Friday, 27 October 2017

Shetland 2017

Here's a few highlights of my yearly pilgrimage to the Shetland Isles in 2017 which started on the 27th September and was for ten days, ending on the 7th of October. There were just the three of us this year - me along with my good mates Steve James and Dave Gray.  If the previous week was anything to go by we were in for a good trip as Yellow-breasted Bunting had been found on the Outer Skerries, and a Siberian Thrush at Baltasound on the Isle of Unst but sadly both birds had disappeared before we arrived on the Islands -  but were the weather and winds going to be in our favour, as in previous years? Well, to cut a long story short they weren't,  with the wind coming from the East or from the South East, which is what birders want- but it was far too strong (40 to 50 mph gusts)and would imagine a lot more over the higher ground but also brought in lots of wet weather, which meant that the birds that were on the islands were keeping their heads down!  The weather didn't deter us though - we were out every day come hail or shine searching for birds.(it was really hard work though) I thought this year there were a lot more common migrants on the mainland too, as we saw Redstart everyday, along with lots of Robins and Chiffchaffs and also it seems the good old  House Sparrow has had good year on the Shetlands
 Blackcap


This was the first year in the nine years I've been making this trip that I never left the mainland - but we still managed to clock up just short of 800 miles in the car, travelling around the island.
As I said previously, migrants were plentiful, with Blackcap, Yellow-browed Warblers, Chiffchaff,  and also, still quite a few Swallows around. 
We were out to the west of the island on 29th September, at a place called Dale of Walls where a Great Grey Shrike had been reported. Steve soon managed to pick it up as he walked down a burn. Other birds of note here were Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and a few Ruff mixed in with Redshank and Lapwing.
1st October saw us around the north of the island when a message came up from our Whatsapp group that a Pallas's Grasshopper-warbler had been found at Barnafield. Steve needed this bird for his list, so we set off to see it. On arriving, there were only about a dozen other birders there but it wasn't long before we got really good views of the warbler.As we were on our way back to our chalet at Veensgarth, we called in to see the Short-toed Lark we knew was at Aith - only 200yds from where we'd stayed last year. It was in a sorry state, as it was wet through due to the incessant rain we'd had all day, but it was still busily feeding which was good to see.
On October 3rd, we headed south, birding as we went, and went to have a look at an Oystercatcher that had some characteristics of the Eastern race (Haematopus ostralegus longipes)- it certainly looked different from the other Oystercatchers it was associating with anyway! (see the image)

 Brambling

4th October found us in Lerwick, as we needed fuel for the car, so while we were there, we decided to drop in on some Parrot Crossbills that had been feeding in a pine tree on a nearby housing estate. We had really good views, but went back again a second time a few days later, when we found the birds were literally feeding on cones off the pavement so we had much better views! We headed towards Lower Voe after we'd finished in Lerwick, where we had some really good views of Rustic Bunting.
In the bay, we saw lots of Red-breasted Merganser and Shag.


 Ruff

5th October, and again, we were back in the north of the island, and again strong winds were hampering the birding. We were just checking out some waders - Ringed Plover, Turnstone and few Gannet out in a bay, when another birder stopped, coming from the other direction; he informed us he had just found a Red-flanked Bluetail at a place called Houll, so, after a few directions, we headed off to find it. Within 15 minutes, the three of us were where we had been directed to and searching for the bird. It wasn't long before Steve flushed it from a derelict croft covered in honeysuckle. More and more birders started to turn up, but the bird seemed to have gone to ground. It finally popped up again from the same honeysuckle, giving the people there good but brief views.

 Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus longipes)
 - note the brown back, black hood and, we felt, more white in the wing when we saw the bird in flight, but a very interesting bird.


 Wood Warbler we found at Cunningsburgh

 Parrot Crossbill

 Parrot Crossbill

 Spotted Flycatcher

 Rook - a 'common' farmland bird which is not that common in Shetland!
The main corvids are Raven and Hooded Crow which you see plenty of every day.

 Common Crane flying up the Loch of Spiggie

 Yellow-browed Warbler

Our final day - 6th October, and once again we were in the south of the island, birding around Geosetter we found a good flock of chaffinch and with a few Brambling mixed in and also a Whinchat. Steve and Dave decided to walk the burn when Dave noticed a lot of Greylag Geese had taken to the air, and when he looked up, there was a White-tailed Eagle overhead. It turned, and headed towards the Loch of Spiggie, so we decided to go and see if we could find it again but to no avail - we did, however,  find the Common Crane which has taken up residence there.Other birds of note were Wheatear, Whooper Swan, lots of Wigeon an some Teal. 
I didn't have any new ticks this year first time in nine years, so thats not a bad run . It was really hard work due to the adverse weather but it wasn't for the lack of trying, but we still saw plenty, had a few good birds, a few good  laughs, and as always had a great time with two good mates. Here's to Shetland 2018!
Thanks for stopping by - hope you enjoyed the read....

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Leicestershire Hoopoe!!

Having now got back on my feet again, the Duchess and I decided to go to Dartmouth for a few days to visit relatives (from the Thursday till the Sunday).  I always keep my eye on the news reports whenever we're away in the UK, and on arriving in Devon, I checked the news service; low and behold, a Hoopoe had been reported in Leicestershire, on a housing estate in Loughborough which is about 10 miles north of my home! How's  your luck? There was nothing I could do about it until we went home again on the Sunday, so I put it out of my mind and settled into enjoying our few days in beautiful Devon.
On our departure from Devon, I checked the news again;The Hoopoe was still there, so after an uneventful 3.5hr drive, I  dropped Sue off at home and headed off to Loughborough. When I got there, there was  quite a few birders present, but from their body language, I knew the bird was not showing.  I asked when it was last been seen, and I was told it had been 15 minutes previously, in its' favourite garden, so it was just going to be a 'watch and wait'.  20 minutes later, and it appeared on a garden wall for a couple of minutes, then flew quite purposely away. Well, at least I had a County tick!  I had just decided to go back to the car and head home, when my good mate Pete Asher called me to say he was on his way,  so I decided to stay and see him. While waiting for Pete, another good friend, Richard Peglar turned up. We were chatting away when Pete arrived, and we all stood talking opposite the garden where the bird had been frequenting, hoping for its return. We had been standing there for about 20 minutes or so, when a lady approached to ask if were looking for 'the bird'?  We replied that we were, and her next words were music to our ears! - the Hoopoe was in her back garden and we were welcome to go and see it. All I can say is a very big 'thank-you' to the lady at 'Number 8', who invited a dozen birders into her house to view this stunning bird feeding on her lawn from her lounge and dining room! and to the birders who were all very well behaved.
Below are a few images of the Hoopoe





My next jaunt is to our yearly pilgrimage to Shetland - unless anything turns up in the meantime, of course!  As always, thanks for stopping by to - hope you enjoyed it!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Scilly Pelagics

Well, having had my operation in March, I did not think for one minute that it would be the middle of August before I got discharged by the hospital!  In between time, however, I did manage to get to few county twitches (with the help of some good friends) in the shape of Black-winged Stilts, Great Reed Warbler and the European Bee-eaters, and did manage to get over to Brascote GP, my local patch, on the odd occasion. If I had any hair, I would have pulled it out towards the end of my 'recovery' but slowly and surely, I am finally up and running again!  I did have something to look forward to though, in the shape of a few pelagics from The Scilly Isles, a small archipelago of islands off the south-west coast of the UK. This trip was with my good mate Steve James and was booked in the September of 2016 with Bob Flood and Ash Fisher who run 'Scilly Pelagics', as these trips are extremely popular, and sell out very quickly; what I hadn't realised however - the dates coincided with the 2017 Bird Fair at Rutland Water - this would be the first one I've missed in more than 25 years! - and this year, the LROS stand (Leics & Rutland Ornithological Society) were basing their display on the work I've been involved in, helping another very good friend, Paul Riddle (Owls About That Then), in making and siting nesting boxes for owls in south Leics, so I was a bit gutted, to say the least! Apparently, it all went off very well though!
After staying overnight in Penzance, we boarded the 'Scillonian III' for the three hour crossing to St Mary's, Scilly Isles. The crossing was uneventful but we did see hundreds of Manx Shearwaters as we crossed, and Steve picked out Cory's Shearwater too.

The Scillonian III


Our first Pelagic was the same afternoon so we boarded The Sapphire - one of the inter-island boats skippered by Joe Pender - and headed back out to sea, to the east of The Scillies. It wasn't a trip for the faint-hearted with swells up to 4.5 meters - but fortunately, everyone on board seemed to have good sea legs! Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were soon on the scene feeding on the bread being thrown overboard by one of the crew, which soon attracted Greater Black-backed Gulls along with Gannets and Fulmars. These birds were plentiful on all three pelagic trips we did. Steve and I did have a target bird for the trip, which was Wilson's Petrel, and we also hoped for good views of Great Shearwaters and Cory's Shearwaters. We did get a view of a Wilson's Petrel, but the bird flew towards the boat and went away again as quickly as it had appeared so we were both hoping for better views tomorrow. Good views of Cory's; Great and Manx Shearwaters were all seen, along with lots of European Storm Petrels - a good evenings' pelagic, arriving back into port in darkness!



Great Black-backed Gull

Day two dawned bright and sunny, and after a hearty breakfast, we joined the Sapphire again at about 11.00 for an all-day pelagic. Today, we headed south of The Scillies; the winds had died down by 10 knots and the swell was only 1.5 meters, so a much calmer day. The crew started feeding the gulls again with bread and they also put out the 'chum'  in a netted sack which allows the oil from the fish to cause a slick on the water. Once this is put out, we didn't have to wait very long before it bought in the Storm Petrels, Cory's and Great Shearwaters along with Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, These birds always get the attention of Great Skuas (Bonxie).  A Mediterranean Gull and half a dozen Arctic Terns were also seen.
The skipper, Joe Pender, is involved in a project catching and tagging Blue Sharks, and we were lucky enough today to see one caught, (weighing about 130lb) tagged and released back into the ocean - what a stunning fish! My only regret was not having my 50mm lens with me, so I wasn't able to get any images. 
We also saw a massive pod of Common Dolphin too - it was really funny to watch the skippers' dog Belle, who got very excited by their presence and I'm surprised she didn't finish up in the ocean with them! Today was really good, giving both Steve and I brilliant views of Wilson's Storm Petrel, with at least four being seen. 

Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Our third and final day saw us sailing off at 08.00 to the north-east of The Scillies in cold, dank drizzle but moderate seas. Again, the crew started with the bread and 'chumming' which attracted the gulls again. We were heading for Seven Stone Reef, and once there, the crew began fishing for Pollock and Ling which they then clean, using the innards as chum for the 'tubenoses' (Petrels, Shearwaters etc) who find the smell irresistible - it's absolutely amazing to see the Storm Petrels coming in from down-wind to feed. again, all three Shearwaters were seen, along with Great Skuas and an adult Sabine's Gull - but the icing on the cake for me was seeing up to seven Wilson's Petrels. The crew caught and tagged another Blue Shark today - it weighed around 80lb.  We also saw an Ocean Sunfish! Apart from the miserable weather, we had another great day.
If you are ever considering doing a Scillies pelagic, I can certainly recommend Joe Pender, Bob Flood, Ash Fisher and their crew. Joe Pender is not only a really good skipper, he is also an excellent photographer! www.scillypelagics.com or www.sapphirepelagics.blogspot.com
Here are a few images of some of the birds we saw.

Fulmar

Fulmar

Gannet

Great Skua (Bonxie)

European Storm Petrel

European Storm Petrel

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull

Wilson's Petrel (greatly cropped)

Wilson's Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

We caught 'The Scillonian III'  back to the mainland and on our journey, saw European Storm Petrels, hundreds of Manx Shearwater, Great Shearwater and also more Common Dolphin. All in all, Steve and I had a great few days and I can certainly recommend it!
I'm really pleased to be out and about and 'blogging' again. 
As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed reading about my latest exploits!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Out and about, nearly

Well, its been just over 8 weeks since my operation on my ankle, the first six being the worst, as I couldn't put any weight on it at all! - At last I can now start weight bearing, although I've still got 4 more weeks to go before I go back to see the consultant!  I'm getting there slowly but surely, and I have ventured out on a couple of occasions - both times with my birding buddy Pete Asher. The first time was to Stamford Reservoir for a double County tick in the shape of  a Bar-tailed Godwit  (I know it's a 'tart's tick);  the other species, which a lot of the Leicestershire birding fraternity needed, was a group of 3 Black-winged Stilt. This wasn't too bad, as Pete could park the car, and I only needed to take a few hops on my crutches before I was looking at both birds!
My second adventure was to Albert Village Lake for a Great Reed Warbler which had been found by 4 of my mates during a Leicestershire bird race. This was a very different scenario as  I had to put the wheelchair into action; I was okay,  but felt a bit sorry for my mate, who had to push me downhill to the other end of the lake and then push me back up the hill to the car.... cheers mate!
Last week, I went to find a new butterfly for me in the shape of a Marsh Fritillary, at Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire, with another mate, Dave Gray. It was a new reserve for both of us. Two of our friends, Mark Lewis and Steve James had been there the previous week, and both got some really good images of the butterfly. Dave and I  parked the car and made our way onto the White Trail for the 500 meter walk to Little Scrubbs meadow, a SSSI site. It was hard going for me as it was the furthest I had walked (with the aid of my crutches) for nearly 2 months;  the day before, over 100 Marsh Fritillaries had been counted. On the way, we encountered this gorgeous butterfly on the footpath, well before the meadow, but once in the meadow (although I didn't venture too far in) there were lots of them - and what a great habitat for them! Below are a few images of this beautiful insect

                                                      The underside of the Marsh Fritillary              
                                                                    Marsh Fritillary
                                                                      Marsh Fritillary

Well, its good to be back doing a bit on my blog again - it seems its been such a long while since I went to Willow Tree Fen to see the Bluethroat! Hope its not too long now before normal service is resumed!
As always thanks for stopping by



Tuesday, 4 April 2017

WilowTree Fen Bluethroat

Just before I went into hospital for my ankle operation, my mate Dave Gray asked if I was interested in going to have look at a small chat in the shape of a Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), which had been at Willow Tree Fen LWT, just south west of Spalding in Lincolnshire for several weeks, so, on Thursday 23rd of March, Dave and I made the one hour and twenty five minutes drive towards Spalding. After parking up at the small car park, we made our way down the track for about 4 or 5 hundred metres to where the bird had been showing. There was just one other birder pacing up and down as we approached the area. The first question from any birder is 'has the bird been showing?' His reply was that he'd had a brief glimpse of it before it had disappeared back into the reeds; that was good news - at least the bird was still there, so it was just a matter of time before it would reappear. We didn't have to wait long as within 10 minutes of us arriving - and  just  a few yards away  - this jewel of a bird was on show for a good 10 minutes, giving me plenty of time for a few images, then it was off to Macky D's for a coffee! We had a good mornings' birding, and although I have seen quite few Bluethroats over the years, it's always nice to bump into another of these great little birds.
Below are a few images of the Bluethroat









As always, thanks for stopping by and hopefully I'll be back in action before too long!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Thailand part 2

So, after spending the morning of the 12th of Feb birding Khao Sok Lake, we then headed for Krung Ching,where we would be staying for a couple of days, birding around this area; again it was long drive to this birding destination near Krung Ching. We parked at a fairly open area within the forest to view Whiskered Treeswift. We stayed in the vicinity of the vehicle for a good hour, seeing Lesser Cuckooshrike, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Grey-rumped Treeswift and Common Iora. From here, we moved on to our accommodation, where we stayed for two nights. After sorting our rooms out, we headed back out late afternoon to a site Games knew of where we hoped for Blyth's Frogmouth; how on earth Games ever found this site is beyond me!  We parked up on a track and Games proceeded to try and find the bird for us; within 10 minutes, she had found it some 40 metres down the track, but the light was already fading fast, so I was lucky to grab a decent image of the bird. What a brilliant end to day 4!

Blyth's Frogmouth

Day 5 dawned bright and early (as usual) and after breakfast, we headed off to bird Krung Ching NP. This was going to be a long and hard day! The terrain was really hard going, with some areas being very steep to the extent that, had it been in the UK, it would have had to have been stepped with a rail - but what a place, and well worth the effort! I won't give you the full list of the birds we saw, but the highlights for me were Grey-headed Babbler, Scarlet-rumped Trogan, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Raffle's Malkoa - and all of these before lunch! Games could hear a Black-capped Babbler, so we waited on the track for a good while, but sadly we were out of luck, as the bird stopped calling. It wasn't until we'd walked 50 yards down the track, when the bird started calling again so we decided to go back for another try - and to our amazement, this previously elusive bird walked by us only 8 feet away! ........  Unbelievable!
We had taken a packed lunch with us, so after a short walk, we decided to have our break - but not before we managed to see Banded Broadbill, Black-throated and Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler. After our lunch we went off again, ticking Moustached Babbler, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and Rufous Piculet. Having reached the end of our walk, Games did try to call in Rail Babbler, even though there hasn't been one seen there for the last two years; we didn't have any luck - but - you never know if you don't try, do you? On our return journey back to the car, we did also see Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Brown Shrike, Blue-winged Leafbird and Lesser-green Leafbird. As I've already said, it was a really hard day, especially at our ages - but very well worth it!  We returned to this park again later that evening to look for owls, but to no avail - although we did get a bonus in the shape of a Grey Nightjar.

Black-capped Babbler

Banded Broadbill

The morning of day 6 found us back at Krung Ching NP for a look around the vicinity of the car park which was quite productive, highlights of which were Swinhoe's Minivet, Blue-eared Barbet, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Green-billed Malkoa and Dark-throated Oriole. Sadly, however I've no images to show you, as the birds were all feeding in the top of the canopy. Another image I missed was a Cape Razorsnake which was crossing the road as we drove out of the park. We went back to our accommodation where we had some lunch before setting off to our next destination, Thale Noi. On reaching the accommodation at Thale Noi, we spent the afternoon birding some brilliant wetlands only a 10 minute drive away, where we saw (new to the list) Bronze-winged Jacana, Intermediate Egret, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Grey-headed Swamphen and lots of Water Buffalo. What we did see here, that I've never seen in the UK, were large groups of Little Grebe! Again - a brilliant area for birdwatching!

Great Myna

Water Buffalo

This is only 7 of a group numbering 18 Little Grebe


On day 7, we were due to go on a boat trip at Thale Noi, but when Games had showed us the boats the previous afternoon, we decided they'd be too uncomfortable for us, so chose instead to return to the wetlands which we'd been to the previous afternoon. We were birding from the road, which was in the form of a bridge of about 2 miles long, across the wetlands, with pull-ins every so often.  Baya Weaver, Lesser Whistling-duck, Indian Roller and White-throated Kingfisher were seen, We also had more Tree Sparrow (they seem really prolific in Thailand), Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorant, Purple Heron and Plain-backed Sparrow and a large flock of Black-winged Stilt (circa 300?) along with Brown-backed Needletail, Oriental Reed-warbler, Shikra and Brahminy Kite. All of these were seen in spite of the weather - it was absolutely throwing it down on and off all morning - still very very humid though! Even so, I'd have been very happy staying here all day if I could- a great habitat with easy viewing of the birds. We left the area in the early afternoon to travel quite a distance to our final accommodation at Phang Nga Town.

Grey-headed Swamphen

Pheasant-tailed Jacana 

Some fishing huts which are on the wetland

 Brahminy Kite

Pond Heron species

Black-winged Stilt

Part of the Black-winged Stilt flock

 Plain-backed Sparrow

Oriental Reed Warbler

Our final mornings' birding was to be at Phang Nga mangroves, where we managed to see Olive-winged Bulbul, Dark-naped Tailorbird, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Mangrove Whistler and Oriental White-eye. Once again, Games' fantastic hearing detected a Black-and-red Broadbill calling, and it didn't take her long to pinpoint the call! To our surprise, there were a pair of them - what stunning birds these are - my image doesn't do justice to them! Once again - a great habitat for birding!  Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Brown-throated Sunbird and Black-naped Monarch were also seen here. Another great morning spent birding this area, then, on our way back to the airport, Games was going to stop off again at a small woodland we had previously visited to see if we could get Spotted Wood Owl, as we'd missed them on our first visit here. Her perseverance paid off, as this time paid off, giving us not one - but a pair - of these magnificent owls!

Olive-winged Bulbul

Dark-naped Tailorbird

Black-naped Monarch

Black-and-red Broadbill

 Pair of Spotted Wood Owl

Spotted Wood Owl

What a great 8 days birding in Southern Thailand, made even better by great company in Christine and Bob, and a really good guide in the shape of Games! 
I hope you've enjoyed reading this snapshot of my trip to Southern Thailand, and, as always, thanks for stopping by.
This will probably be my last blog for a while now, as I'm going to be incapacitated for a few weeks due to imminent foot surgery!