Sunday, 23 September 2018

Corncrakes, new binoculars and lifers...8/8/18-9/8/18


A long but very worthwhile journey in Angus the Twitchmobile took us to one of our favourite places - Spurn - for their annual Migfest event and a chance to take part in the Young Birder of the Year competition.


The morning, and trip, began with a an early visit to the famous Easington cemetery. To sum it up, there were no birds were in the trees besides a wren. A slow start. However the highlight was the welcome sound of a TREE PIPIT flying South, one of two seen in the Spurn area that day while a close second was a MERLIN which sat for ages on a post (shocker!) and was a wonder to behold. We checked around the Easington area, venturing into the village a short way before it was time to head to the obs for the Spurn Young Birder of the Year Award.

 The judges took the 14-16 year old birders to vis mig and seawatching tests while the under 13's entrants were set to estuary watching, bushes and the lab test. I found the bushes hard, probably as this was my first test and I was nervous. I definitely did not say a calling robin was a calling wren. Cough cough cough! 
Due to lack of migrants, birding was tough. The only migrant was a phylloscopus in the crown and Anchor car park which disappeared immediately and did not call, meaning I could not identify it. A few questions were asked like the difference between thrush nightingale and nightingale and naming two short distance migrant chats and two long distant chats. I think I got half marks on the nightingale and full marks on the chat question (stonechat and black redstart followed by whinchat and redstart respectively). 
Estuary watching seemed easier, as the species we had to identify were fairly clear; golden plover, curlew, dunlin and grey plover. The questions were on lekking and which of a list of waders had white rumps. 
The lab test was more difficult with some topography questions. The bird was a dead whimbrel and the areas asked for were the primaries, the secondaries, the mantle, the rump, the undertail coverts, the median crown stripe and the supercilium. I managed all of them besides the secondaries. As soon as I pointed to the part of the bird I thought they were, I immediately realised they were actually the primary coverts, but it was too late to correct my answer. The calls were redwing, linnet, robin and great tit. 
Dead whimbrel

Whimbrel, not going anywhere

Very showy whimbrel

Next up was vis mig and seawatching sessions. Vis mig came first and it is fair to say there was not much to look at. A few meadow pipits flew south to the west of us and a flock of 6 tree sparrow landed nearby in the scrub. The question was on a graph of pipit migration. I used my patch to my advantage as two years ago I would have said that the graph with a steady line throughout the year with a peak in late September and October would be meadow pipit. However I had a day count of 213 this April so worked out that the graph with a small Spring peak and large Autumn peak would be this species. The pipit with no numbers in winter, a peak in spring and smaller peak in autumn had to be tree pipit while the other with a peak only in October was rock pipit as water pipits are absent in Britain in the summer months. 
Seawatching went rather well, I successfully listed the features that made a flyby tern a sarnie, identified a juvenile common gull which drifted south and identified one of three great blacked gulls as a 2nd calendar year. However the questions were real stinkers. The first was relatively easy with the difference between little auk and guillemot, not including size. I hoped my answer - stubby bill and faster wingbeats was correct and then came the hard one. What is the difference between juvenile white winged, black and American black tern in Autumn? Ouch! I managed to remember about smokey parts on American black but flopped on white winged. This was thanks to James King who a week or so earlier twitched the American black tern at Dungeness, Kent and on his tweet put " note the smokey parts". Thanks James! 

We then headed back to the obs for some lunch as the judges totted up the scores. Angus won for the 14-16 category and I won for the under 13s!  Thanks to Opticron for the amazing binoculars I won, and to the BTO and Spurn for my subscription to Friends of Spurn and some interesting bedtime reading.

The closest of many golden plover feeding on the Humber. This would be an absolute mega on my patch!

The day went on with some windy birding.  A rosefinch (a lifer) was in Big Hedge for many parts of the day which was nice, if the bird itself was a little dull. Thinking that the birds would be in more sheltered locations, I poked my head into a thick hedge leading into Church Field from Easington Road to discover a chiffchaff and a goldcrest flitting back and forth. 
We spent some time birding with the enthusiastic and very knowledgeable David Walsh and Kabir Kaul, a young birder who also took part in the competition. A reed warbler in the triangle was the best bird that we saw, but a PIED FLYCATCHER calling near the obs garden was a nice sound. The day flew by as Kabir's Mum took the offer from my Mum to go back to the warmer and dryer Westmere farm as she took me, Kabir and David to the cemetery in Easington. There were no flycatchers around, but a distant but good view of a tree sparrow was nice. Unfortunately, Kabir had to go the next morning but he at least saw the rosefinch which ended up being the rarest bird at mig fest. 
Common rosefinch (PHOTO FROM DAVID WALSH)

A lecture in the evening from a Long Point birder in Canada was very interesting. Every birder in the audience was drooling over the birds they have had there such as blackpoll warblers, song sparrows, Connecticut warblers (surely there must be one of these in Europe soon) and a delicious array of other American species which have either not been in the UK or not been here very often. I believe the most common American songbirds on this side of the atlantic are red eyed vireos and myrtle warblers but I may well be wrong in saying that. 
He also talked about Motus, a bird tracking system, which I hope will start to be used in UK bird observatories soon. I would love this radar system at my patch and Spurn as I believe there is a strong correlation between numbers of migrant passerines there, followed by similar numbers about a week later at my patch. It would be interesting to see if any meadow pipits or hirundines over my numpties were actually birds that have passed through Spurn. Motus is an amazing radar tracking technology. Just by tagging a bird, any Motus radar will "pick up" the birds signal if it is in a 10 mile radius. This allows bird observatories across North, Central, and South America to see where even the exact same bird is going as it could potentially pass through several Motus-using areas. Brilliant!

The hog roast was delicious, as always, and then it was off to the brilliant Marquis of Granby B&B in Easington, ready for another early start the next morning. 

Tree sparrow near the cemetery


The day started early with an important decision. Sky and sea scanning from Numpties, or walking the Triangle. Walking the Triangle it was. Before starting, we checked the Breach and scrub around Warren Cottage with no luck apart from a WHEATEAR which, sadly, Mum didn't catch as it flew across the breach. Many stunning plumaged grey plover scurried on the beach as dozens of ringed plovers flew across us and onto the estuary. The Triangle seem relatively quiet until the last field in which a reed bunting flew across. As I turned to look at it, a small head popped up from the long grass. "ooh that's interesting" was my initial thought. As the head popped up again a few seconds later it displayed greyish streaking, overall grey colour to the face and a triangular bill. 

"It's a corncrake!" I shouted and Mum quickly looked at the field to catch a glimpse. Another birder was further down the path and we called him over with frantic waves. The bird was now at full stretch and in open grass, showing a lovely orange body. After a couple of seconds, realising it was not being elusive and annoying, it scurried into the long grass at sanderling speed, never to be seen again. I was straight away struck by the small size of the bird. I have always pictured them being perhaps coot sized to pheasant sized, but it seemed as though it was perhaps similar in size to a blackbird! Unsurprisingly, the encounter was all too brief for photos and my camera had run out of batteries anyway. The CORNCRAKE was not seen again that day, but nearby sightings the day before and one two days later in the next field to the East may all have been the same bird. 
We left the field at about 8:45am for breakfast, leaving about 30 birders still looking for it. While eating a lovely cooked breakfast back at the B&B, a message came out on birdguides saying the earlier report of corncrake was erroneous. Of course, we were gobsmacked, and texted James Spencer, who saw the bird with us, to confirm it had, indeed, been a corncrake. He replied with
"There is no doubt that is what it was." 
I have to admit to being in a bad mood, thinking that someone must have thought that I had mistaken the corncrake for a female pheasant. We raced back to Spurn where all had abandoned the elusive bird and went down to numpties to ask who had reported it as erroneous.  
As we arrived, the comment "nice job on the corncrake" made matters more confusing. 
Mum then asked the hardened vis mig watchers, who confirmed that someone had reported the bird 20 minutes after our sighting and this was the erroneous report, not our original sighting. Relief, phew!

Early afternoon was spent at Easington gas terminal and there were, surprisingly, no other birders there, despite its reputation for quality birds. We first checked a large line of tall trees in which a red breasted flycatcher had rattled in back in June. It became obvious that these trees were flimsy and the fact that the branches were bashing against each other meant there would be no birds.  We then checked another clump of trees right on the cliff top which in the past has held the "holy grail bird" (palla's warbler), many yellow browed and, I believe, a pine grosbeak briefly some time ago. There were a few birds in the few trees. A willow warbler was the best but robin, linnet, goldfinch and a pair of reed bunting also were feeding around it. A small bird flitted out at one point before returning to a perch where it stood still and upright for a few seconds, then flying round to the other side of the spinney. It was silhouetted so did not show any detail, and the lack of sound was frustrating.  I would guess at possibly a pied flycatcher due to jizz and size, which of course is not rare at Spurn, but coming from Warwickshire, it would have been a nice bird to find.
A few hirundines and finches moved south along the cliffs and a wheatear showed briefly on the cliff face. A quick scan of the huge expanse of beach produced no skuas but we heard of a flock of 12 bonxies flying south - a nice sight for those at the Warren. We strolled down the coastal path towards Kilnsea, picking up a WHINCHAT on the way which was found by Mum.  It went quiet for the rest of the day until late. We were just heading home when news broke of an osprey over Sammy's point. We leapt out of the car and looked up. With no sign, a man came up to us and said "have you got it?"
He showed us the bird as it flew low over the Humber and off towards Lincolnshire. OSPREY is always a great bird to see and was a stunning bird to have as our last for a great weekend. 

Thanks to all those that organise Migfest and the Young Birder competition - see you all again in October!


Sunday, 26 August 2018

A lifer and a patch tick...24/8/18

                                                                     Trip to Dorset

We arrived at Portland at 7:00am after being on the road for almost 3 hours. Light patches of cloud with dark skies and a strong south westerly wind meant perfect seawatching conditions. Only one other birder had arrived at that point, telling us there had been nothing out to sea so far. After ten minutes of wind and many gannets, Mum picked up a pair of shearwaters flying West.  Hoping for Balearic, I quickly got onto the birds, but they were unfortunately the more common cousin, the MANX SHEARWATER.  These are always nice birds to see, though, and for a Warwick birder, any shearwater, petrel, skua or the ocean-going sabine's gull would count as star prizes.
A pair of FULMAR soon drifted over our heads as an endless stream of gannet flew by, some within 50 metres of the cliffs. In the next couple of hours, the highlights were a harbour porpoise, 7 more fulmars and eight manx shearwater. All rather disappointing for conditions as promising as that. With a few others, we abandoned the sea and left  twenty or so people to carry on.  As predicted, the West side was rather quiet with a large count of 10+ kestrel being the highlight. We then decided to do a loop and head towards the quarry and on to the place where the American yellow warbler dropped on almost the same day a year ago. The only migrant there was a willow warbler, it really was quiet. 
Gannet past Portland Bill


One of a few wheatear

A buzz then came in from Roland on my Mum's phone. The message simply read
"Go for it."

A quick check on Birdguides, I realised he must mean the freshly seen woodchat shrike at West Brexington, on the other side of Abbotsbury and its famous swannery. We got to the beach car park and began to walk up the hill, frequently checking the hedgerows for any sign of the bird. 20 minutes passed and the shrike had not put in an appearance.  We were about to give up when a smiling birder walked round the corner and informed us he had just seen the bird from a house a bit further up the hill. He explained how the views were very distant and that was why he had walked down the fields towards the area in which the bird was in. We stood, while a phylloscopus warbler was too elusive and silent to identify in a bush to our right.  Suddenly, a chunky bird came up from the back of the bush in front of us and dropped into a corner. I just said,
"That looked good."
Mum then somehow picked the bird up through a tiny hole in the bush and everyone got reasonable views of this fantastic bird.  It flew right all of a sudden and I believe everyone was praying for it to land on a prominent dead tree, sticking out of the bush.  It did. 
Now everyone had wonderful views before it flew back onto its 'framed' perch. We were delighted with this, and this made WOODCHAT SHRIKE bird number 365 for my UK list. This also means I have seen both red backed shrike and woodchat shrike in the UK but no great grey shrike ,which seems ridiculous.
Yellowhammer, the first I had seen in a while
Woodchat shrike

Shrike upon-sea

 With time to kill, we then headed to the wonderful Arne RSPB, where we had decent views of a lovely greenshank and distant views of a whimbrel I picked up feeding behind some curlews. 

Day number two was spent on Brownsea Island, mostly scanning the legendary lagoon. This proved worthwhile with the highlight birds being a drop in WHIMBREL, 4 MEDITARRANEAN GULL, many common and sandwich terns, 50+ black tailed godwit, 300+ oystercatcher, 200+ dunlin, 13 ringed plover, 12 greenshank, a lovely peregrine and best of all, 10 EURASIAN SPOONBILL; sleeping, of course.
Greenshank close to the hide

Mediterranean gull

Urban tern


The third day was spent at one of my new favourite places, Hengitsbury Head.  Breakfast in the café was lovely and set us up nicely for the morning. Almost immediately, it became clear there was some hirundine movement as flocks of swallows, house martin, sand martin and sometimes a mixture of the three were flying South over our heads and out to sea. A few surprise WHEATEAR were good to see and stonechat seemed to be dotted around everywhere. A small valley area was filled with life as a pair of stonechat used the fences and gorse as perching spots and they were followed by 2 DARTFORD WARBLER shooting about the gorse, occasionally giving cracking views on the fenceposts before darting back into cover. A small pool offered a few greenshank as the harbour produced close views of sandwich tern, a few rock pipits and two each of chiffchaff and willow warbler. All in all, a lovely walk and this is a place I would love to visit in spring. 
Stonechat with a beautiful backdrop

Best I could manage of the Dartford warbler


Back home, and on the 24th August, we got to the patch fairly early and parked up on The Road. After gaining permission, we walked down a private drive to view the river from the sewage treatment area (a measly stone filled well) to see if anything was around the river, the barns and house or the fields surrounding the viewing point. As Mum scanned the river, probably hoping for a little egret, I searched the fields. A flock of distant CANADA GEESE flew towards us, the first since April, as the usual 30+ swallow sat on the wires.  I got onto a high flying black headed gull and was just turning round to tell Mum when a bird which seemed to be a cross between a merlin and a peregrine sped across the field about 30 metres away, heading south-west.  I quickly thought hobby and when this magnificent bird turned over to head towards the swallows it displayed a red vent, confirming it. The swallows rose up in a panic as the hobby headed towards them before it jolted to the right and continued following the river to the South-west. This is a bird I felt as though I should have got in spring so seeing one now was more a relief than anything.  HOBBY is always a nice bird to see, and certainly on your own patch. Probably the next best bird was a GREY WAGTAIL which flew East while calling, unfortunately not a yellow wagtail as I had fist hoped. I have never seen such a high flying grey wagtail before so this was interesting to see before we headed home for breakfast.  

Grey heron flying behind a telegraph pole

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Dry patch period and an interesting phenomena...13/8/18

In a few visits to the patch recently, almost no birds have been seen. Perhaps the only thing worth mentioning was a small 'drop' of chiffchaffs on the 12th August where a good count of 23 was made; the second best day-count on the patch ever after 54 on 14th September last year. Then, with the 54 chiffchaff, were also at least 50 goldcrest on the hilltop. I am hoping for movement like this again this Autumn.
Back to now, some local movement of starlings on 13th August was interesting with a reasonably high 217 birds, with an estimation of  roughly 150 being juveniles. No pink ones. I am not sure if raptor migration happens at this time of year, but it was odd to watch a sparrowhawk flying extremely high while heading South, almost a spec in the sky. Later, two buzzards within five minutes of each other did the same thing, flying high, South. Strange.

Finally, I want to talk about some weird swallow movement. It is clear that hirundine migration has started with recent counts increasing at Spurn and other known vis-mig sites. My highest count of the autumn so far came on 12th August with 167 swallows. However, I observed that only 3 birds were flying South, where I expected.  57 were resident, leaving 107 other birds which I was interested in. All of these swallows were flying East, which surprised me.  I just put this down as something a bit peculiar.
When my mum was talking to a local birder Tim Marlow on the phone later, about the birds we had seen in Cornwall on our holiday ( Balearic shearwater, storm petrel, sooty shearwater and Cory's shearwater, in addition to harbour porpoise and spine-tingling views of clicking common dolphin) she brought up my swallow observations. Tim mentioned ‘reverse migration’, after he saw something similar about 3 years ago over Draycote Water.

 Reverse Migration

Birds stopping their Southbound migration and moving in other directions it is known as reverse migration.   One reason for this is thought to be due to better weather conditions – the birds almost changing their minds.  Other reasons include birds flying towards large gatherings of their type or getting caught up in flocks of local moving species which also fly south sometimes; such as starling, meadow pipit and goldfinch. Not all birds can perform this reversal and are forced to continue their journey South.

After hearing about this I researched a little bit on the events of the morning and realised that, at the time, patches of the South and West coast were drenched in rain with rain advancing from the South-west to the Midlands. This is what makes me believe it was weather that was the reason for all of the swallows flying East, as in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire the conditions were mostly dry and warm. Also worth mentioning is that a 'vis-migger' near Northampton observed the same thing with 189 swallows that headed East over his patch.

Reverse migration birds, such as hirundines and swifts, often fly in a back-and-forth direction in autumn, avoiding weather while feeding.  For example, I read that in the autumn of 2006, a large number of swallows fed at Pitsford Reservoir in Northamptonshire before suddenly disappearing in rain from the East. These birds flew directly West before a large period of rain hit. An hour or two later, a huge flock of swallows arrived at Draycote water. The next day, rain came in from the West and the huge flock of swallow disappeared in the rain. 2 hours later, the giant group of swallows reappeared at Pitsford Reservoir. After doing some reading, it turns out this is not too rare an occurrence, especially in August in the Midlands. After looking at Google maps, the Saxon Mill is almost directly in-between Upton Warren and Draycote water, two sites which hold large pools of water: swallow magnets.  Tim told us that he has seen many hirundines at Draycote recently, which backs up my theory of my birds perhaps using the route from Upton warren to Draycote water as a way to head towards better weather, and large water sites, while feeding, similar to  Draycote and Pitsford in 2006.

A very interesting subject and birds never have and never will stop amazing me…

Monday, 30 July 2018

Some thoughts on past birds that got away


 After thinking how lucky I was to catch the Mediterranean gull today, I began to think back to birds in the past which I have been close to calling or identifying. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these birds have been flying through Numpties. 

Probable snow bunting     8/12/17

This one was a toughy, and sparked a fair bit of debate on Twitter and other social media birding pages.  I remember my Grandma and Mum leaving for home so I could stay to do some evening vis mig.  It was 10 minutes of cold and birdless uselessness so I decided to make my way back too. Before I started off though, a chunky bird displaying a lot of white on the wing bobbed towards me in a rather messy style. Snow bunting immediately flashed into my mind as I scrapped for my camera.  I zoomed in and SNAP!  I had a very impressively close up shot of a wing.  Great. 

I had a pretty good idea of what bird I had just witnessed fly over my Warwickshire patch. What other bird has that much of white? I picked up my phone to give Mum the good news when doubt began to creep into my mind.  On second thoughts, I had seen no white on the front and there was no sound to back up my identification.  Also, I saw a partly leucistic chaffinch at Welney WWT once and, with the influx of Hawfinch at the time, other possibilities stopped my excitement short. 

The photograph didn't help besides good looks at the wing, and that was the thing I got the best views of. Typical. If I had seen this strange bird at Spurn or certainly in East Scotland, I would most likely have called it as snow bunting. But at my little Warwickshire patch?  Well, its just the way birding goes sometimes. Bloody doubt. 

Snow Bunt or not Snow Bunt?

Probable goshawk           7/2/18

Damn this stupid bird. The first view was on the 7th February, 2018, and consisted of a very large hawk flying over Numpties and dropping into the woods behind the river. A brief view but Mum and I both looked at each other. 

"Goshawk?" I asked.

With the bird gone within a few seconds I could not call it.

I was up early the next morning to have a stroll around the patch, which turned out to be pretty quiet. I headed up to the hilltop to have a look at the Farm, where a few goldcrest were flitting around. A sudden panic of cawing from Guy's Cliffe made me turn. A hundred, at least, corvids were flying around like headless chickens. Well, more like headless pigeons really since chickens don't really fly. Anyway, around ten dozen corvids were in the air, but why?  My questions were answered when a seemingly huge hawk - surely the same bird as on the previous day - shot out of the woods, twisted and turned a few times then shot back down into the trees. The bird appeared to be larger than both the carrion crows and rooks and looked rather large in comparison to the jackdaws. I stayed at Numpties for another hour or so, waiting for the bird to give me another brief or hopefully longer view.  It didn't. 'Course not. This one wasn't as frustrating as the probable snow bunting as I did not get a crappy shot this time which would have made it even more annoying. I did go home thinking was it? But at least I did get some sleep, unlike the snow bunting day and the weird swift day. 
Oh, I guess I should probably talk about that. 

Weird swift         1/5/18

Okay, so this was the one bird I was furthest away from calling out of the three, partly due to bad views and partly due to pure self doubt and rarity level. 

It was hirundine movement and I had recently seen an osprey flying south. Where else was I going to be but the great Numpties? Within 20 minutes I had clicked 50 swallows and 10 swift. Out of nowhere, a flock of geese rose and climbed to a reasonable height before flying off down-river. Another 2 swift high above the geese, like specs in my binoculars. 

Interested, I decided to try my method of focusing on something in the sky and simply waiting for a swift to cross my vision. It did work and another 14 swift were added in 15 minutes. I continued using this method and focused on a paraglider. Suddenly, another swift weaved into my binocular vision.  This one looked kind of weird though as it looked to have a large white patch on it's front. My heart stopped. The sun caught my eyes and I was forced to take my binoculars away.  I think I remember my exact words being,

"No no no no no no no no no" 

I rapidly put my binoculars to my eyes again and attempted to get the bird back in view. Despite my efforts, it was not my lucky day and the bird was gone. My thinking was originally alpine swift but honestly it could have just been the light from the sun making it appear weird.  Also, claiming an alpine swift in Warwickshire would be huge and without being 100% sure you just can not call a bird like this. 

I had lots of replies on Twitter after I put on my photo of the probable snow bunting, saying things like "Tick it mate," and "It looks pretty good so put it out there." 
For me, I think if a bird looks pretty good, that is not good enough, and to tick a bird such as snow bunting, goshawk and alpine swift in Warwickshire you need to be 100% sure.  In addition, birders who don't claim every bird they see as a rarity are the birders who I look up to and I'm sure are respected more in the birding world. 

For example, the amount of times Tim Marlow has picked out an odd gull and has put it down as an odd black-headed gull or another common type, rather than something ridiculously rare (as I am sure some birders would do) would mean I would trust him and his great knowledge if he turned to me and said "Glaucous-winged gull."
Roland Hopkin's cynicism on every bird he sees (sorry Roland!) would mean I would trust him  totally if he turned to me and said "Chestnut sided warbler".   
Finally, the pure honesty of the Biking Birder, Gary Prescott, the green birding king, makes me respect him so much.  In his book about his year as a green birder, The quest for 300, he visits a sight where a Franklin's gull was spotted.  While two men tick a distant gull as being the rare American vagrant, Gary thinks it is a lesser black backed gull and continues the wait.  This shows the patience and honesty of a great birder. 

Here is a link to his book on amazon which if you are a serious birder and you have not read this already you should certainly buy.

Some ticks after a summer break...30/7/18

An early start and straight into the car, as we headed for my favoured destination of Numpties in the pouring rain. After looking at the weather forecast the previous night it looked as though the rain may be held back, but it soon became clear that was not the case as I stood under one of two trees on the Numpties strip, the best shelter I had.  However, at 6:05am the rain came to a halt and a few things began to move.

Firstly, at least 20 lesser black backed gulls flying strongly West, followed by 7 swallows South with a few swift a few minutes after.  Lots of goldfinch, presumably the locals, woke up and a pair of chaffinch flew reasonably high East; most likely short distance flying but I have no knowledge of chaffinch migration so wouldn't know for sure.  A greenfinch landed in the tree above me as 5 black-headed gulls flew towards me from the North.  The flock got to within 20 feet before I noticed a slight difference between the front four and the bird on the back right of the group.  I put my binoculars to my eyes and was immediately greeted with blotchy black patches on the head and a lovely, thick red beak...Surely not...?  Not here, not now...
The group was now directly over me. A view from underneath confirmed my hopes.  A pair of flashy, gorgeous white wings.  MEDITERRANEAN GULL!!!!!!!!!!  I phoned Mum, who was warbler watching in the woods, who was unfortunately unable to pick up the group of gulls due to the canopy overhead.  

An addition to the Warwick 100 challenge - a challenge to see if Steve Valentine, Roland and Anna Hopkins, Mum and I can see 100 species of bird in a two mile radius of the centre of Warwick in 2018 - the Med took us to 99 and was also a worthy addition to my top 3 patch birds of the year which now looks like this.

  1. Pied flycatcher
  2. Mediterranean gull
  3. Osprey
After we realised the rain wasn't going to stop we decided to call it a morning. However, despite my complaints, Mum wanted to visit the Warwickshire golf course in Leek Wootten to check out the bodies of water there. Soaked, we arrived at the pool and began scanning the banks. Then, a familiar call which I have heard at sights like Brandon Marsh and Middleton Lakes RSPB.   A GREEN SANDPIPER shot up and did a lap of the pool, displaying a square white rump!  I know it's horrible but isn't rain great? Another addition to the Warwick 100 which now stands at 100. 

Whoop whoop! We did it! 

This now means there is no pressure for August and September and we can just enjoy migration and see what total we end the year on. What a brilliant little bird to hit our target on too! 

Apologies for the lack of pictures but my lens probably would have died in the wet.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Some scarce birds on a legendary site...26/5/18 and 27/5/18

I came out of school as quick as I could on the Friday afternoon to meet Mum in a small road nearby. I swiftly made my way over and got in the car, both of us with wide grins. We were heading to Spurn on a weekend of North Easterly winds. Ideal. However, what was not ideal was the terrible traffic across parts of the motorway and A-roads. Despite this, we were still able to reach the point before 9pm, a 4 and a half hour journey altogether. Before killing off our starvation, we headed for the Warren just to see the place again after our previous three visits (two MigFests, and an October visit) which have given me such lifers as red-flanked bluetail, Eastern black redstart, pectoral sandpiper, wryneck, Kentish plover, barred warbler and other fantastic birds like long-billed dowitcher. What a place! We had a lovely dinner in the Crown and Anchor with Dan the Spurn man serving us. By the way, the smoked haddock fishcakes are absolutely AMAZING! When we arrived at our room in the terrific Westmere Farm B&B, it did not take us long to fall asleep, and it did not feel like long before waking up the next morning. 

We woke early to walk the 6 mile round trip down Spurn point.. Although, having agreed breakfast at 6:30 we had some time to kill, so took a quick stroll to Holderness Field to see if any waders were new in. There were a few yellow wagtails around then Mum spotted some movement at the back of the biggest pool. I quickly caught a shot which showed a very blurry white supercilium and overall greyish brown plumage with yellowish legs, letting me identify it as a WOOD SANDPIPER as a second bird appeared. Another birder saw these waders a couple of hours later and put the news out on the radio and left me kicking myself for not putting them out at the time.
Look above the swan's arse

  It's fair to say the first 2 miles produced no birds but, in the last mile, birdsong began to erupt with reed bunting and linnet, lots of swallows moving south, a couple of common swift and whitethroat seemingly singing from  every bush. Reports of brambling and whinchat at the point urged as on as a ringed plover flew over our heads near the peninsula. We failed to see these two targets but did see a peregrine, apparently a reasonably good bird down there and a singing sedge warbler. A man then told us of a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER he had seen that morning at the potato fields. We asked him where these were and sure enough a bird was calling in the bushes surrounding the field (interestingly, this was as 115 of the little grey birds were visiting Bardsey Island in Wales, my favourite place to bird in the UK - an incredible count for such a small island!) Two hours later news emerged of a marsh warbler singing from these fields. Well, there certainly wasn't a singing bird when we were down there but there is no doubt it was skulking in those bushes somewhere...

One of many whitethroat

Peregrinus falconus. 
Young doe
As we walked back North along the peninsula we heard of a second marsh warbler at the Warren. Walking along a long stretch of sand is hard, let alone after you have just walked over 5 miles! Picking up plastic into our black sack as we went, we arrived back at the Warren and asked where the scarce warbler was. The reply was, "Just there" as Steve pointed to a clump of bushes. We strolled 100 metres onto the road and stood with a few others, eventually getting views of a bird looking like a reed warbler with pale legs, which is a marsh warbler, and some good bursts of song with recognisable mimicking calls including a blue tit! Another worthy bird, we did have a trip to Easington gas terminal to pick up a calling female RED BREASTED FLYCATCHER. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Nice. Besides a red kite flying over and some interesting caterpillars and spiders around, not much happened for the rest of that day until 5ish when Harry called in a blue-headed wagtail in the back garden of our B&B: Holderness field! A quick scan showed a distant and paler yellow wagtail subspecies amongst the ordinary yellows and a kind birder let me have a quick look through his scope at this scarce passerine.

Spider with a blue bum. Is this the egg sack or the body? Any ideas appreciated.

Red kite which flew across the Humber while we were estuary watching
Well, it's a record shot!
                                                                      27th May, 2018
Today began with a trip to the Warren for an early vis-mig/ seawatching session. The first things of note were a pair of particularly cute baby rabbits only a few feet away which were enjoyable to watch. Jacob Spinks, a highly skilled birder from Northamptonshire picked up a distant MANX SHEARWATER, only just visible through my scope but a year tick nevertheless. A BLACK TERN zipped North and a harrier sp. was seen at Sammy's point. We eventually left Numpties and headed back to the car at the Bluebell café, but decided to walk the coastal path down past Driftwood caravan site towards beacon ponds before leaving. My second, and Spurn's third, marsh warbler of the weekend sang near the play park and the definition of 'record shot' was taken. A few more birders arrived, disturbing the bird as they argued with each other and didn't respect the bird at all. They soon left after having spooked the bird and it did not show again. Why is it that some twitchers have to practically touch the bird, even with the brilliant optics we have? I do not understand. 

Baby rabbit

The other baby rabbit

You see the blob in the background? That's clearly a marsh warbler.

After a quick dip at Sammy's point for a long-eared owl, we had to go for breakfast. Sausage, beans, egg and hash brown. Oh yeah. After this breakfast of champions we drove to Easington cemetery, just producing a single chiffchaff. The bushes around the area were no better but there were some young house martins being fed in a nest, looking as though they would fledge any second. After remembering that there was a Pallas' warbler in a withy by Easington gas terminal in Migfest two years ago, we decided to go there. It really is just a small patch of trees on the coast but the birds it has produced are amazing. No passerines other than a whitethroat and several linnets  but a bird in the long grass suddenly barked four times, confusing both of us. We stomped round to the other side of the withy when I thought I heard a brief "wet lips" call resembling a quail. I decided not to say anything but, when I casually mentioned quail when going through birds which could possibly bark and which would be in that habitat, we searched it up on YouTube and found out that before the wet lips call, quails do sometimes bark! This left me in no doubt that we had heard a QUAIL after hearing the wet lips as well as the barking. We later discovered this was quite a good find for Spurn. Apparently, a lucky observer had watched a quail come in off the sea and land in the tall, coastal grass not far away from this area a couple of days before. Could this be the same bird? Also, two days after we heard the bird, one was flushed in tall, coastal grass near the warren - could that also be the same bird as ours? 
Finally, a final drop in at Holderness gave us a pair of BARNACLE GEESE and a female harrier sp. heading out towards the estuary.

Hare bolting at light speed

Wheatear at Kilnsea

Kilnsea wetlands gave us a greenshank, some dunlin, a whimbrel, some ringed plover, many redshank and a wheatear, not to mention the fantastic little terns fishing in front of the hide but nothing else unfortunately apart from a packet of Pringles. The lack of birds seen during the afternoon made us decide we should head up to Flamborough for a certain pink starling...……………...which wasn't there...………….

Slightly disappointed at missing this, we met a man who I found out later was @Fileybirder on Twitter, who said the red backed shrike was a brief visitor in the morning and that the dotterel was still on Beacon Hill. Before trying for this, we speedily got the temminck's stint under the belt, making it my second lifer of the weekend after marsh warbler on Saturday. We scanned for a long time on the hill for the dotterel, with no success, before two men looking for the bird too headed to a field just west of the hill. They left the lady that was with them behind to continue searching for it and when she received news from the men it was in the other field, she very kindly ran up to us to inform us.  A 15 minute walk to the field and we started looking miles away, as our only experience with these birds before was a group of 6 a long way of at Choseley drying barns in Norfolk. 10 seconds later, we realised it was closer. I mean much closer. The DOTTEREL was just 30 metres away, running around and feeding allowing for some fantastic digiscopes. What a trip and what a bird to end on. Thanks so much to Spurn (which I must say looks really weird with a visitor centre) and especially Westmere Farm for giving us a fantastic stay. 

I can't wait for MIG-FEST!


Dotterel again
Check out my twitter: @JackSnipe222, for more photos and posts on birds I have seen!

Monday, 7 May 2018

The best bird yet...5/5/18

An all day bird race was taking place all around the West Midlands, with the favourites to win being sites like Upton Warren, Belvide Reservoir and Middleton Lakes RSPB with their marshy environments.  We thought we'd play along, even though we knew we wouldn't get close against anywhere like that. The day started off on the Hilltop early at 6am and, almost as soon as we got out the car, two "white winged" ducks zipped towards us going South-East. I first called them as wigeon from a distance as I had experience of these birds flying over before. However, as the birds came closer it became clear that these were in fact SHOVELOR, a bird never seen here before and immediately on the patch two bird list!
Many species were seen on the rest of the hilltop and in the woods, including many chiffchaff, a nuthatch, mute swan on the flashes and a female BULLFINCH, only a fly-by.
Just after Warbler Corner, heading towards the Wetlands are a small group of trees, usually filled with life. A sweet, distinctive and welcoming song forced me to look up at these trees. A WHITETHROAT perched at the top of the thickest one, before diving down to the scrubby area behind. 10 metres on, another two  whitethroat sang in the undisturbed undergrowth. A further 10 metres on; three more birds flitting in the bushes. It continued like this until a fantastic 14 were recorded in a 150 metre stretch of thick scrub. Later, back on the hilltop, the thick, roadside bush held yet another four of these fantastic birds. 

The first of many whitethroats

Grey heron heading for the river
Still heading for the river

We carried on walking towards Guy's Cliffe, with whitethroat song almost deafening us. It seems odd that only a week ago whitethroats were non-existent here and suddenly there's a huge count in a small area.  A blackbird shot out from the bushes on the Guy's Cliffe cliff, then a sparrowhawk flew through and flushed a tiny bird, chiffchaff sized but with dark and pale markings, clear in the sunlight. I thought I knew what this bird was as it sat at the top of a spindly tree pretty much right in front of Guy's Cliffe.  My immediate words were "Go go go" to Mum, pushing her towards the area.  She asked what I had seen.  I simply said: "I think I may have a pied flycatcher".

We jogged down a small track towards the river to get a better look at the trees where the bird was. After waiting for (what seemed like forever) 30 seconds, a small bird, surely the same one, landed upright in a small bare part of a willow, displaying a pair of white wing patches, a white blob on the forehead and a striking pied pattern. Holy crap! It will probably take until the year 2067 to get over the fact that I was looking at a PIED FLYCATCHER, on my own patch, in South Warwickshire.
For a flycatcher it seemed extremely and frustratingly elusive. We had to wait another 10 minutes before we saw it again and, even then it was only a brief view of the gorgeous male sitting on a branch in the same spindly tree it was first in.  It took another 10 minutes until Mum got views of the bird flycatching in and out of the tree.  Roland arrived, but the bird had not shown for ten minutes beforehand and, unfortunately, did not show again.

Sorry that we messed up your lie in Roland. Truly sorry.

Looking around the area, Guy's Cliffe is covered in scrub and dead bushes and that, as well as the walls and open windows of Guy's Cliffe itself, provide a perfect habitat for a travelling pied flycatcher. Also, where we saw the bird was close to the river, behind is a large woodland area. To be honest, the bird could have gone anywhere, so we should consider ourselves lucky that we actually saw it in the first place. Despite the flighty nature and, therefore, the lack of photos of the flycatcher, the whitethroats and showy grey heron provided some distraction.

I then went off to watch my football team, Coventry FC, in a rather dull 0-0 draw to Morecambe.  But it meant Morecambe stayed up and that we are in the play-offs against Notts County this weekend.
The best bit of the day came in the evening, however, when a text to my mum told her that we were the only site in the bird race to spot pied flycatcher, which meant we did actually contribute to the final species count in the day


Arty smarty

Getting dive bombed by swallows

It was a great day out in terms of birding and football. Twitching is great, and visiting places like Spurn, Portland, Titchwell and many others is fantastic when you live in the Midlands, as you can see so many species you just don't get in the heart of England.  But, it is days like this which show me that patching in a not so productive place like the Saxon Mill in Warwickshire is the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of birding. The day ended with a magnificent 55 species and 3 new birds for Patchwork Challenge this year. In addition, it has now become clear that birds do follow the river running through my patch, The Avon.
Examples of migrants following the river have been the tremendous fall-day of blackcaps in mid-April with 50+ birds in the wood, the whitethroat fall of today, Cormorants following the exact path of the river throughout the winter, meadow pipit migration, an osprey flying along the river on 3rd April, a male wheatear in a field 20 metres away from the river on 18th April and then now this fantastic male pied flycatcher sitting in the trees literally hanging over the river.