Sunday, 26 September 2010

It's Definitely Autumn

It looks like that's it for evening birding until next year, boo. So, I'm stuck to weekends. And a definite change in the air, a horrible northerly wind that just hasn't stopped. But would it bring anything good in that I could find, like a Lapland Bunting or Pectoral Sandpiper. That was the hope anyway. It's certainly moved most hirundines out, taking advantage of a following wind, and I don't blame them.

So starting off yesterday at Uttoxeter Quarry. Pretty quiet really. A decent sized flock of about 180 Lapwings, but no Pec Sand with them. Also around were a Green Sandpiper, 3 Snipe, 37 Teal, 1 Swallow, 2 Chiffchaff, 5 Red-legged Partridge, 1 Kingfisher and a nice Linnet flock building up.

Still with Pec Sand in mind, I wanted to check Branston Gravel Pits, particularly the Sandy Pit. And it still looks fantastic for waders. A big Lapwing flock here, as were 2 Ruff, 2 Golden Plover, 10 Curlew, 2 Little Egret, 1 Shelduck.

Thought I'd check Blithfield before going home. Tad bay held an adult Yellow-legged Gull, 16 Goosander, 21 Wigeon, 1 Pintail, stacks of Teal, 1 Black-tailed Godwit. There was also a Fox, which must've learned it's hunting skills from Basil Brush.

No sign of a passing Gannet around the causeway, but there was a Wheatear, a Ringed Plover and fresh in from Rocester, four Egyptian Geese. I recognise the blonde one!

This would be the same bird that paid a spring trip to Uttoxeter Quarry in April. On the way home, I found the results of the Labour Party leadership vote on the radio, which was won by Ed Miliband. Just beating his brother David, who really must be kicking himself for not standing against Gordon "Golden" Brown a few years ago. Personally, I've always preferred their other brother, Steve:

And with that tumbleweed-enducing gag (I've been waiting ages for that!), onto today. Which was even quieter really. Couldn't find a Lapland Bunting up on the Weaver Hills, a good number of about 30 Skylarks but the wind defeated the exercise. Then Brookleys Lake, which was good to me last year, held 17 Mandarin and 66 Tufted Duck. So that all bodes well for the forthcoming winter. Oh dear, thinking about winter already.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Not a Waste of Petrel

I didn't do any birding last weekend, thanks to my car overheating and being rather concerned about it. I got a stack of housework done though.

In the end, nothing wrong with it apart from a pocket of air in the radiator. Phew, I really thought it was going to be the head gasket, which is painfully expensive. I had a head gasket go on Christmas Eve once, but that's another story.

But before all that, and it seems like ages ago now, last Thursday after work I had a sneaky twitch to Belvide to look at the Leach's Petrel. The traffic was terrible, took half an hour to get out of Stafford and onto the M6 (probably also caused a loss of radiator water). So it was a relief that the bird was still there, as were Belvide stalwarts, Steve Nuttall and Bernie Smith.

It was a great bird to see, but you can't help feeling it was mightily out of place, and it was continually harrassed by gulls. I've only ever seen one Leach's Petrel before, which was at Shustoke Reservoir in 1997, and exactly the same behaviour happened. Leach's Petrel and Black-headed Gulls, it's a chase worthy of "The Benny Hill Show".

For the younger reader whom doesn't know who Benny Hill is, next time you see a Leach's Petrel being chased around by Black-headed Gulls, start whistling this tune!

So what is it with Gulls chasing after a Petrel like that? It must be either the Gulls see the Petrel as prey, or the Gulls associate the Petrel with food, either by seeing or smelling it. Answers on a postcard...........

Sunday, 12 September 2010

What I Did On My Holidays, Part IV

After all the drama at Whitemoor Haye, and the subsequent dipping therapy (Dr Derek Pechora prescribes Marstons Pedigree!), the rest of the week's birding has all been a bit of an anti-climax. The weather has made sure of that.

So as with all good "What I Did On My Holidays" essays when struggling for inspiration, here's a doodle in the margin!

Extraction and processing of sand and gravel still continues at Uttoxeter Quarry. After all, it is a working quarry. Over the past week, there's been a lot of work going on and that has increased the water levels. So where there has been lots of mud seven to ten days ago, that's all been covered by water now. As a result, other than Green and Common Sandpipers, that's it for waders on the Friday and Saturday.

Highlights at Blithfield over the Friday and Saturday included 3 Black Terns, 1 Little Gull, 1 Little Stint, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Ruff, 12 Ringed Plover and 2 Pintail.

Finding some migrants on the Weaver Hills on Saturday morning included 2 Siskins, 100 Meadow Pipits, 20 Skylarks, 10 Linnet, 1 House Martin, plenty of Swallows, 6 Raven, 3 Kestrel, 2 Peregrine.

As for today (Sunday 12th September), a bit of exploring around Swineholes Wood was done, to find some migrants. It was pretty much defeated by the wind, but we did manage Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat. An aimless drive around the North Staffs Moors produced a few Ravens, plenty of Kestrels but very little else. Ending up at Tittesworth Reservoir, where a single Black Tern was still around.

And with that, that's the end of my week off. With the weather as it has turned out, then perhaps it's a good time to return to work. But just four weeks to get through, then I'm off again, to the Isles of Scilly for the first time.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

What I Did On My Holidays, Part III (Waaahhh!)

At this rate I'll be going back to work next week for a rest! Let me explain.

Wednesday 7th September.

Not much change at the Quarry in Uttoxeter. Spotted Redshank still around, plus a patch mega, in the form of a Coal Tit!

Over to my dad's in Burton for the evening, so before that I checked Branston Gravel Pits. Highlights here included 3 Little Egrets, 5 Green Sandpipers, 12 Curlew, 2 Dunlin, 1 Snipe, 72 Teal, 6 Shoveler.

A nice relaxing evening was interrupted by the news of a probable Woodchat Shrike at Whitemoor Haye. What!!! I can get over there in a few minutes, so I did. And this is what I saw:

Unfortunately, the only place I saw this was from the screen of Stuart the Alrewas Birder's mobile phone, ticking by proxy isn't allowed! To help out with clinching what kind of Shrike it was, I offered to get a field guide out of the car. The bird was seen for the last time whilst retrieving the book, then off into a bush by the time I got back. I literally missed the bird by seconds!

It did look like the Shrike had gone into a bush to roost for the night. However, after arriving at first light this morning (Thursday 9th September), no sign of it all morning. It would be nice to think it's very good at hiding, but I did wait until the weather had warmed up in the hope that increased insect activity may get the Shrike moving. But no, no sign. Best birds around were a Hobby and a Whinchat (that's Whinchat, NOT Woodchat!).

Right, I'm off for a session of birding therapy with Dr Derek Pechora. Only joking, that's just the way it goes sometimes. In any case a fantastic find for Stuart. And if I was at home last night like usual, there's no way I would've been able to get over in time.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

What I Did On My Holidays, Part II

Tuesday 7th September.

A lot of rain overnight, so once a trip to the dentist was out of the way I eagerly made my way over to Uttoxeter Quarry.

And the rain paid off. Well, I assume it did, because I assume this is a different Spotted Redshank to the one here last Friday.

According to the pager, a Black Tern had also been brought down at Blithfield. Over the afternoon, there were actually two Black Terns flying around the deep end.

Whilst sat in the Tad Bay hide the pager went off again, mentioning a Little Stint and nine Curlew Sandpipers in Ten Acre Bay. Great stuff I thought, so off I went, as did Richard "oooh Richie Berry" Berry. But alas, on the island in Ten Acre Bay all we could make out were 2 Curlew Sands, 11 Dunlin and a Ringed Plover. Never mind.

In addition was a Sanderling in St. Stephens Bay, associating itself with 2 Dunlin and 2 Ringed Plovers.

Monday, 6 September 2010

What I Did On My Holidays, Part I

As I'm off on the same week that all the kiddywinks go back to school, that's what they'll all be writing about! And so will I.

So to begin with on my week off. I did get to Spurn, with Andy, yesterday. Not specifically to twitch the Great Snipe seen in the previous evening, we just liked the look of the weather forecast to bring some migrants in. Hmm, we did this a couple of years ago and the forecast was completely wrong. As a result, we saw nothing apart from a few Whinchats and Wheatears.

It was a good start, and already an improvement on last time, as we latched onto a juvenile Common Rosefinch, next to the heligoland trap just south of the chalk bank hide.

The olive-green on the wings made it more smarter than the usual "Grotfinch" nickname suggested, I thought. Also, the pinkish hue on the breast would be likely to be caused by elderberry juice, as it was continually munching on them. It could've done with a napkin!

There was also supposed to be a Barred Warbler in the same area, but we didn't see it, only a Whitethroat. Another Barred Warbler around The Warren also didn't appear, but there were Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtails, more Whitethroats.

We thought we would try our luck a few miles up the coast, for the Ortolan Bunting seen at Holmpton, around Cliff Farm. Thoroughly impressed with the site actually, a nice scrubby field with trees. Looks like just the kind of place you could go if you wanted to escape the masses at Spurn.

Unfortunately, the Ortolan Bunting hadn't been seen since early morning. So after a while of waiting around, and no news on anything new arriving at Spurn (as the weather was too nice, wrong forecast again!), we decided to head back home. Typically, the Ortolan then came on the pager later on. But that was nothing compared with the news of the Brown Flycatcher found at Buckton. If only that came on a couple of hours earlier, we could've gone for that.

But anyway, before going home a check of Uttoxeter Quarry didn't produce a huge difference in birds. But there was a fly-past by the Red Arrows.

You see, after a couple of recent site ticks, we celebrate in style!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Beware of the Birding Gods

When you buy a house, any sane, normal person would look out for something like a gas, or electric, fire in the lounge/sitting/drawing (use as necessary) room. But oh no, not me, I got smitten a lovely solid fuel fireplace. Which is great in the winter time, but occassionally the chimney needs to be swept out to stop the risk of chimney fires.

So I had a load of clearing, tidying and vacuuming to do on Thursday evening, in preparation for the visit of Dick Van Dyke with his chim-chimminy sweeping brush the next day. Right at the same time Andy finds a Purple Sandpiper at Uttoxeter Quarry. D'oh, d'oh and double d'oh! It's a cracking find, but I just couldn't get over in time. But these things happen sometimes, my turn to be on the receiving end of the birding gods going against you.

But nevertheless, on both Friday evening and this morning (Saturday 4th September) there was still a good selection of waders without the Purple Sand, culminating with a juvenile Spotted Redshank last night. It wasn't around this morning but there were 1 Greenshank, 2 Green Sands, 3 Common Sands, 7 Ringed Plover, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Dunlin. In addition to the waders were a Whinchat last night, and this morning a Raven, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Grey Wagtails.

And so to Blithfield. Starting around the deep end, to the surprise of the Blurred Birder and I, we found a juvenile Cuckoo.

Really not something I was expecting to see. Also around the deep end was a Curlew Sandpiper in the concrete bay with 17 Ringed Plovers and 7 Dunlin.

Tad Bay had an Osprey fly over, 4 Greenshank, 3 Pintail and 8 Wigeon. While Blithe Bay held 3 Ruff, 4 Greenshank and 1 Redshank.

I have a week off work next week. Not planning to go away anywhere but there'll be some birding, and subsequent blogging, involved. Starting tomorrow, with I think a day out at Spurn.