in deepest Staffordshire, there were a flock of 35 Golden Plover, and another 40 Goldies that flew south. After a while I noticed two Swans fly in with intent. They turned out to be Whooper Swans.
Well that's not a bad consolation, as there was no sign of the Ibis. Not late morning anyway. The wind was getting up a bit now, although the rain was nowhere near as bad as was forecast. A short drive along the A5 leads to Stubber's Green, so I thought I would give it a try.
At last, finally managed to catch up with Caspian Gull here, a British tick for me. This is the third-winter bird. Some black markings in the tail, along with long legs and a mean looking bill. In fact, a monster of a gull. Well, it was until a couple of Great Black-Backeds flew in.
Right then, one or two arrangements to make, an early night (missed Jon and Edward on X Factor again!), then give South Shields a try in the morning.
Sunday 25th October. Trow Quarry, South Shields, 08:00 - 10:00.
Well, in amongst a car-full with Andy, Mad Malc, Nobby and Vaughan. No mention either way by the time we arrived. And was it there?
Well, err, no. I would usually say never mind at this point, but to be honest it was a real blow. But it had to be done, and we weren't the only ones that dipped.
The Red-Flanked Bluetail at Bempton Cliffs was still around, which was also on the agenda for the day. A short stop-off at Saltholme Pools was done on the way, to look at the drake Blue-Winged Teal. The drive along the Yorkshire coast, Heartbeat country of course (it was never as good after the great Bill Maynard left), eventually led us to Bempton.
I must admit I'm not the best company at twitches that involve a long wait. It's not so much being impatient, I just get bored with standing around looking at nothing. But after at least two hours of waiting, the Red-Flanked Bluetail was eventually found in a small wood opposite the feeding station, and showed fantastically well. Close enough just for binoculars was the order of the day, this was why:
After the disappointment of the morning, to end the day with crippling views of the Red-Flanked Bluetail, a lifer for me. Well, I for one was delighted. Actually, we were all delighted.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Just as Chris Evans zoomed off out of Birmingham airport (no baggage carousel for him!), time for us get out of the airport and catch up on some local birding. So I dropped Martyn off, and straight over to Chasewater to have a look at a Black-Throated Diver.
It took a bit of finding actually, as most Divers usually do from my experience, but I eventually found the bird along the west shore, just to the north of the powerboat club.
As the hourdes of visitors gradually left Chasewater and things started to quieten down, the Diver swam over to the dam. There were also two Rock Pipits along the south shore and just before heading home to unpack, three Common Scoters (either female or immatures) flew around the reservoir.
Sunday 18th October.
I suppose I should've headed to Drayton Bassett after leaving Chasewater, as a Glossy Ibis was found. So I thought I would wait and see what came on the pager. A report of an Ibis flying over Willington made me decide to have a search around the Trent valley.
As Whitemoor Haye and Croxall were rather quiet, I then headed over to Branston Gravel Pits. And I didn't think there was much here either, until I was walking back to the car and a pager message came on, "Black-Throated Diver at Branston, southern pit"! Eh, I've just walked past there. Well, I did say they're not always easy to see. Thankfully Dave Scattergood was also around and found it, must've have been the same bird that departed Chasewater earlier in the day.
I watched the Diver until dusk. During that time there was also 2 Little Egrets, 1 Goldeneye, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Snipe, 1 Peregrine, 4 Redwings and most pleasing of Barn Owl in the fading light.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Friday 16th October.
Our final day's birding. As the week turned out, the westerly winds we were hoping for (full of American vagrants) never materialised. So what we decided to do was to build up as large a list of birds as we could. The nature reserve at Castro Marim, on the Spanish border, is a reliable place for Lesser Short-Toed Lark. And as we've noticed, who knows what different birds we'll find at another wetland location.
Plenty of lagoons here, although a lot of them rather distant. But in addition to the Flamingoes and Spoonbills were Osprey, Marsh Harrier, 12 Caspian Terns, 3 Little Terns, a couple of small skeins of Greylag Geese and a single Little Bustard, which was found by a pair of birders from Germany.
With Castro Marim castle in the background, a walk along a track through the saltmarsh produced some "drrrd" calls of 6 Lesser Short-Toed Larks. A short time later we found another three that landed on the ground (lifer).
A drive down to some lagoons on the edge of Vila Real de Santo Antonio produced 7 Curlew Sandpipers in amongst a mixed flock of waders, two Great Crested Grebes, four more Little Terns. We also had a crippling view of a Crag Martin as it was flying under the road bridge. But not this bridge, that would be a bit scary! By the way, that's Spain on the far side of the river.
The German birders we met earlier had told us about the salt pans at Santa Luzia. Seeing as we had pretty much cleaned up at Castro Marim and with an afternoon to kill. Instead of nipping into Spain and starting a new list, we headed over to Santa Luzia, west of Tavira, to find these salt pans.
As you can see reader, we found them. This was also the only site where we saw Spanish Sparrow during the week, and large numbers of waders. Especially of Curlew Sandpipers and Kentish Plovers.
We also found 10 Slender-billed Gulls amongst Black Headed Gulls, but looking through a fence and looking into the sun. However, we found another flock of about 150 large gulls which we could see included some Audouin's Gulls. An attempt at a closer inspection was started:
We found the flock and counted 71 Audouin's Gulls. We also found it intruiging how a lot of them were trying to keep in the shade.
One more check of Pera Marsh before we finished birding for the week. Which proved rather successful, with the addition of Little Owl and Subalpine Warbler (lifer). And that was it for birding in the Algarve, with a excellent total of 162 different species. Not including the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker we heard, and the three introduced species of Common Waxbill, Sacred Ibis and Masked Weaver. The reader of Blurred Birding will notice that Martyn just doesn't do em!
I would just like to take the opportunity to thank Martyn for his company, which for me was a wonderful week's birding. Cheers my friend!
But as far as blogging is concerned, that's not quite the end of it. On the flight home back to Birmingham, to our surprise we had a celebrity sat four rows in front of us. It was none other than the new Terry Wogan, "Christophe Lammie Pie" himself, Chris Evans: