Sunday, 30 September 2012

The weekend before the Pittosporum battle

Well, what on earth do I say this time?  It's the last day of September, and with the exception of a great morning on the moors last Sunday, on the whole birding locally this month can be summed up with this facial expression.

Thanks to the Olympics opening ceremony for that.  I really hoped that this weekend's windier conditions might've brought something in, but it hasn't been the case.  Uttoxeter Quarry had a bit of a build-up of duck yesterday, which included 3 Pintail, 37 Wigeon, 74 Teal, 5 Shoveler and 2 Goosander.  Singles of Dunlin and Golden Plover, 6 Snipe, 3 Curlew, 2 Green Sands and 74 Lapwings completed the set of waders.  Also present was a site year-tick, in the form of 3 Jays.

Next was Aqualate Mere to have a look at the Black-necked Grebe.  One matter that I hadn't accounted for was the boardwalk to the hide being completely flooded.  Usually the paths at Aqualate are very good, no need for wellies.  Well, being too lazy to turn back for them, there was only one thing for it, and get my feet wet.

The water only got to about ankle-deep, and once in the hide the wind was whipping up the waves across the mere.

After much searching the Black-necked Grebe was eventually found about half-way out.  The combination of frequent diving and bobbing in the waves didn't make it easy to locate.  But it was there, and that's the first Black-necked Grebe I've seen this year.  A Black Tern was also flying around the mere.  Just got to get my feet wet through the boardwalk again, and a squelchy walk back to the car!

Looking at the map I had forgotten that Belvide is fairly near to Aqualate.  Not wanting to put up with Stafford traffic again a look around Belvide was next, in the Scott and Chappell hides.  But apart from a couple of Goldeneye, nothing really out of the ordinary.  Looking through the log book in the Scott hide however, the report of two Sandwich Terns here in the week, turning out to be erroneous, all became clear!

And as for today, it's just been Blithfield.  A single Common Tern off the causeway, 28 Wigeon in Tad Bay and that's as good as it got.  A good sign to pack it in for today. 

And that's it from local birding for a while.  A week of work to get through, then next weekend I'll be doing my packing, sorting out matching pairs of socks (you can never pack too many!), and make my way down to Penzance once again, supping pints of Tribute, Proper Job or Doom Bar in The Dolphin next Sunday evening.

Then onto the Scillies for eleven nights, the annual October battle between birder and Pittosporum bushes.  Pittosporum is horribly dense stuff, but I'm getting excited about it all now.  Last year really was an incredible time, if it's only half as good this time I'll be pleased.

Recent rarity highlights on Scilly have included Buff-bellied Pipit and Ortolan Bunting, both of which would go down very well with me.  Whether they'll stick until the 8th remains to be seen of course.  But then again, I thought the same about that Waterthrush last year. 

And just to get myself even more excited, here's something I found on Youtube.  Bring it on!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A long weekend

Currently in the middle of a long weekend, with a couple of days off work.  Can't see Monday being a birding day though, due to waiting around for a little man to get a job done at home. 

Friday was though, the drizzly morning looked quite hopeful for bringing something down.  A morning at Uttoxeter Quarry was quite productive for some waders, I suppose in the context of this autumn it was pretty good.  Highlights included 2 Golden Plover, 10 Snipe, 2 Curlew, 2 Ringed Plovers, a Dunlin and still a Common Sandpiper clinging on.

Branston GP's was a little disappointing though, with only a Ruff, 5 Curlew and a Green Sandpiper.  Perhaps I'm expecting too much though, I don't know.  Onto Saturday, a gloriously sunny day. Starting off at Croxden Quarry, large numbers of Swallows, plus a few Meadow Pipits, could be seen making their way south.  This Jay showed well, pity the camera lens was a little steamed up, but never mind.

Uttoxeter Quarry didn't have much change, so quite a bit of time was spend studying the Common Sandpiper.  It's getting quite late for them now, and as autumn progresses I suppose thoughts would be turning towards Spotted Sandpiper, which of course happened at Tittesworth a few years ago.  So why is it a Common Sand, and not a Spotted Sand?

There was the barred effect on the wing coverts but it didn't stand out that much, plus a white supercilium.  This bird also has pink legs, so definitely a Common Sand.  Sometimes it's good to just remind yourself these things and refresh the old grey matter.

Following a tip-off on Saturday evening, of roosting Hen Harriers up on the North Staffs Moors, it was a pleasant surprise to wake up to a dry Sunday morning.  A drive around the moors, the male Hen Harrier was caught up with at Swallow Moss, and what a magnificent sight it was too!  In fact, it was great to see a Hen Harrier up there in good light conditions.  Usually, and particularly back in the day when Hen Harriers regularly roosted at Swallow Moss during the winter, they would appear when it was nearly dark.

Other birds seen up t'moors included 10 Snipe flying around Swallow Moss, around 300 Pink-footed Geese flying north-west (either making the most of the easterly wind from Norfolk to Lancashire, or aborting a flight to Norfolk and turning round?), and this Whinchat at Knotbury.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Eating my Words

Oh oh, did I really say twitching the Short-billed Dowitcher is a pointless exercise?  I wouldn't say I was fickle, but, welcome to Lodmoor!  Would you like salt and vinegar with those words?

A 4:10am start from home on Sunday, picking up a couple of waifs and strays along the way towards Weymouth.  And surprisingly awake throughout the day actually, the early night worked wonders!

Parking up at Lodmoor at about 8:40, six Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew west over the car park.  Walking down to the west scrape, the Short-billed Dowitcher showed well straight away, busily feeding.  Hurrah and phew.


After a short while the bird became a bit more mobile.  Having a fly around and landing on other parts of the reserve, and out of sight for a while.  Other birds seen around Lodmoor included a 2nd-winter Med Gull with it's pale tip to the end of the bill (a useful identification feature for 2nd winters I find, especially at a bit of a distance when the head pattern and black on the primaries can confuse with Black-headed Gull), a Sandwich Tern, Little Egret, and a few each of Common Sand and Black-tailed Godwit.

While the Dowitcher had gone missing, the pager was mentioning a few Balearic Shearwaters passing from Portland Bill.  As views of the Dowitcher weren't going to get much better than we already had, it was over to Portland Bill for a bit of a seawatch.  Pity that someone had put a whacking great big lighthouse in the way!

No silly, from the other side of the lighthouse were some very comfortable rocks to sit on.  Unfortunately not a great deal was passing out at sea, apart from Common Scoters and Gannets, and the odd distant auk sp.  There was also a Wheatear at the end of the bill, and the rather poignant sight of Swallows heading out to sea, heading for Africa, but they'll be back next year!  There were also a couple of people snorkelling just offshore.  I wish Joe Public would stop calling them divers, because I was looking for Red-throated or Great Northern!

Whilst making the start of the long journey home and getting back onto the M5 at Taunton, time calculations were made to see how long it would take to get to the site of a White-rumped Sandpiper.  This was just north of Bridgwater, by the Parrett Estuary, at Steart.  How it's pronounced is anyone's guess.  "Start", "Stirt" or "Steeart"???

But anyway, it would be daft not to try, if only for a short time, while passing.  The car park and footpath to the sea wall was found, as was the White-rumped Sand in what you would imagine could be a very impressive area for birding.  The Parrett Estuary proved reminiscent to places around The Wash I thought.  And another bit of Somerset that I've been impressed with this year.

A very smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was also present, and for a time accompanied the White-rumped Sand!

One each of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were also on the flood.  And with that, a successful end to a successful day.  Just the fun and games of the M5 traffic through Bristol and Birmingham to endure!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Umming and Army!

As a fine, wise old birder once said (or was it George Michael?), a lot of umming and aah'ing has been done this week.  To go to Weymouth or not?  But in the end, after seeing so many Short-billed Dowitchers at Cape May a few months ago, some as close at this one:

Would the views at Lodmoor be any better?  Sometimes, birding abroad makes long-distance twitching here a bit of a pointless exercise.  Mind you, I could change my mind!  But not at the moment.

It also gave the resolve to try even harder around home and make the most of yesterday, despite the settled weather and high water levels.  The whole morning was spent at Uttoxeter Quarry, although quite a bit of that was for waiting for the fog to lift.  Once it did, it revealed the Greenshank that's been present for nearly a month.  Tricky conditions to digiscope it, but you can tell what it is.

Just the one Common Sand left now, but six Snipe were in.  Also around were a singles each of Green Sand and Ringed Plover, one Spotted Flycatcher, a Kingfisher and the Egyptian Goose family.  A bit of time was spent at Blithfield, nice to see this Wheatear near the causeway, but pretty quiet otherwise.

With the news of a Baillon's Crake breaking through at Rainham Marshes in dear old London town, thoughts turned to Doxey Marshes, just to see how the water levels are looking here.  Following a walk around, which revealed 3 Snipe and a Kingfisher.  There could easily be crakes lurking in the marshes here, but unfortunately and perhaps not surprising, all of the flashes have no muddy edges to them, to entice a crake out into the open.  Indeed, the path to the Water Pipit scrape is still inaccessible without wellies.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

A new raptor watchpoint

Only been out today over this weekend.  Starting the birding off at Uttoxeter Quarry, the place contained a Dunlin, 4 Common and 2 Green Sands, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 4 Goosander, 2 Shoveler, 15 Teal and a Kingfisher.  Also present were the family party of Egyptian Geese.  Five fast-growing goslings here as was a separate adult bird to this pair.

But to tell the truth, when you're digiscoping Egyptian Geese, that's a sign that it's all a bit quiet.  So it was time to move to a new raptor watchpoint site!  Move over Welbeck, Haldon and Wykeham, it's called,er, Blithfield Reservoir.

But not all birds of prey to begin with though.  From the causeway were 6 Black Terns, 9 Common Terns and singles each of Common Sand and Redshank.

During the course of the afternoon from the raptor watchpoint, er, I mean Tad Bay.  Wildfowl included an early-returning Goldeneye and 7 Wigeon, also a Snipe and an adult Great Black-backed Gull.  Eventually the juvenile Marsh Harrier flew over from Stansley Wood and landed in the willows opposite the hide.  The brown blob in the tree really is the Marsh Harrier, honest!  Oh eck, it's like the Purple Heron at Ogston all over again.

Eventually the Harrier took off and quartered the land behind Tad Bay.  If that wasn't enough, about 90 minutes later the Osprey appeared, flying through the bay and heading for the causeway.  That's the first time I've had a Blithers Marsh Harrier/Osprey double. 

Add to all this a friendly Peregrine, Buzzards and Kestrels of course to complete the raptors, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and 2 Little Egrets at the deep end, ended an enjoyable day.