Monday 21 December 2020

Oh! What a year!!

What a year this has been. As I write this blog, we are facing another major lockdown across the country but we all have to do what we can to keep ourselves and everyone else as safe as possible until the vaccine gets rolled out properly. 
Back in October, when some of us were able to still move around the country, a mega in the shape of a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin was found at Stiffkey campsite in Norfolk. On October 18th, three friends and I decided to travel to Norfolk, as this bird was a British first for all of us. On arrival, we were told that the bird had been seen in a stubble field, but had returned to the salt marsh, and all of he birders had their scopes trained on it's favouirite suaeda patch. We didn't have long to wait before it was picked up - the trouble was, now we had to wait for the tide to go out in order to get out onto the salt marsh for a closer look - but we did then get some really good views of the bird!
I know that there had been some negative feedback the previous day regarding social distancing, resulting in the police being called, but I have to say that while we were there, all of the birders behaved sensibly, respecting each others space.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

We then decided to head west to Holkham Pines where a possible Stejneger's Stonechat had been reported. It was a fair hike through the wood, as we had to get to the very west end of the pines. The bird is yet to be confirmed:it was a pale individual which reminded me of a really small Wheatear,  so I'll leave that one for the experts.

We traveled further west to Holme where a Red-flanked Bluetail had been frequenting some bramble bushes at the east end of the golf course; it was just a short walk from the car park and once again,we didn't have to wait very long before we had our first sighting of the stunning Eastern species.
While we were there, my mate David Gray was lucky enough to meet his famous namesake, David Gray the singer, who lives locally and is also a keen birder.

Red-flanked Bluetail

Red-flanked Bluetail

This was a very enjoyable day, with 3 good mates John Hague,  David Gray and Neil Howes, when for a short time, we were able to do something 'normal' in what has been a very strange and different year.

As always, thanks for stopping by - I hope you enjoyed looking at these images. Going forward, please  keep safe and have the best Christmas you can. Here's to a much better 2021!



Wednesday 21 October 2020

More Lockdown Birding

I'm pleased to say that things have improved slightly over recent months with regards to 'lockdown', allowing more freedom of movement, which has allowed me to resume my love of bird watching in different areas of the country - albeit maintaining social distancing! Going back to 19th June, my wife, (armed with a good pack-up and flask) accompanied me for the long drive up the A1 to Northumberland, arriving in time to travel across the causeway to 'The Snook' on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) for the Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana) which had been found there. This bird breeds in Central and Western Asia and the extreme East of Europe, but then winters in North-east Africa and South-western Asia, so one being on the Northumberland coast was an excellent find! As I recall, the bird was only seen very briefly the following morning then wasn't reported again.
Below are a couple of images of the bird

Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler

The 1st July - and Leicester is locked down again with Covid 19 - so it was back to garden bird watching for a while, until restrictions were eased once more for the area of Leicester where I live, on July 18th.

I was watching with interest of the whereabouts of a Bearded Vulture which was first sighted in June in the Kenilworth area - but seemed to have taken up residence in the Peak District of Derbyshire. The bird had been seen daily flying over Cutthroat Bridge on the A57 in Derbyshire, so I decided on 24th July to see if I could get a look at this huge vulture....... and I wasn't disappointed!  The bird showed pretty well - though distant - for about 20 minutes before disappearing over a ridge. I was lucky enough to get another sighting of this bird on 8th October, perched in a tree at Cowbit in Lincolnshire. Just a few days later, the bird was seen flying out over the English Channel - hopefully going back home again.

Feathers were found and had DNA checks carried out; this bird is a juvenile female which was hatched in 2019 in a wild nest in the French Alps


                                                                         Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vulture

As summer is slow for birding as a rule, I planned a day out with my wife to the south coast  - namely to Durlaston Country Park in Dorset to try and find the Lulworth Skipper - and hopefully follow up with a look around Poole or Swanage to round off our day. Once again we took our trusted flask and pack-up in order to keep away from crowds as much as possible and set off early on 30th July for what promised to be a beautiful summer's day.  We parked up at the Country Park and within an hour, we were enjoying my 56th British butterfly - the Lulworth Skipper! (only 3 more species to see now...)  It turned out to be a gloriously sunny day which in turn brought lots of people out to the park, so we decided to head back for the car and have our lunch - including a celebratory Scotch Egg! Our trip didn't go according to plan though, as, despite the Pandemic, the streets and beaches were full to capacity and so we decided it was in our best interests not to have our planned walk around the town, instead choosing to return home. All the same though - we had a brilliant day out at the park, looking out across the bay and enjoying some fresh sea air!!

Lulworth Skipper

Lulworth Skipper

As always, thanks for stopping by - another post to follow soon. In the meantime, keep safe please...


Thursday 16 July 2020

A Brief Escape from Lockdown Birding

After going to see the Eastern-yellow Wagtail on the 7th January at Sedgeford in Norfolk, who would have believed what the future had in store for us all...... Covid 19!! I was just birding around my local patch, and nothing exciting was happening - I was just waiting for the spring to arrive. I did look in the garden every morning to see if the wintering Blackcap, which I first saw on the 11th February, was still coming to the feeders - which it was, and continued to do until the 1st April - a total of 50 days. The 23rd of March saw the whole country go in to lockdown.  Excuse the pun, but it certainly clipped everybody's wings, with only essential travel allowed, meaning birding from the garden and just locally on my bike. It wasn't till the 17th May when I was able to  visited my patch again.  Most of the Spring migration had been missed due to the virus, but on the 10th June, I decided to go and have a look at a Red-necked Phalarope which the ranger at Watermead Country Park had found on King Lear lake; it wasn't a good evening, with a slight drizzle, but the bird was so confiding - down to a few feet at times! What a great bird to see so close up - and it was good to see some local birding mates - from a socially accepted distance, of course!
                                                                    Red-necked Phalarope

 Now we could travel even though social distancing was still in place ( and still is as I type this post, ) an Asian Desert Warbler had taken up residence on Lindisfarne also known as known as Holy Island up on the east coast of  Northumberland, and so, on the 19th June, my wife and I took a pack-up and set off for the four and half  hour drive up the A1,  making sure we were there in good time so the tides were right to drive over the causeway, leaving time enough to see the bird and drive back across the causeway again. It was great to get out and see a really nice bird and also some different scenery -but talk about cutting it fine - the Warbler was seen in the afternoon that day but was never seen again, so really lucky. We celebrated with a scotch egg washed down with a cup of coffee from our flask.......How the other half live!!

                                                           Asian Desert Warbler

Our freedom was short-lived though, as unfortunately,on 1st July, Leicester went back into lockdown, and we live just inside of the boundary, so back to garden birding again!

As I'm typing this post, we've just heard that although some parts of Leicester are to remain in lockdown, we've had the restriction lifted from our area - so..... is the bearded vulture worth going for? - or  ....... do I wait for the return of the Black-browed Albatross?  Do you know what?  I'm tempted to try for both if the chance arises!!

It's been nice to have something to post on my blog again.

As always, thanks for stopping by..... and please, stay safe everybody.

Friday 21 February 2020

Early Twitches

It was the start of a New Year and there had been a Blue-headed Eastern Yellow Wagtail (nominate form tschutschenis) frequenting a dung heap at Sedgeford in Norfolk. It had been found just before Christmas and I hadn't had  time to go, so on the 7th of January, my mate Pete Asher and I ventured over to Norfolk for a look. Before stopping for breakfast at Kings Lynn we called in at Thorney where there was a few hundred Whooper Swans and a handful of Bewick Swans feeding in stubble fields by the side of the A47 - why I didn't get my camera out I don't know!  Anyway, when we got to the said dung heap we didn't have to wait long for the Wagtail to arrive on it's favoured heap - quite a stunning little bird. We headed then to spend the rest of the day at RSPB Titchwell; all the usual suspects were there, but I  just love watching the Marsh Harriers - of which we saw 4 or 5

Below are a few images of the Wagtail.

  On the 25th of January Dave Gray and I decided to go and have a look at a long-staying male Black-throated Thrush that had taken up residence at ZSL Whipsrnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. When paying our entry fee we asked where the Thrush was being seen, and the young lady told us to head to the children's  'Hullabazoo Farm' where it's favourite berry tree was. It had been seen that morning but had flown towards the railway, and so Dave and I decided to go for a look  as it hadn't been seen for over an hour. We were also told that it had also it had been favouring the elephant enclosure, so off went Dave to investigate. A couple of hours later I was alerted that the bird had returned to its favourite tree, so back I went trying - to walk briskly - and trying to get a message to Dave. 5 minutes later, we were both having excellent views of this rare eastern vagrant.

Below are a few of the Black-throated Thrush.

As always, I hope you enjoyed seeing my images of these two rarities and I also hope it's not too long before I have something more of interest to share with you.
Thanks for stopping by

Monday 3 February 2020

South Africa Images

Just a few more images I thought I would put on the Blog as I was going through some more of the images I took.

                                                                    Male Lion


 Sleeping Flamingos

 Ready for take off..

 If anyone is thinking of going to Cape Town, Boulders Beach is a must. The colony of African Penguins are so close and it is ideal for taking lots of images; they are so photogenic.


 Alpha male Chacma Baboon

Male Lion at Aquilla Game Reserve

 Cape Sugarbird

 This really poor image of a Knysna Turaco which was seen at Tsitsikamma Reserve  

 Speckled Mousebird

 Orange Breasted Sunbird; we had much better views at Rooi Ells - a site on the south coast between Hermanus and Cape Town. This also a really  a good site for Rock Jumper and Ground Woodpecker,  though we only saw the latter, sadly not the Rock Jumper.

 Cape Robin-chat

Southern Double-collared Sunbird; this individual did look in a sorry state as it carried on feeding in the garden at our accommodation in Knysna during the rain

Great holiday!....would I go back I ask myself?  I certainly would - but probably the east side, up and around Krugar National Park.

Thanks for stopping by.  My next blog will be on a couple of twitches I've been on lately

Thursday 9 January 2020

Down at the Cape

Back in December 2019, I went to South Africa for a family holiday with my wife, our lad and daughter-in-law. We had a loose itinerary, spending a few days in Cape Town before heading north to a game reserve at Aquila, and then driving on to Knysna which is on the south coast for a few days, then west to Hermannus for another couple of nights before driving back to Cape Town airport and coming home - a glorious two weeks holiday! I'm not going to bore you with a load of bird listings, as this wasn't a 'birding' holiday, but thought I might share some of the more notable sightings we had along the way.
We started our holiday with a trip up to Table Mountain (which is fantastic!) Birds of note here were Red-winged Starling, White-necked Raven and lots of Speckled Pigeons - and of course - the good old House Sparrow!

Red-winged Starling

Speckled Pigeon

Stopping off at Camps Bay as we returned to our hotel, African Oystercatcher and Hartlaub's Gull were to be found in the bay.

Hartlaub's Gull

African Oystercatcher

We visited Cape Town Botanical Gardens (we do love to go to botanical gardens wherever we are!!)
and despite the rain, added quite a few birds including Cape Wagtail, Cape Whiteye, Cape Turtle Dove and Southern Double-collared Sunbird (anything that started with 'Cape' was a lifer for me - and there are quite a few!)  The lad and his wife had gone off in a different direction from us but called us to say they had found an owl roosting. They walked back to meet us and took us to see it - how he found it, i really don't know, but from then on I called him Hawk-eyes! 

Cape Wagtail

Cape Spurfowl

 Olive Thrush

Cape Whiteye

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Canary

Cape Robin-chat

Spotted Eagle Owl (definitely 'bird of the day')

Can't go to Cape Town without visiting Boulders Beach.......

African Penguin

African Penguin

Kelp Gull with nesting material

Rock Hyrax (Dassie) sunning itself on the boardwalk at Boulders Beach

......and of course, we really had to go down to Cape Point and The Cape of Good Hope!! This is an amazing reserve, and the birds of note here were Ostrich, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Widowbird (Yellow Bishop) and Malachite Sunbird

Male Ostrich

Female Ostrich

Fiscal Flycatcher

Malachite Sunbird

Cape Grassbird

We did manage to squeeze in a 'proper' birding day so we decided to visit the Strandfontein Sewage Works which proved to be very productive. This is more of a wetland now with just a small area given over to the sewage works. Lots of water birds were seen, and in good numbers; theses included Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveler, Hottentot Teal (great name!!), Maccoa Duck, Red-billed Teal and Cape Teal and there was a tip not far away with lots of Kelp Gull swirling around with White Stork - both in massive numbers and an impressive sight to see!  We also saw Yellow-billed Duck, White-faced Whistling Duck, Cattle Egret looking lovely in their breeding plumage, Red-knobbed Coot and a couple of raptors - African Marsh Harrier and Yellow-billed Kite. I got talking to a local birder who was keen to share with me an African Jacana (which is not a common bird for this site) and helped me to find the Hottentot; whilst looking at these ducks a wader flew across my vision which I followed, only to see it land on the water. My first thought was a Phalarope-species and I said as much to the local lad who got extremely excited, and, as the bird alighted from the water, he managed to view it. Luckily, the bird flew towards us, circled and came back down onto the lagoon, and, sure enough, it was a Red-necked Phalarope, which is a real rarity for the area. The local birder very quickly put the news out and was extremely happy, and a 'twitch' ensued!  All in all, a great day!
Here are just a few images of the thousands of birds we saw at this site

 African Jacana

Black-headed Heron with his lunch

Blacksmiths Plover

Black-winged Stilt

 African Pipit

Cape Shoveler

Cape Teal

Cattle Egret

Cape Weaver

Greater Flamingo

Just a few of the Hartlaub's Gulls

 Hadeba Ibis

Red-billed Teal

 White-faced Whistling Duck

Black-necked Grebe

 Hottentot Teal

We left Cape Town after a very enjoyable few days, and drove north to Aquila Game Reserve for a two night stay. This is a really nice private reserve covering 18,500 acres. We had a few game drives and below are some images of some of the wildlife we were lucky enough to see - but surprisingly, we didn't see that many birds! - The birds of note on the reserve were African Spoonbill, African Shelduck, Mountain Wheatear and Ringed Plover with other birds around the accommodation and restaurant area including Familiar Chat, Rock Martin, Karoo Scrub-robin, Cape Siskin, Southern Red Bishop and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

 Eland Gazelle

Black-backed Jackal

African Elephants


 Giraffe - trying to hide!?

Hippos leaving the pool at dusk for their nightly forage

 The dominant male

 One of Africa's few remaining Rhino's

 Rock Hopper


 Zebra (a.k.a Donkey in pyjamas!)

Zebras having a dispute

African Reed Warbler

 Cape Bulbul

Southern Red Bishop 

Cape Sparrow

 Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

 Cape Siskin

Mountain Wheatear

 Southern Masked Weaver

Chacma Baboon searching the bins as we left the refreshment station on the reserve

Large male Chacma Baboon

On leaving Aquila, we continued south to the coastal town of Knysna for a few more days. The accommodation gardens were the most fruitful, bird-wise. Amethyst Sunbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Common Waxbill were just some of the birds to be seen. We went across to Knysna Headlnds where, despite heavy rain, we still managed to see Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou and African Dusky Flycatcher, along with a pair of nesting Peregrine

African Dusky Flycatcher

Amethyst Sunbird

Bar-throated Apalis

Fork-tailed Drongo

 Southern Boubou

 Southern Double-collared Sunbird

Brown Hooded Kingfisher (in the rain)

The final leg of our journey was west to Hermannus. The local birder we met at the sewage works had told us to look out for Blue Cranes in the stubble fields on the road to Hermannus, and also gave us site for the elusive Rockjumper on the road from Hermannus to Cape town. We passed many miles of stubble fields and thought we were going to miss out - but finally - Blue Cranes!

Blue Crane

We were only at Hermannus for two nights,and we had one day booked for cage diving for sharks so not much time was left for any birdwatching, but we did find a small reserve very close to where we were staying called Fernkloof Reserve which turned up Cape Sugarbird (at last!) along with Helmeted Guineafowl, African Paradise Flycatcher and Sombre Greenbul. The shark dive was a great experience, and although we didn't see any Great White (they hadn't been seen for a couple of weeks), we did have amazing encounters of 'Bronzies' (Copperhead Sharks) which were about 3 metres long. Very exciting to see them so up-close and personal! 

 Male Cape Sugarbird

 Female Cape Sugarbird

On our final day, we set off early and took the coast road back to Cape Town (approx 75 miles), calling in at Rooiells en-route, hoping to see the Rockjumper, as this is a well known site for this species. Despite spending a good three hours looking for it, it wasn't to be - but we did manage a few more new birds, which ended our holiday on a high; Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Bunting and brilliant views of Orange-breasted Sunbird

Cape Rock Thrush

 Cape Bunting

 Orange-breasted Sunbird

132 species were seen, with almost 80 new birds for me - not bad for a non-birding holiday! 
South Africa is a great holiday destination, with fantastic friendly people wherever we went. 
I haven't finished downloading all of my images yet (I did take quite a few!!) so I will be posting anything I think you might like to see.

As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the images of the birds (and animals) of South Africa.