Wednesday 28 December 2016

A County First.......

Just a quick post about the Surf Scoter that was found at Rutland Water yesterday afternoon (27.12.16)  When the news broke, confirming the bird as a Surf Scoter, it was a bit late for me to go for it, as the light would have been going, so I decided to go today, the 28th. After scraping the frost off the car, and with the car thermometer telling me it was minus one outside, I was hoping for a quick trip there and back - but firstly hoping the bird was still there! Arriving some 50 minutes later, I bumped into a few of the Leicestershire birding fraternity who said it was still there and showing well and could be viewed off the dam. It was cold, with a good frost - but bright sunshine - not the fog we were expecting! Walking towards the dam, I bumped into Andy Makay who soon put me on to the bird - a first county record of a first winter Surf Scoter.  I stayed for an hour or so, then headed for home and the warm.
                                                                      Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter first winter

As always thanks for stopping by...........

Monday 19 December 2016

Canary Cruise

On the 25th November, the Duchess and I embarked the P&O ship 'Oceana' at Southampton on a cruise that would take us to Madeira, then down to the Canary Islands, from there north to Cadiz in Spain, then on to Lisbon in Portugal, returning to Southampton on 9th December - all in all, a 14 day 'chill pill' cruise with a bit of winter sun. It was not going to be bird watching holiday - in fact, quite the reverse - though having never been to Madeira, there were a couple of endemics to be had, the Trocaz Pigeon and the Maderian Firecrest, which were going to have a look for. We were at sea for 3 days before we reached Funchal, Madeira. To be honest, not a lot was seen bird-wise - there were some Sabines Gull, Gannets, Lesser-blacked back Gulls, with the most common bird being Kittewake.  I also had an adult Mediterranean Gull plus lots of Common Dolphin, which were seen most days whilst at sea. There were also a few 'stowaways' on board in the shape of a Blackcap, (which apparently had been on board since Gibraltar, on the previous cruise), a Black Redstart (which sadly was later found dead),  a Robin, and a species of Thrush
                                                                   Common Dolphin
                                                                 Common Dolphin
                                                            Lesser-blacked back Gull
                                                                        L.b.b Gull
Whilst sitting out on deck on the second day at sea, I got talking to another birder who asked if I was going to try for the Trocaz Pigeon; when I told him I was, he gave a site which a friend of his who lives on the island had given to him, and said was a certainty for this species and also the Firecrest - and it was only a short bus ride to some gardens north of Funchal He even gave me the numbers of the buses we needed! Brilliant -  as the site I knew of, which I had found on the internet, meant we were going to have to hire a car, and go to the north west of the island. On the 29th November, after a hearty breakfast, we went to find our bus - or more to the point - Sue found our bus - the number 37, which was going to the site ( Palheiro Gardens) We were with another couple who also wanted to see the Pigeon. The gardens were superb, with great views over Funchal; we had only walked 50 yards into the gardens and the Firecrest was heard, and soon had been ticked off. Not long afterwards,  the other endemic, the Trocaz Pigeon was noted. Other birds seen in the gardens were Blackbird, Common Buzzard, Canary and lots of Blackcap. We also noted Kestrel, Grey Heron, Yellow-legged Gull and Turnstone on Madeira.
                                                                 Maderian Firecrest
                                                                      Trocaz Pigeon
                                                                     Trocaz Pigeon
                                                                      Trocaz Pigeon

The following morning we docked in La Palma - a small Canarian island, which is a lovely port to stroll around.

Our next port of call was Gran Canaria where we docked Las Palmas, We again took a stroll around and I can't say we were impressed with the place, and didn't stay ashore for very long. On returning to the ship, I settled myself with a drink and my bins, on deck 14, to survey the port. Imagine my surprise to see, on a car-park roof 200 yds away, among the Yellow-legged Gulls, were a pair of Pied Crows!  I didn't know what the status of this Corvid was for The Canaries, so I sent a text to my mate Steve James, asking him if he could find out where the nearest population was; he replied, saying the last record for this bird on The Canaries was in 2010, and that was thought to be ship-assisted. The nearest population is in Senegal, on the west coast of Africa. ( I have reported the find to the Spanish rarities committee, and they have told me that there have been up to 3 birds there for a while, but have asked me to supply them with a report and images)  Other birds noted from deck 14....Black-headed Gull, Grey Heron, Sandwich Tern, Little Egret and well over 100 Pied Wagtails!

                                                                         Pied Crow
                                                                      Pied Crow

Lanzarote today, the port of Arrecife.  Again, not a particularly pretty town, and again, we didn't linger for long. However, there was a lovely area around the marina which we enjoyed very much, although the weather was showery. Birds of note around the marina were Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, and a nice little flock of Spanish Sparrow; there were also several Turnstone which were totally oblivious to 'Joe Public'
 Spanish Sparrow (male)

 Spanish Sparrow




We had a day of cruising going north, towards our next stop - Cadiz,southern Spain. En-route, lots of Yellow-legged Gulls were seen. The Officer of The Watch had just informed us of our position (something they do every sea-day), and we were apparently 64 miles west of Morocco, when I spotted some more dolphin! I managed to get a few images, and on reviewing them, realised hey were not 'Common', but the only cetacean guide book I had with me was for The Bay of Biscay, so I was struggling to identify them, but again, on reaching Cadiz (and wi-fi!) I was able to send an image to another good mate, Dave Gray,  who was able to inform me that they were most likely to be Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - a new species for me!
We enjoyed Cadiz very much. Just walking around, we saw Robin, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, more Blackcap, and when we arrived back onto Oceana, again from deck 14, we saw Sandwich Tern and a Peregrine Falcon.

 Adult Yellow-legged Gull

 Adult Yellow-legged Gull

 Common Buzzard which we saw at Palheiro Gardens, Madeira

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Our last port of call was Lisbon, Portugal, where we had arranged to go on a trip to the small town of Obidos, some 75 minutes away by coach. What a fabulous little town! - and what a great day we had. as we came back, the coach came through the centre of Lisbon - a city we hope to return to at some stage as it looked to be a really nice place.

Our final two days were spent at sea, crossing the Bay of Biscay. The birdlife was much the same as our outward-bound trip, although we did note several Great Skua (Bonxies), and again, we saw lots of Common Dolphin - but sadly, we didn't see any whales at all!

We had a great time, and came back feeling very relaxed!

As always, thanks for stopping by.

I would just like to take this opportunity to wish you all A Very Merry Christmas, and A Happy 2017! 

Monday 7 November 2016

Two Twitches Two Days

The week leading up to Friday the 28th of October, I had been keeping my eye on the news service about an Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Staithe in Norfolk, and had plans to go for it at the weekend - but them thoughts were drowned out when  I had a text message from my mate Dave Gray on the 28th, saying that a Hooded Crow was feeding on the shore of Swithland Resevoir. Brilliant! I thought -  a county tick! -  but then remembered that the Duchess was over at mums. 'So what?' I hear you ask. Well, the Duchess had the car, so I had to wait for over an hour for her to return. Another mate Neil Hagley did offer to come and pick me up bless him,  but my thought was that by the time he had come to fetch me, I would have my own wheels, and would be on my way. As soon as Sue had pulled up on the drive, I was clambering into the driving seat saying something on the lines of 'got to go - Hoody at Switho!' Don't think she had a clue what I was on about! On arriving 20 minutes later at the site, the lads had got the bird in their scopes - well they thought they had, but as they all turned to greet me and then looked back through their scopes,  the bird had disappeared! There were a few corvids flying towards the bridge - but not the bird I wanted. It was a good hour or so before the bird reappeared, flying around the resevoir for two or three minutes, before landing in a conifer tree on the far side of the resevoir. It then dropped out of view into a stubble field. Sadly, no images were obtained but a county tick was more important. Waking up on Saturday morning, the weather was not good, so I decided I was not going to drive all the way to Norfolk on my own, and  made other plans for the day - only to get a message by my mate Steve James that an Isabelline Wheatear had been found at Wardy Hill in Cambridgeshire. On the Sunday morning Steve called me early to see if I wanted to go for it, and by mid morning we were on site. The bird was fairly distant, but it wasn't long before it was back at a dried up pool it been frequenting earlier
                                                                  Isabelline Wheatear

The above images are heavily cropped, as the bird was always fairly distant, but what a great bird!
I did not realise how sandy coloured these birds are. We had a good hour with the bird before our stomachs said it was time for dinner. It was a big thanks to Steve for the heads up, and for doing the driving. It was not only a BOU tick, but a lifer as well! Two new ticks in two days can't be bad
As always thanks for stopping by

Sunday 23 October 2016

The second Siberian Accentor for Britain

If you remember my last post, I mentioned a 'first' for Britain turning up on the Shetland Isles the day we returned home; that was on the 9th October. Well, on Thursday the 13th October, the news services were in melt down, as a Siberian Accentor had been found mid-afternoon in the village of Easington near Spurn, in Yorkshire. It was too late to go that afternoon, and after sorting out who could go and who couldn't, it turned out that from the usual crew, there was only Neil Hagley available - the others were either working or had something else planned. Keeping an eye on the the news service, the bird seemed  to go to roost early evening, so Neil and I set off at 2.30am on Friday morning, arriving at the site in readiness for first light. Well, after an uneventful journey, we arrived and parked up at the bottom of Vicary Lane - we even managed a few zeds before it was time to go to where the bird had been frequenting. On reaching the said area, we found that there were probably 300 other birders already there, and more turning up by the minute! It was not long before the bird had been seen - and for the first 20 minutes it was mayhem - but once the the volunteers from the The Spurns Obs got a queuing system in place, all the birders were getting superb views of a 2nd for Britain. In the subsequent days, more Siberian Accentors were being found along the east coast, and as I write this post, seven birds have been found so far in the UK, and well over a hundred in Europe! Having had our fill and taking some images of the Accentor, Neil and I went for a mooch around Spurn as strong easterly winds were still in evidence. It was just amazing to watch bird migration in action, as birds seemed to be filling all the trees and bushes - especially at Sammy's Point; from there we ventured to the Bluebell Cafe where a Olive-backed Pipit had been found, and also a quite showy Shorelark. After a few hours,we decided to go and have a last look at the Accentor before coming home. It was a bit strange going back, as there were only about 30 birders there compared to the 500 to 600 that were there when we left earlier in the day.All in all, we had a great day out. Below are some images of the birds we bumped in to throughout the day.
                                                                  Siberian Accentor
                                                                 Siberian Accentor

                                                                       Ring Ouzel


As always, thanks for stopping by, and any comments are welcome!  Until the next time....

Sunday 16 October 2016

Shetland 2016

Well, the 29th of September came around, and it was time for my annual pilgrimage to the Shetland Isles with my birding buddies Steve James, John Waters and Dave Gray, for a 10 day stay on this archipelago of islands off the NE coast of mainland Britain.  I won't bore you with the travel details - just to say for the first time, both flights were bang on time - with the wind at Sumburgh  gusting, to say the least! -  hence our approach into Sumburgh airport was a bit hairy!  John didn't think it was funny though, as flying isn't his favourite past-time,  ha ha! We were staying at Garth Cottage at Aith,  the west side of Shetland mainland, where we stayed last year. Straight after lunch we went out birding, first calling in at Michael's Wood  just at end of our road as there had been a Greenish Warbler in the area earlier that week; after a while John saw what he thought was a Leaf Warbler flitting through some Sycamore. Calling all the lads to its' location, we soon got on the bird, and  realised it was the Greenish Warbler! Dave put the news out that the bird was still there, and we also had lots of Yellow-browed Warblers at this same site throughout the holiday. The easterly winds that had been happening for a few days prior to us arriving were set to continue for the rest of the following week. What were these easterlies going to bring to Shetland?
 Greenish Warbler
                                                                     Greenish Warbler

       Just a bit of useless information for your good selves -  the Aith lifeboat is the most northerly              lifeboat station in the United Kingdom
 We stayed around our local area for the remainder of the day, noting Raven, Hooded Crow (which are really common),  Gannet, Red-breasted Merganser lots of  Golden Plover and Lapwing, Curlew a Redshank and Turnstone feeding in the fields -  and the first of many Yellow-browed Warblers.
Over the next couple of days, we did our own thing, trying to find our own birds - well the lads did, as a foot injury prevented me getting into the plantations. A Shrike found in fields behind a council estate in Aith on the 30th turned out to be Brown Shrike! Other bird seen were Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Redpoll, Rock Pipit and Ringed Plover. The following day, on a walk around Aith marina Steve found a Barred Warbler - good start to the day! We headed towards Laxo, and like every other day, birding as you go. The Red-backed Shrike and the Bluthroat were still showing at Laxo and our first Pied Flycatcher for this trip was noted
                                                                 The Laxo Bluethroat

All I can say about October 2nd is it was a red letter day. We were out doing our usual stuff, when the news service burst into life  - there was a Lancolated Warbler at Boddam. The rules in our crew are that if anyone of us needs a bird for a 'BOU' tick, then we go.  Dave was the only one that had already seen one, so after a while we were with 70 or 80 other birders looking into a really well established garden, trying to get a glimpse of this iconic little mouse-like bird; after some time and a little patience, the 'Lancy' didn't disappoint the crowd, showing well, down at times to just a couple of feet away, and the three who needed to see it got great views!   Dave appeared at that point, saying he had got news of Orcas off  Sumburgh Head. None of us had seen Orca , part from Dave - but he had never seen them in British waters. We set off to view them;  they were distant, but never the less you could see that massive dorsal fin as they went slowly around the headland. On our way back,the lads stopped off for a Blyth's Reed Warbler at Levenwick and  on coming back up from there, we stopped to have a look over Levenwick Bay, only to see a large cetacean breaking the surface! It was to big to be a Harbour Porpoise so it could only be Minke Whale, giving us two British cetacean ticks in one day! Wow!  Fulmar, Sanderling and our first Redwing were also added to the list - what a day we had!
                                                                   Minke Whale

The 4th saw us on our first trip off the mainland to the most northerly isle of  Unst in search of a Paddyfield Warbler, which I needed. It didn't take long for Dave and John to find it in more or less the same place as a Pechora Pipit I ticked 2 years previously, in a Norwick garden. Two new 'BOU' ticks in two days -  I couldn'tt complain! We added Little Bunting, Twite, Spotted Flycatcher, Wigeon and Great Skua to the list. On our way home, the news service came up with a Swainson's Thrush on Fetla; Steve needed it, but it was too late to go that day, so we convinced him to make the trip tomorrow so the following morning, we  were all  up earlier than normal, in order to get the ferries over to Fetla. On reaching the site, 4 birders were already there and had been looking, but there was no sign of the thrush. Dave Fairhurst and Judd Hunt were also there with a group from 'Shetland Nature'.  Within 10 minutes, however, we were all getting great views of the American vagrant; where it had been is anyone guess, but Steve got a 'BOU' tick - though it was flying about and it did look like it had a damaged wing. We then decided to go and try to find some of our own stuff, but were intercepted by a very excited birder traveling in the opposite direction, telling us his mate had found a White's Thrush at Feal Burn, so dropping the lads off  halfway up the burn, I drove down to the bottom and parked up as my foot was still giving me grief. The lads had good views as it flew by them, but with now a few birders there, the bird had gone into thick vegetation; one birder slowly walked to where it was last seen  and suddenly, the thrush took to air, flew up the hill, circled and went back into the burn again but what a great bird in flight!  Robin and Song Thrush were also noted
                                                                   Swainson's Thrush
                                                                    Swainson's Thrush

The 6th and again we were on the mainland doing our own thing. We were in Lewick for a while so we checked Clickimin Loch and added Whooper Swan, Goldeneye and Oystercatcher, and then slowly made our way back to Aith.  Swallow was noted. Again, late afternoon, news came through of Siberian Thrush at Uyeasound, Unst. Dave didn't need it but for his list, but we other  three did;  again, it was too late to get there, so Steve, being our 'transport logistics officer' sorted out the timetable for the crossings, and once again, we were up early to catch the two ferries to Unst. When we got there, there were lots of birders already looking for the bird, but sadly there was no sign of it. Second prize was an Olive-backed Pipit - a nice bird all the same! We stayed on the island for most of the day, seeing Whinchat, Fieldfare, Kestrel, another Bluethroat at  Norwick, and Osprey (a real good bird for Shetland) were noted, then just to finish the day off on the Unst, another White's Thrush was found at Skaw -at the last house in Britain - and this time great views!
                                                                Olive-backed Pipit
                                                                       White's Thrush

It's the last day, and again we were on the mainland, doing some general birding,  Pallas's Warbler was nice to see - couldn't remember the last time I had seen one! We did try for a Dusky Warbler in the same area, but Steve could only hear it 'tac-ing'.  Eider was added, as was Brambling> The amount of Yellow-browed Warblers  on Shetland this year is the most I've ever seen - they seemed to be everywhere, and long may it continue as they're great little birds!
We had a great 10 days on Shetland again this year, saw some brilliant birds, missed a couple, but best of all had some great laughs with some good mates. Special thanks to John Waters (catering manager), Steve James (transport and logistics) and last but not least, Dave Gray (News-service provider)  Just in case you're wondering - I was the chauffeur for the duration!
                                                                  Bluethroat at Norwick
                                                   Shetland Wren (islandicus zetlandicus)
                                                                     Pallas's Warbler
                                                              Yellow-browed Warbler
                                                               Yellow-browed Warbler
                                                                       Golden Plover
                                                                       Hooded Crow
                                                                Yellow-browed Warbler
                                                               Yellow-browed Warbler

                                                                     White's Thrush
                                                                    Whoopers Swan
This is the ferry 'The Good Shepherd' which is the lifeline to Fair Isle

As we landed in Birmingham, news broke of a first for Britain, found by Judd Hunt and Hugh Harrop - a Siberian Accentor! Just what you want to hear as you taxi towards the gate on the final leg of your trip home ...... But, I did feel more sorry for the lads that had just checked in at Sumburgh as this news broke!  This isn't the end of the Siberian Accentor story, so check out my next blog!
As always, thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoyed reading about our exploits.