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.

The Big Trip to the Scillies. Part 1, Rumble in the Jungle.

Sunday 10th October.

Up at 3am (so it really does exist!), on the road at 3:30. I thought I could time the drive to arrive at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, to have a butchers at the Green Heron, in time for when they open. A very civilised time of 10am! Which I managed to do, despite the M6 being shut at junction 10, taking me through Walsall then somehow ended up in the centre of Birmingham, don't know how that happened.

But anyway, despite it being the Lost Gardens of Heligan, I managed to find them well enough, just south of St. Austell. But in order to gain access to the gardens I did have to lose a tenner, releasing lots of moths out of my wallet.

The Green Heron was a few days into it's stay by now, finding the jungle gardens to it's liking. And when they say a jungle, take a look at this!

There are four small ponds surrounded by palm trees, banana palms, tree ferns, bamboo and exotic conifers. The Green Heron was eventually found on the third pond along.

Whilst briefly leaving the bird to ring RBA the news of it's presence for the day, the bird was seen to catch and eat a vole!

With the Heron successfully twitched (and Sunday appearing to be popular with non-birding tourists) there was a bit of time to spare before checking into my guest house in Penzance for the evening, so I decided to have a look around the Hayle Estuary. I've been here a couple of times in the past, and as well as viewing from the road next to the Old Quayhouse Inn, I think it's always worth a scan from the Lelant railway station.

Except when this happens, how inconsiderate!

Highlights on the Hayle included 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 5 Little Stint, 2 Med Gulls, 2 dark-bellied Brent Geese and this rather showy Grey Plover.

Mind and body were starting to flag by now after the early start. So once I had checked into my guest house in Penzance and on the way to The Dolphin pub for liquid refreshment (medicinal purposes only!), a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling was perched on the tower of St Mary's church. Great stuff and ending a successful day all round.

The next day, we're on the Scillonian ferry, and everything crossed that the Black-eared Wheatear is still on the Garrison!

Monday, 4 October 2010

A Seasonal Mix

Right, I'm not going to rattle on this time, I'm sure someone's thinking "that goodness for that!". But to get the past weekend's birding up to date, which involved a real seasonal-crossover mix of late summer migrants, early winter migrants and some typical autumn waders.

Saturday started out up on the Weaver Hills, where there was still no Lapland Bunting! But there were 2 Wheatears that showed really well, a fly-past Grey Wagtail, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Siskin, 9 Linnet, a flock of around 150 Meadow Pipits.

Then a walk around Swineholes Wood. The main highlight here was finding 4 Redwings, pleased with that as the 2nd October is still pretty early for them round these parts. Also around were 2 Goldcrests within a tit flock, 4 Linnet, 3 Red-legged Partridge, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Plus the resident Shetland Ponies, that keep the habitat in check.

After a spot of lunch, Uttoxeter Quarry was next. Still rather quiet at the moment, birds seen included 2 Green Sandpipers, 1 Goosander, 2 Wigeon, 23 Teal, 1 Sparrowhawk. But in truth, we could do with an increasing water level here now, to attract some more wildfowl. Which is definitely not a problem at Brookleys Lake, my last port of call for Saturday. Brookers held an impressive 98 Tufted Duck, 15 Mandarin, 1 drake Pochard, 4 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Kingfisher.

Only Blithfield was visited on Sunday, due to biblical amounts of rain and the promise of being able to sit in a hide and not get wet. Tad Bay held 23 Wigeon but surprisingly no Pintail, a brief visit from a Black Tern, the Black-tailed Godwit still, a rather late Yellow Wagtail, 8 Swallows through. A decent sized flock of waders were along Admaston Reach included 4 Little Stints, here's 2 of them:

Plus 29 Dunlin, 8 Ringed Plover, the Black Tern again with a juvenile Common Tern.

That's going to be it for blogging for a while. On Sunday I drive down to Penzance, then a week today I'm going to the Scillies, woohoo! I do know that Scilly has had a few quiet Octobers in recent years. In a way that appealed to me going this year, law of averages would dictate that this run should change. But however good or bad the birding will be, I'm sure it will be an experience.