Monday, 2 May 2011

The Beast from the East, and a Bird Race

You know certain winds around the world are given a name? Like the Sirocco, which blows north from the Sahara? Or the Fremantle Doctor in Western Australia? Well for the last few days here, that's what I'm christening this wind. For migrant waders and terns round this neck of the woods, it's been magnificent.

Back to Friday. Thanks to that T-Mobile advert I didn't have to watch the royal wedding. So a bit of birding in the Trent valley to start with, doubling up as a reconnaisance mission for Saturday's bird race. 2 Arctic Terns and 2 Greenshank at Whitemoor Haye, followed by 3 Black-tailed Godwits at Branston Gravel Pits.

Just about finished at Branston when I was informed of a Bar-tailed Godwit and a drake Garganey at Uttoxeter Quarry. I was getting there eventually.

And so to Saturday's big bird race day, with Paul Shenton of Birding for Fun, the name of which is a fine sentiment.

I'm not sure how I managed to stay awake all day, but I did. Starting on Cannock Chase at first light, about 4:45am, collecting a variety of woodland and heathland species like Redstart, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo, Stonechat, Wood Warbler. Next port of call was Aqualate Mere, where there was a useful selection of duck, including Pochard, and reeling Grasshopper Warbler, but unfortunately just missed out on a passing Marsh Harrier.

Then onto Belvide, with very good reason thanks to a pager message. A short amount of time in the Scott hide produced 2 smashing adult Little Gulls and an Arctic Tern, in amongst a few Common Terns.

The feeding station in the plantation was also rather useful, with Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit here. A quick look at Gailey produced our only Little Grebes of the day, but not much else.

Doxey was next, and this was where we had our best find of the day, when 8 Whimbrel flew over Tillington Flash near the metal hide, and then over the cemetery. Also a few other birds to bump the list up, such as Goosander, Moorhen, Teal, House Martin, Redshank.

A quick check of Tad Bay at Blithfield got us Goldeneye and Wigeon, two good'uns there that we wouldn't have got elsewhere. This "Beast from the East" wind had really got up by the time we got to Whitemoor Haye, where we managed Hobby overhead and Greenshank on the main gravel pit, but any farmland birds here were impossible due to the strength of the wind.

By now, it was heading towards 3pm. Croxall and Branston were scratched from the agenda to give us more time elsewhere. Uttoxeter Quarry was next, where the Garganey and Bar-tailed Godwit were still around, plus Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, and another Whimbrel.

By now it was getting towards late afternoon and we still need to go further north. This should add a sense of urgency for the rest of the bird race.

Into the Churnet Valley, and a strange sense of urgency now, where we picked up Pied Flycatcher and 2 Mandarins at Dimmingsdale, and Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Treecreeper round Oakamoor. A quick pit stop, and then to Tittesworth, where we picked up a few more to the list, included the first Curlew of the day. It's odd when you've seen more Whimbrel than Curlew!

The rest of the evening until dusk was spent driving round the moors. But apart from Peregrine at the famous site of The Roaches, Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits, we just had to admit defeat with the strong winds up there, which was a shame really.

In the end we finished with a total of 105. I've never done a bird race before, and you don't hear of them being done any more, don't know why. But it is good fun, quite tiring (still recovering now!), and makes for a good adventure.

The weather conditions helped us with picking up migrant waders, terns and Little Gull, but did hinder us with some of the passerines. For example, Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were missed, as were Bullfinch and amazingly, Coal Tit! Sparrowhawk was also missed.

Not surprisngly after all that, I slept like a log and didn't get up that early on Sunday, but the wader and tern passage continued unabated. You know when something good is happening when even Croxden Quarry was producing a Bar-tailed Godwit and 5 Arctic Terns over the course of the day.

And at Uttoxeter Quarry, a Wood Sandpiper had now arrived. The Bar-tailed Godwit still around, but no sign of the Garganey. Not the best picture of a Wood Sand you'll ever see, but it was there. And I did mention it was windy?

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