Thursday, 30 December 2010

Out with the old........

Thursday 30th December.

As I thought. So far this christmas, this has been the only day I've had available for birding. And what better way to finish the year off than to have a day's birding in Norfolk. In particular for the (presumed?, putative?) juvenile male Northern Harrier that has taken up residence in the saltmarshes between Thornham and Brancaster Staithe.

So off we went in Mad Malc's mystery machine. Thankfully the fog, that had been driven through all the way, cleared around King's Lynn. As afternoons had seemed to be a good time of day to see the Northern Harrier, the first port of call in the morning was at Burnham Overy Staithe, as there had been reports of Rough-legged Buzzard in the area.

As good and popular as Cley and Titchwell are, and rightly so, I have to admit that my favourite spot on the North Norfolk coast is around Burnham Overy Staithe. Probably because there's more of a wilderness feel to the area. Certainly the thousands of Geese here, Pink-Feet and Brents, add to the atmosphere. We also saw a ringtail Hen Harrier, but perhaps it was a little misty for any Buzzard action.

So onto Titchwell next. Complete with it's recently opened, new Parrinder Hide!

Oh hang on, that's not right. But you've got to admit it looks pretty spaced-aged:

There was a really pleasing selection of stuff around, despite all areas of fresh water still all frozen over. Highlights included a female Bearded Tit, a Bittern:

Three Twite in amongst a flock of Skylarks:

A Snow Bunting on the beach, and offshore a large raft of Common Scoter and a few Goldeneye.

With Titchwell done and dusted, and with the Northern Harrier seen at Thornham Harbour earlier in the day, it was onto Thornham next, the village next door to Titchwell.

We only had to wait a few minutes when the Harrier appeared. The bird showed wonderfully close in the harbour at first, before hunting around the saltmarsh, catching and feeding on prey a couple of times, in addition to having a couple of goes at a Sparrowhawk.

Whether it really is a Northern Harrier, or just a funny looking Hen Harrier, I don't know but it's certainly unlike any Hen Harrier I've seen before. Definitely an education whatever the outcome. I can only compare with my own experiences of a ringtail Hen Harrier. What does a juvenile male Hen Harrier look like? I don't know, just like an adult female?

What I thought was noticeable was the bird being noticeably darker on the head and upperparts, orange underparts, a large white rump (or perhaps the darker brown makes this look larger?) and a rather odd dangling right leg. And with that dangling leg, who would've thought a raptor could look camp?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Snowy Egret!

There, that got your attention didn't it? It makes a change from moaning about the cold anyway. Don't panic, I haven't lost me marbles or drank too much christmas sherry!

Just the highlight of a Little Egret (and not a Snowy Egret, as that would cause a major panic!) in the snow at Uttoxeter Quarry last Saturday, flying along the River Tean. In addition to 3 Snipe, 4 Wigeon, 1 Gadwall and 4 Common Gulls.

Prior to that, I found some more Waxwings last week, in Stafford this time. I found some berries a few weeks ago along my usual lunchtime walk along Weston Road. Last Thursday it eventually paid off when 3 Waxwings were around.

Anyway reader, that might be it for birding in 2010, I don't think there'll be too much birding time available for me in what remains of this year. But a New Years Day onslaught is planned to begin 2011, plus more of the same birding and nonsense throughout next year.

So if you happen to read this, although it's been said many times, many ways, merry christmas to you. And in true time-honoured tradition at christmas time, here's a bit of Morecambe and Wise.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Bit of Jiggery Pokery

Now I've just about recovered from Sunday's nightmarish day's birding. I've completely forgotten about what's going on "down under"! The third test from Perth gets underway in the early hours of Thursday. Keep it to yourself, but, if England win this test match then The Ashes are retained, without winning the series outright.

Right, no-one heard that, so I got away with it!

Not so long ago, there was a time when the England cricket team were perennially thrashed by the Aussies. As depicted in this wonderful animation, isn't it great what you can find on Youtube! And to the fantastic music of "The Duckworth Lewis Method". I'm sure it's autobiographical towards Mike Gatting!


Monday, 13 December 2010

It's all gone Pete Tong!

Saturday was a day off from birding, to catch up on christmas shopping (did you know christmas is on the way?) and make sure I went to the Albion's game against Southend United. Which was a 3-1 win, but importantly, got my ticket for the Middlesbrough game on the 8th January.

As for Sunday. If ever there was a day when I should've just stopped at home all day, in the warm, this was it. Let me explain............

Starting off at Uttoxeter Quarry. It's still all frozen solid, and as a result pretty birdless, desperate stuff really. And I did I say Cheadle was void of berries the other week? Well that was a load of buncumb, as over the last week a small flock of Waxwings has taken up residence around Lid Lane and Glebe Road.

Could I find them? No. But I wasn't too worried about that, but it would've been nice to see some Waxies in the town nearest to home. In truth, this was all killing time before heading to Blithfield. It sounded like an impressive gull roost the previous evening, with two Iceland Gulls in.

To begin with at Blithers, a Redshank below the dam, and in the small stretch of open water in Tad Bay, 20 Goosander and a drake Pintail. As you can see:

Then the reality of a Blithfield gull roost sets in, where are you going to look from? Unlike Chasewater or Copmere (I miss that roost!), Blithfield is too large to view from one spot.

I suppose the safest bet would be to view from the causeway or Watery Lane, but there were plenty of gulls piling in onto the ice at the bottom end of Blithe Bay from Beech Tree Point. And if any white-winger is going to fly into here, I'd see it well. That was the roll of the dice anyway, a gamble because there's no chance of seeing what's coming into the deep end from here.

It turned out that although plenty of gulls were coming onto the Blithe Bay ice, they were packing themselves in so tightly it was getting impossible to make a lot of them out. So as the gloom started I admitted defeat and went home.

Then came the sinking feeling on the way home, the proverbial kick in the teeth, when the pager mentioned an adult Iceland Gull at the deep end. Noooooooooooo! And to rub salt into the wound, the later mention of a brief redhead Smew from Beech Tree Point. Well I didn't see any sign of that.

Never mind eh, there's always next weekend (hopefully, adding the caveat of "weather permitting"). I suppose I've had a good run recently, with Whooper Swans, Waxwings, Great Grey Shrike in one attempt, and the like. If I'm going to have a bad'un then lets get it out of the way around the time of the shortest day!

Monday, 6 December 2010


Well I've never seen snow like it, for the end of November/beginning of December anyway. By the middle of last week there was seven and a half inches of snow at home!

It makes difficult going for birding, never mind the poor birds that stick this freezing weather out. Take last Friday when I had a walk in my lunch break in Stafford. There was a Snipe flying over a row of houses and dropped into someone's garden, and two Lapwings landed on a grass verge next to the office, the only patch of ground not covered by snow.

Nevertheless, took a walk round Uttoxeter Quarry on Saturday morning. Despite everywhere frozen over there was a Dunlin stood on ice with 15 Lapwings, 1 Woodcock, 2 Snipe, 5 flyover Goosander, 2 Redpoll, plenty of Fieldfares and Redwings.

The deep end of Blithfield was surprisingly free of ice. There were quite a lot of gulls around but couldn't notice anything out of the ordinary. There was also an increasing mist and the cold was getting a bit unbearable, so skipped the roost until dusk.

As for Sunday, thought I'd have a look for some gulls. Unfortunately Stubber's Green was quiet, not many gulls around at all. So after about an hour I thought I would try a new spot for me, that being Kingswood Pool on the outskirts of Cannock. Lots of gulls here on arrival, that's better!

Thoroughly impressed with Kingswood actually, and the close views you can get of the gulls on the water. Or ice in today's case. Managed to pick out an adult Yellow-legged Gull, but by the time I got the camera ready:

But it did settle:

By the way, it really did have yellow legs, but got chatting to a couple of passers by. I'll never make a pro-photographer!

Monday, 29 November 2010

What's the word on the street, Johnny?

A little acknowledgment to the passing of a comedy genius, Leslie Nielsen:

In addition to "Airplane!" and the "Naked Gun" films, it's precursor, "Police Squad!" was well worth watching. Even the closing credits were funny:

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Berry Hunt

As the song goes, the weather outside is indeed, frightful. It's horribly cold out there, didn't feel like spending hours outside today. But what I thought I would do is try and find some berries around home, on Rowan trees in particular. In the hope that sometime in the near future, some Waxwings will be attracted to them.

In the end it turns out that Upper Tean has a few Rowans with some berries still on. Cheadle appears to be void of Rowan berries, even the tree in the town centre car park has been stripped. I found a flock of Waxwings on that tree in 2005.

I remembered a flock of Waxwings in Uttoxeter a couple of years ago, around the housing estate next to Old Knotty Way, so I thought I'd check it out. On arrival and a short walk around, there's loads of berries round here. In particular two large Rowans along Lark Rise. It's a pity the next cul-de-sac isn't called Candleford!

On walking back to car, a flock of around 30 birds flew into these trees for a short time, then moved on. Well blow me down, its a flock of Waxwings! Brilliant!

A little later the Waxwings returned, 35 of them it turned out. I love it when a plan comes together. Hopefully they'll stay in the area for a while, there's plenty of berries in the area to feed on.

Ooh, as for the FA Cup draw. The Brewers at home to Middlesbrough, Brian Clough's home town. It's not quite the fairy tale draw, but I'm pleased with that. We might be able to pull off a shock.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Up for the Cup!

I wasn't planning on doing any birding today. It's FA Cup second round day, with Burton Albion being at home to Chesterfield. With a place in the third round at stake, when all the Premiership and Championship (you know, those leagues that used to be called Division 1 and Division 2!) sides join in, I was all set to go to the game. That was until I woke up and drew the curtains. Oh no!

At least an inch of snow had fallen overnight. Its going to be freezing standing round the terraces of the Pirelli Stadium. So just a bit of birding time around Uttoxeter Quarry and Brookleys Lake, then listen to the game on good old Radio Derby.

At the quarry there were 2 Goldeneye, 10 Goosander, 1 Golden Plover with 220 Lapwings, 1 Snipe, 1 Peregrine, 1 Raven. Brookleys Lake had 86 Mandarin, 5 Goosander, 7 Pochard and a drake Gadwall.

All finished, back in the car at 3pm with Radio Derby on, and go back home. And yes, the Brewers won 3-1! Hooray, that means Burton Albion are in the FA Cup third round for only the fourth time. Last time we got to the third round, five years ago, we got drawn against some little team called Manchester United, you might've heard of them.

I don't know why I'm currently thinking this, but with all the Nigel Clough connections, I have a sneaky feeling that tomorrow's draw is going to put us against Derby County. But all will be revealed tomorrow.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Gull gets the last laugh

Not much birding done this weekend. Saturday morning involved the annual stock up of coal for the winter, so didn't get out birding until the afternoon.

At Brookleys Lake were 24 Mandarin, 2 Goosander, 40 Tufted, 8 Pochard, 2 Gadwall, 1 Kingfisher. Uttoxeter Quarry had 19 Goosander, 13 Golden Plover in amongst 500 Lapwing, 4 Pochard, 1 Goldeneye, 40 Wigeon, 2 Green Sand, 5 Snipe and a Grey Wagtail.

Back at the quarry on Sunday morning, not a lot of change, but I did get chance to take some pictures of some duck having a Sunday morning lie in:

Andy and Malc were also around and had found a Chiffchaff. On getting to the spot where it was, there were actually two Chiffchaffs, great stuff! Malc also mentioned he was going to the gull roost at Foremark Reservoir later, just to see if last night's Laughing Gull was to reappear. Ooh, can I come?

I've seen one Laughing Gull before, in Sunderland, but it was nearly 15 years ago. So a bit later off we went in Mad Malc's Mystery Machine, along the A50 and into South Derbyshire.

Plenty of gulls to look through and plenty of birders looking. Unfortunately there was no sign, best I could do was a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls. But hopefully, the Laughing Gull might appear again somewhere during the winter.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Gazumping Gazzunders

Right, where to start this time. Well, yesterday started with a cracking morning at Uttoxeter Quarry. Although the birding started off as pretty hum-drum stuff, but excited to see the main gravel pit brimming full of water, after all the wind and rain in the week.

There was a flock of around 90 Golden Plover that didn't settle, 11 Snipe, 2 Green Sands, 1 drake Pochard, Peregrine and Raven, and a single Goosander.

As time passed, and with continual scanning with the scope, somehow the numbers of Goosander got higher and higher, without seeing very many flying in. How does that work? Well, one became nine, then 22, then 25. Then a short walk round the other gravel pits, and quick exchange of texts with that lover of knitted jumpers, Stevie Fair Isle.

This weekend is of course the WeBS count weekend. As Steve is the Utchiter Quarry WeBS counter, quite rightly a count of Mallard at this point wouldn't go amiss. When heading back to the main gravel pit, as much as I tried to count the Mallard, I could quite concentrate on them. That's because by now, there seemed to be just as many Goosander out there as Mallards! In the end the Goosander count ending at a whopping 64!

A site record count. It's weird because as regular as Goosanders are at the quarry, very nearly all year round, I was buzzing after that.

I've wanted to have a look round Branston Gravel Pits for the last few weeks without having the time. So this was the time to do it. It was a pretty good start as well, including a Ruff, a Little Egret, 6 Redshank, 13 Curlew and this smart drake Pintail with a flock of Wigeon.

Unfortunately the Sandy pit area was deserted of birds. This was because a Pheasant shoot was taking place a short distance on the other side of the public footpath. Oh oh, how do I blog this one?

I remember having to write an essay about "blood sports versus country pursuits" at school, and struggled even then. I live in the countryside and I'm open-minded enough to know that this activity goes on. After all, that's why Pheasants exist in this country. People have the right to choose what to do with their lives, but it's not something I could ever bring myself to do.

I just hope that for the one Pheasant I saw get shot and land dead not far from me, they had the decency to collect that bird, to give it the respect and dignity that it deserves. Especially when they turned backs on it after shooting it. I nearly told them that but I didn't. After all, they had the gun.

So I didn't see much point in hanging around, so headed back to Uttoxeter, just to see if the Goosander roost count can be gazumped. But in the end, the count finished at a paltry 53.

As for today, gave that Great Grey Shrike on Cannock Chase a go. I've been putting it off for long enough. After parking up at the Cadet Huts car park, a certain Blurred Birder was already on site, saying "where were you five minutes ago?". Oh no, not again, getting used to just missing Shrikes recently. But thankfully, I managed to get my bins onto the Shrike a short while later, albeit briefly, sat on some telegraph wires near the Cadet Huts.

By the time I got the scope ready it had gone. That view will have to do for today. After picking up a bit of shopping at Tescos in Stafford, I know, Aqualate Mere is not far away. But unfortunately Aqualate was very quiet, even the log book in the hide was largely devoid of notes.

Thoughts turned to roosting Gazzunders at the quarry again. And I'm glad I did, as shortly after bumping into Andy and Nobby, two Whooper Swans flew over heading north! Obviously following the River Dove, but where were they heading?

As for Goosanders, we couldn't gazump it again, 54 this evening. The record is in tact! However, I don't think it will last for long.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sprung a Leek

It's been pretty quiet round here this weekend. Yesterday Uttoxeter Quarry had a Green Sand, a Dunlin, 3 Wigeon and that's the best it got. Oh yes, also a White-fronted Goose (christened "Wagner" on another blog, someone's been watching X Factor!) with the Greylags. No doubt the feral bird that was around in the summer, pity that.

There have been some Waxwings in Leek over the last week. I'm sure there's no real hurry to see them, as it looks like there's such a large invasion further north, it's only a matter of time before there'll be many of them round these parts. But seeing as I didn't know what else to do, I decided to have a look around some classic Waxwing habitat. Namely, the Barnfields Industrial Estate:

On arrival yesterday afternoon, I'd missed them by about 20 minutes and didn't come back. So gave that up and tried Swallow Moss until dusk, and that was birdless as well!

So another try for the Waxwings this morning was rather more successful, as six birds were present. Most of the time perched in a large Ash tree, then coming down to feed on the berries of a small Rowan on the opposite side of the road. And as is usually the case with Waxwings, allowing for good photo opportunities:

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Trick or Treat?

Ooohh its Halloween! Spooky! No, never really understood it. If you're a Pagan it's all very well, but the americanisation of it all leaves me cold.

Anyway, while I was away enjoying myself on the Scillies, a Dipper has taken up residence at Uttoxeter Quarry. Not in the gravel pits of course, but along the River Tean. We've always thought that the river looks ideal for a Dipper, so now there's one around I'd quite like to see it.

Saturday 30th October.

Starting off at the owd patch there were 15 Golden Plover, 2 Dunlin, 1 Green Sandpiper, 9 Snipe, 1 Goldeneye, 17 Goosander, 1 Peregrine, 3 Fieldfare, 3 Siskin. But no sign of the Dipper.

Onwards to Blithfield next, where a record breaker is in residence. A Little Ringed Plover is with 2 Ringed Plovers in Tad Bay, and now holds the record of the latest ever one in the West Midland Bird Club region. There was also 65 Golden Plover, 3 Pintail, 4 Goldeneye, 1 Peregrine, 1 Yellow-legged Gull. Also a Wheatear by the sailing club, another very late record.

I also stuck around until dusk for the gull roost, just in case the Franklin's Gull that has been roosting at Foremark the last few days decided on a change of scene. But Franky, old blue eyes, stuck to Foremark. Quite a few Common Gulls around, but nothing really out of the ordinary.

Sunday 31st October.

Making of most of the clocks going back, a phone call from Andy informing me that Dipper was along the River Tean again! Bloomin thing, it wasn't there yesterday. So that got me out of bed and out the door, and again didn't see the Dipper! Although I don't think two blokes taking their dog for a paddle in the river helped. The only real difference to yesterday were 2 Green Sands and a Kingfisher.

If the disappearing Dipper is the Halloween trick, then Brookleys Lake most definitely provided the treat.

After scanning through the duck, which included 2 drake Pochard, 16 Mandarin, 90 Tufted Duck, I put the lense caps back on the scope and was about ready to go. Then four large white objects appeared in the sky, over the trees from the north. Halloween ghosts perhaps? No, they were Swans, better get the scope on them. On closer inspection they were Whooper Swans, woohoo!

Its a pity they didn't land on the lake, but changed direction and headed east towards Ellastone and the Derbyshire border. If they had landed then no doubt the resident Black Swan would've sent them on their way!

Then drove up to Swallow Moss to finish. As another bird to catch up with while I was away is Hen Harrier, good to know that a female has been around. But it didn't show tonight, but perhaps not great Harrier conditions as it wasn't very windy. They can put on a good show with a bit of a breeze around.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Big Trip to the Scillies. Part 6, the last few days.

Tuesday 19th October.

There's one island I still hadn't visited yet, and that's Tresco. Certainly compared with the other islands, Tresco had been rather quiet for bird news. But it had to be done, if only to count the wildfowl on the Great Pool!

Sure enough there was a selection of duck (including a drake Pintail), Coots, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, birds that you just don't see anywhere else on Scilly. It was also pleasing to find a Brambling in amongst a Chaffinch flock, feeding in a field of Quinoa. Tell you what, if you want to attract flocks of finches, plant some Quinoa. They were going mad over the seeds of this stuff.

But over the course of the day, it was apparent that I was on the wrong island, because it was all kicking off on St. Martins. A Red-flanked Bluetail was found in the late morning, and by the time I got back to Hugh Town news filtered through of a Grey-cheeked Thrush on the same island. Oh my goodness me, or words to that effect passed my mind! Well, tomorrow is my last full day on the Scillies, so it's got to be a day on St. Martins.

Wednesday 20th October.

Not surprisingly, another extra 9am boat to St. Martins had been arranged, and I was on it. Some other visitors around this morning, hello sailor!

The Red-flanked Bluetail was the first port of call, circuiting a belt of pine trees (the bird that is, not me). Straight away it showed brilliantly down to a few feet. It's at times like this where perhaps I should invest in a camera that doesn't have to be plonked on the end of a scope. But what I can manage with a little point and click camera when it's not on the scope is "the twitch shot":

Most of the rest of the time on St. Martins was spend scouring the general area where the Grey-cheeked Thrush was seen the previous evening, around the school and the small fields between there and the sand dunes. But alas, it was not to be. A Richard's Pipit along the dunes near the Higher Town quay was a welcome distraction though.

With an hour before the boats came to take everyone back to St. Marys, Dick Filby decided to take a wander through some areas of bracken, just in case it might help to encourage the thrush to appear. But it didn't work, although a Woodcock was flushed. Actually there's so much cover in that area, of bracken, brambles and dense Pittosporum hedges, the thrush could go missing for days!

Thursday 21st October.

There was a large part of the day to fit some birding in, before it was time to leave. Amazingly, one bird that I really struggled to catch up with on the whole trip was Black Redstart. They seemed to appear whereever I wasn't! The radio mentioned one around the Penninis lighthouse, so I made a bee-line for there. And sure enough, a fine male Black Redstart was still around catching insects. And a little punch of the air in triumph.

Time was then spent walking up towards Maypole Farm and Borough Farm, where there had been a Hawfinch yesterday. Well I say walking, after ten days of walking around everywhere, I could hardly move! But no sign of the Hawfinch this time, but there had been one seen in the Porth Hellick/Carn Friars area, so perhaps it was the same bird. One last pasty in the Longstones centre, then a slow walk back to Hugh Town via the very pretty Holy Vale was done. There was one last Yellow-browed Warbler through Holy Vale, and a Firecrest along Carn Friars Lane.

And that was about it, sadly it was time to leave the Scillies and back to Penzance for the evening. But not quite the end of birding before the long drive home, because the next morning I had a quick look at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that was with the Golden Plover flock near Sennen.

You might've gathered by now that I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Scilly, and I now can't believe I've never been before. But there's a very good chance I'll be going again!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Big Trip to the Scillies. Part 5, American Pie!

The title of this part of the trip will eventually make sense!

Sunday 17th October.

A Red-eyed Vireo was found on St. Agnes a couple of days previously, and was more showy around the Parsonage, along with a reported Radde's Warbler on Gugh, the day before. So this was the island for the day, taking the 9am boat.

After about a 30 minute wait the Vireo appeared for a short while! Woohoo, lifer number three! When the second wave of birders arrived from the 10:15 boat, I thought it would be a good time to explore he rest of St. Agnes.

Highlights included 3 Lapland Buntings on Wingletang Down, a Marsh Harrier, a Firecrest, a Lapwing (quite a scarcity on Scilly) in a bay near the quay and a Barnacle Goose (don't know of what origin) flying over Annet. The fayre of The Turks Head was sampled for lunch:

You can also get a good view of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. That's where this country ends folks (well, at this end of the country anyway):

During the afternoon I decided the have another look at the Red-eyed Vireo, which showed even better than in the morning, as did a Pied Flycatcher. I was all set to head back to St. Marys when the Radde's Warbler had been found again on Gugh. Actually I forgot about it!

After about an hour and a half of waiting, and knowing a later returning boat had been arranged by Dick Filby, the Radde's Warbler unfortunately didn't appear. The day's birding was completed by having a look at a Red-throated Diver in Porthcressa Bay.

Monday 18th October.

Let's give this Radde's Warbler another try, so the morning was spent back on Gugh, before the tide covered the sand bar between it and St. Agnes in the early afternoon. But it still didn't show, although I did have a spot of luck when an Owl flew out of a Pittosporum bush.

Binoculars on it, pretty uniform brown on top, no pale trailing edge on the wings. Well I'm happy with that as a Long-eared Owl, cor! It turned out that two other birders saw the LEO on the other side of Gugh, and was seen in St. Agnes during the afternoon.

Speaking of the afternoon, nothing new had been reported on St. Agnes so went back to St. Marys, exploring Penninis Head. The run on Lapland Buntings continued, with two more here:

If you've never done any birding on the Scillies in October before, then it might surprise you to know that a lot of birders carry CB radios with them. They're very useful in order to gain bird news instantly, that the likes of Dick Filby and others will broadcast. I was fortunate enough to borrow one for my stay.

If you're lucky enough to find anything good, you can press a button on the radio and transmit the bird news yourself so that it can be passed around to others. But be warned, if you happen to leave a radio on in your digs, and the button is accidentally transmitting the sound in the background, because the radio is stuck underneath a bag or that kind of thing, then everyone else with a radio can hear you! Otherwise, you may receive a message (or alternatively, a whole load of abuse!) like this:

"So bye bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.........."

No, thankfully it wasn't me!

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Big Trip to the Scillies. Part 4, Life of Bryher.

Friday 15th October.

Plenty of the lesser rarities around St. Marys that still had to be caught up with, so that was the plan for today. And also to try and cover as much ground on St. Marys as possible, just in case more time would be needed on the other islands. The last few days of lugging around both the scope and a rucksack was taking it's toll a bit, I left the scope behind for the day.

Birds seen during the day included a Yellow-browed Warbler at the Dump Clump, Firecrests at the Carreg Dhu garden (why is it called this when it sounds Welsh to me?) and Longstones centre, then a look at the possible Eastern Yellow Wagtail along Pelistry Lane.

Then over to the golf course to look at a Ring Ouzel, up to Bar Point where there were a 1st winter Med Gull and 2 Whimbrel, then back along the north-east coast, along Pelistry Lane again, following the coast down to Porth Hellick, where there were a Water Pipit and Jack Snipe.

Then back to Hugh Town, it took all day and I walked miles. I also had a large blister on my little toe to prove it!

Saturday 16th October.

Looking after my blister, I decided to spend some more time on Bryher. As it's a much smaller island less walking can be involved. I'm not daft you know!

During the day I managed to catch up with the Icterine Warbler (interestingly enough, at the point when I saw the Icky it was first picked out by fellow blogger and fellow Burtonian but based in Devon, Karen Woolley), and two smashing Lapland Buntings near to Hell Bay (what a great name!).

Also a drake Common Scoter between here and Tresco. And as you can see from the top of Shipman Head Down here looking towards Tresco, another gloriously sunny day. Some of the scenery you get on Scilly, you could imagine that you're in the Med or the West Indies.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Big Trip to the Scillies. Part 3, first bit of island hopping.

Wednesday 13th October.

Between Pied Wheatear and Subalpine Warbler, the Wheatear had to take priority. So the day began on St. Marys, with a Turtle Dove around Porthmellon to start with. At least it gave another chance to see the Common Rosefinch from the Tremelethen Trail, which I did manage to see this time. So then over to the golf course.

Unfortunately it appeared that the Pied Wheatear had gone, just a Northern Wheatear around. And during the morning the Subalpine Warbler was still around on Bryher, so I decided to cut my losses and take my first boat to an off-island.

Just before docking at Bryher a Peregrine flew around over the boat. You could tell this was the Tundra Peregrine, with a very distinctive head pattern. Very pale on top with a dark stripe through the eye and through the middle of the bird's head. Turns out that this race of Peregrine is a long distance migrant and should be spending the winter in South America. Interesting stuff.

The Subalpine Warbler had been favouring an area of gorse near to the Fraggle Rock cafe (I won't mention the obvious, because Fraggle Rock was rubbish, not a patch on The Muppet Show!). Walking towards the site I noticed a sylvia warbler drop into the gorse, so waited whilst everyone else continued walking. Can't believe no-one else saw that, and after about 10 minutes the warbler popped up which was indeed the Subalpine. Very satisfying to call it out to others.

Also around Bryher were a very showy Red-breasted Flycatcher and a tired looking Short-eared Owl.

There was also an Icterine Warbler and Lapland Bunting around, but didn't get time for those. An afternoon boat leaves you with about two hours on an island, besides I could return another day.

So to end a successful day, over to the Scillonian club for the bird log. One bit of the log did tickle me, when the chap with the microphone said Black-eared Wheatear slightly wrong, and came out as "Black Weird Eat-ear". I like a good Spoonerism, and that's one Ronnie Barker would be proud of!

Thursday 14th October.

What to do today? A Melodious Warbler had been on St. Martins, so lets give that a try for the day. Taking the morning boat suddenly looked like a very good decision, as the pager then mentioned a Tawny Pipit also on St. Martins, around Lower Town.

For most of the day however, pretty frustrating going. On arrival at the Lower Town dunes, I did manage to see a large Pipit with an odd-sounding call (well it was to me) fly out of the dunes and towards the next island west, Tean. Well, if that was the Tawny Pipit then I want a better view than that. As for the Melodious Warbler, that wasn't seen for most of the day either. Two Spoonbills flew in though.

But fortunes completely changed with about an hour or so before the 4:30 boat was due to leave. The Tawny Pipit was refound in the dunes and showed wonderfully well. A big relief, as the morning's flight view was completely unsatisfactory.

Shortly after that, the Melodious Warbler was refound next to the Seven Stones pub. Somehow I manage to beat most people to it, must've found a shortcut. So a few other birders and I had about a minute with the Warbler (my second lifer of the trip) before the "trudge trudge trudge" sound of boots got louder and louder!

Also offshore from St. Martins were a Slavonian Grebe and a summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Big Trip to the Scillies. Part 2, Exploring St. Marys

Monday 11th October.

The sight of Penzance harbour whilst on the "Scillonian III" ferry. There were a few birds to be seen whilst at sea. A Razorbill was just outside the harbour, and over the course of the crossing a fabulous Grey Phalarope, 4 Bonxies, 1 Arctic Skua, plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillemots. Someone had claimed a juvenile Sabine's Gull, and both Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters. I must've been looking the other way, probably enjoying the Cornish coastline, including Mousehole and the Minack Theatre.

Eventually the Scillonian docks in at Hugh Town, then as my luggage is labelled (meaning it will be delivered to my guest house for me), I can go straight to the Garrison to look for the Black-eared Wheatear. It had already been seen during morning, and here it is. A lifer for me, hurrah!

After a while, the Wheatear was joined by a Snow Bunting, result!

With the Wheatear safely under the belt, most of the afternoon was spent getting my bearings around Hugh Town, working out where everything is. The pubs, shops and of course the Scillonian club, venue of the nightly bird log. Whilst doing this reccy, a couple of people were spotted. This was the first one:

For the benefit of the untrained eye, this is Michael Eavis. He organises a little gathering of popular-beat combos, mainly consisting of The Wurzels I think, on his Somerset farm every June. The other person I spotted was Lee Evans:

Oh hang on, I got the wrong one! It turned out that Mr L. Grevans wasn't staying on Scilly, but on just for the day to twitch the Black-eared Wheatear and to check out the mystery falcon, a possible Eleonora's that had been recently claimed.

The day was finished around Porthcressa beach, where 4 Sandwich Terns were offshore, and a Wryneck was in adjacent Buzza Quarry.

Tuesday 12th October.

First full day, and plenty of birds to catch up with around St. Marys. The Porthellick area was productive, with a Pectoral Sandpiper on Porthellick pool, the beach held the American Golden Plover, with one of it's European counterparts to provide a nice comparison.

Next to Porthellick is Carn Friars farm, where one Little Bunting was still present.

A pasty for lunch at the Longstones centre, then to find a Common Rosefinch along the Tremelethen farm trail. I knew the trail could be reached from Porthellick farm, but I found it a real struggle to find the other end of the trail. At the same time news was filtering through of a possible Pied Wheatear on the golf course.

Being a bit of a stubborn so and so, I was determined to crack this trail, so walked back to Porthellick via Old Town (and saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher in the Old Town churchyard), and walked the Tremelethen trail from there. However, by the time I got to the Quinoa field with the finch flock in, you're looking straight into the sun. Not easy viewing, a Brambling in amongst the Chaffinches but the Rosefinch was just at the wrong angle, so missed it this time.

So with hindsight the wrong decision there, especially as the Pied Wheatear on the golf course was eventually confirmed and didn't hang around for very long. It was found by a couple who were staying in the same guest house as me, which was great for them. But at the time of writing and seeing pictures of it now, bit gutted. But I did manage to catch up on many of the established good birds, and I felt it was right to see them first before any move on.

During the evening, news appeared of a Subalpine Warbler on Bryher, so a decision to make for where to go on Wednesday.