Monday, 11 September 2017

Monday Morning

Now being an ornithologist isn't the same as being a birder. Generally the fieldwork is dull and routine and the conditions are normally not ideal and usually you see nothing out of the ordinary. Occasionally though the timing, the conditions and the location all line up and you get something quite spectacular. This morning was one of those days. I am down on the River Parrett in Somerset doing some fieldwork and my routine of counting Shelduck was rudely punctured by the forecast of force 8 westerlies. Normally this causes a feeling of dread as a day of enduring the elements comes to pass but my optimism was piqued by the smattering of seabird records over the last few days in the Irish Sea.

Immediately upon setting up a Manx Shearwater flew past the sea wall on the river. And another. Then I noticed a third being brutalised by a GBBG on Stert Island. Something special was happening - you don't get seabirds in Somerset unless the winds are perfect and these obviously were. Soon there were Manxies zigzagging all over the place as the tide came in and a couple of young Arctic Terns danced over the writhing waters. An adult pale phase Arctic Skua headed up river bothering the ducks as it went. I settled back down to count the moulting birds when something small and black flew through my scope - a Leach's Petrel. I had been keeping my fingers and toes crossed for one and duly it skipped over the surface trying to escape to the Bristol Channel between Stert Point and Island.


Yet more Manxies and news of Bonxies and more Leach's beyond my view flooded in. I picked up a second Leach's up near Burnham and got the pleasure of watching it fight south in the breeze for the next 40 minutes until it too managed to escape. A Ruff, my first of the year, went south along the seawall and a juvenile dark morph Arctic Skua hunted up near Burnham. I received news of 4 Grey Phalaropes along the river which I'd obviously missed and another with 2 Leach's Petrels in Bridgwater Bay. I made so with another dark morph juv skua, this one looked to be a Pom in the brief views I got but they werent really long enough to pin it down as it escaped over the WWT reserve. As the tide receded so did the seabirds but not without a Kittiwake south past my VP and a Guillemot to round things off. A sad and probably moribund Manx Shearwater was still floating about when I left. An amazing day and probably not one that will get repeated anytime soon.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Summer Catch Up

I have generally been a busy boy over the last few months with work and family taking precedence over birding. I have squeezed stuff in such as a jaunt to Somerset which saw me side track to Pendeen and a Great Shearwater and the Devon commons where Dartford Warblers were the point of interest neither species I have seen for a good while (10 years for the shear and 6 for the warblers). Both were fantastic to see again and hopefully they wont take so long to revisit.
One of the more photogenic Dartfords...
 At Flamborough I have made three visits over the last couple of weeks and the highlight was a Greenish Warbler that Peter Williams and myself found. This devil was calling repeatedly from the crown of a sycamore in Old Fall and wouldn't show in windy conditions today. I'd have loved to get a photo but alas no. It was great to catch up with Pete as it had been nearly a year since I last saw him. A Yellow-legged Gull on the seawatch this week and a Balearic Shearwater last week were other highlights.


Prior to going on holiday I managed to see the Caspian Tern and Pacific Golden Plover in the handful of hours I spent in Yorkshire that week. Both species were Yorkshire ticks although I have seen both in Norfolk (weirdly in the same spring on down days from boat work on one project). I also saw Chough in between as I visited the Great Orme for work. A stellar location and one I hope to visit again.


We also celebrated my Mum's 60th birthday and despite a Dad shaped hole in proceedings we all enjoyed the festivities very much. And talking about Dad, I'm doing ok I guess. Not great as I'm prone to a cry and it doesn't take much to set the waterworks off. I miss him immensely and I'm having all the thoughts of nihilism and my own mortality that inevitably follow but then I look at my kids and I strive to continue to make him proud. One of the ways I'm doing that is going to Australia to visit my brother Tom and his family and my new godson Patrick in the new year. Another is finally making a commitment to look after myself better. I'm 35 years old and 3 stone overweight. This can't last or I will follow my father into an early grave. We have reached the end of the summer holidays and I have made a couple of pledges to myself. 1) to lose the weight 2) to stop hobby birding after new year until there is a 13 at the front of the scales and 3) to eat a better diet. This is all pretty tough as I live a somewhat transient lifestyle but prior to my father's illness I had lost a stone and got somewhat derailed by it all subsequently. Wish me luck or the blog may get even quieter in the first quarter.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Korcula, Croatia

This isn't really a trip report. It was hot and hard work to do any nature watching but I did manage to see a few odds and sods including a single bird lifer when an Olive-tree Warbler briefly popped up in the apartment gardens one morning. Mostly it was enjoying the inverts and the odd reptile. The holiday was in two parts. The first week was hot and the second week was extremely hot.

Southern White Admiral
Birdwise it was difficult as there was an extensive pine dominated scrub which was near impenetrable across the island so birding localities were limited. I tried some raptor watching first week with very limited success - two distant buteo sp, a probable Honey Buzzard and a distant Short-toed Eagle. Due to the heat there were very few birds visible during the day aside from Pallid Swifts, Swallows and Yellow-legged Gulls. Presumably most passerines were moulting and hiding from the sun. Red-backed Shrikes were evident in the first week with recently fledged young but presumably the fledging young and increased temps meant that these went to ground when the temperature hit the late 30s and early 40s.

Slightly scruffy Red-backed Shrike
A few warblers were knocking round the apartments and it took a few days to unravel what they were due to the brevity of views and lack of song but it was soon noticeable that a couple of Sardinian Warblers were in residence plus a myriad of Eastern Subalpine Warblers and a single Olive-tree Warbler was seen in the fig tree by the pool. A jaunt along a nearby goat track in the second half of the holiday revealed more subalps and a family of Wood Warblers plus an Icterine Warbler.

Icterine Warbler
On the reptile front it was uneventful although I did have three sightings of Balkan Wall Lizard in the first week. These were incredibly quick so unsurprisingly when it heated up even more they vanished. Turkish Gecko's were a feature throughout with several including adults and juveniles present around the apartment with a juvenile even residing in the kids room from which they took great delight. The final reptile was not as it seemed. A lumbering Hermann's Tortoise was infact a walled in pet although no doubt was a product of the local hillside.

Female Balkan Wall Lizard
Butterflies were present in abundance and my inexperienced euro lep eyes managed to see some decent bits and pieces. I still have a perfusion of unidentified 'blues' but the presence of a fig tree, lavender bushes and a vegetable garden mean't that there were usually a few about. Scarce Swallowtail was usually present in the garden with the occasional visit from your common or garden Swallowtail. A Two-tailed Pacha was seen twice, both fleetingly as it graced us by the pool. Both Red Admiral and Painted Lady were seen on the lavender on occasion. A wall sp. was present in the garden along with a Clouded Yellow and Southern White Admirals were also a constant. Eastern Rock Grayling held a territory by the cars and were common throughout the island. The lavender held Hummingbird Hawkmoth and Small White as well as Small Copper including the distinctive 3rd brood morph. The only blues I have identified so far are Blue Argus and Brown Argus although I think I have a silver-studded type but more work needed. Away from the hotel I also had an Eastern Wood White with its distinctive brown tips to the antennae.

Eastern Wood White


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Honeyz

No not the awful girlband of the mid-nineties but my first Honey Buzzard in a few years at Wykeham. I took Friday in lieu and decided to come home via the North Yorkshire forests. I arrived at 11am just after the pale male had been on view. It was cool and overcast so not ideal for watching for raptors but just 25 minutes after I arrived a dark headed, dark bird showed. It flew directly over the watchpoint and then dropped to just below in height so it was hard to see the underside but from photos I have seen later it seems it was the female bird. It looped back in after heading a few hundred metres east. A brief but excellent sighting. Another two hours failed to reveal any further views.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Blyth's Reed Warbler in Aviemore

Its been quiet on here and with good reason. Birding has taken a back seat to work and this has largely consisted of monitoring breeding Ospreys in the last few weeks. Last week I was working way way up near the Dornoch Firth and en route I got a message suggesting that I take one of my coffee stops in Aviemore, or more precisely in a spot round the back of the Rothiemurcus fish farm in a nettle bed. A singing Blyth's Reed Warbler had been found by an American tourist who wanted confirmation on the ID of his Reed Warbler. Peter Stronach, a local birder, went down and as suspected it wasn't a Reed Warbler at all but the scarcer of the two likely candidates (with Marsh Warbler being the other one). Blyth's Reed Warbler would be a totally new bird for me.

I arrived at 7pm and immediately got tacked at by an unseen acro. This was the boy. An hour later and a few further tacks but no sign as despite the glorious pictures of it singing from perches just before I arrived it was playing hard to get. I was joined by two others who also heard the calls and then it moved from the nettles to the wild raspberry canes. We got into a position and the skulking bugger gave the worst of views as it moved swiftly through the vegetation before moving off . I left with over an hour still to head north, tick in the bag despite the dissatisfying views. On leaving I got a message from Birdguides saying the bird was singing. No time to turn round I moved off somewhat grumpy.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Wykeham Raptoring

On Saturday a couple of work mates joined me in an attempt to catch up with returning Honey Buzzards at Wykeham Forest. Paul and Pete are colleagues and mates and we have been trying to do this for a couple of years. We went for the last weekend in May as its the only one I had free but we were aware we could be a couple of days early but felt it was worth the chance as there had been a strong movement of birds across the UK. We arrived on site at 09:45 and the weather was tropical. Hot and humid with barely a cloud in the sky but the forecast was for humid weather and potentially heavy showers in the afternoon. Ideal raptor weather. 

Active scanning by yours truly (left) and Paul (right). It was HYOT at this point.
Within seconds of arriving there was a male Goshawk over the far ridge. This was soon followed by a plethora of Buzzards, a couple of Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. A further, more distant Goshawk was stretching its wings before a small falcon moved west along the far side of the valley. I casually called it out as a Kes but thankfully my more observant colleagues said it looks weird. Shorter tailed than a Kes and yet with a shorter hand and weaker flight than a Hobby. The bird had a dark back, wings and tail and buffy, orange belly and underwing coverts. It looked hooded with a pale gingery head. It flew slowly west and circled at the head of the valley. When it circled it showed a white face which all three of us picked up and Pete felt it also showed a small, black mask although neither Paul or I noticed this. The white face and hooded look was the most obvious feature and along with the structure and underwing coverts plus the jizz it all added up to a female Red-footed Falcon. Sadly too distant for photos as it flew along the far side of the valley but extended views and 90 minutes after presumably the same bird arrived at Long Nab. Potentially the same bird went south at Spurn mid-afternoon, one of five in a two day period for the site.

We persevered and added a couple of additional Goshawks including an absolute flyweight male that took a little while to decipher as it was so scrawny and small but the jizz was all nazgul. A Red Kite meandered east along the valley after Paul picked it up with Buzzards and was lost to view. We shifted watch point and the rain began, just a light shower but it threw up the small gos again and he gave it the beans as he undertook an aerial pursuit on a feral pigeon. The piebald columbid managed to evade the Goshawks clutches but it was awesome to watch. Continued rain caused a change of plans and we headed back into the forest.

We rolled up at Wykeham Nurseries as I assured my colleagues that this was the place for Turtle Doves. Despite their scepticism (sitka spruce and Turtle Dove?) I assured them that they were in the right place. Just a few minutes of watching Lapwings nesting amongst small spruce saplings confused them enough and then a small dove was espied by Pete feeding in the margins. It allowed reasonable approach and Pete papped it before we moved on. Another bird was feeding in a different field and we got extended views before it flew up into a tree. A superb bird and great news that they are back - fingers crossed for them this year. We decided to have another bash at the watchpoint.

Another Red Kite worked west and was seen intermittently over a 20 minute period when we also saw a couple of Goshawks including a monster female bird. It was obvious that the watch ending deluge wasn't far off when I picked up a distant raptor circling. It moved south-east closing the distance a little and showed a white rump on a brown ground colour. Ringtail harrier. I got the boys on it but it was obvious it wasn't a Hen Harrier. It was incredibly long-winged and long-tailed and just seemed to float. My thoughts narrowed and when it decided to put the hammer down to climb and move east it showed a bounce and lightness plus a very long hand, Montagu's Harrier. It was transitting over the valley like the patrolling birds I'd seen when they were fresh in at El Hondo in Spain and lacked the power of the Pallid Harrier from the winter. Paul had already seen a couple of Pallid's this year, the juvenile female that I saw on the Humber and the adult male holding territory in Bowland plus the female Monty's at Blacktoft and he shared my view on the ID. Pete also felt the bird was incredibly rangy and buoyant. Two rare raptors in one day and despite the lack of Honey Buzzards we were delighted with the outcome. The only way it could have been better was if a Short-toed Eagle flew through (and we got a photo).

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hit and Run


Last weekend the arrival of a female Siberian Stonechat at South Landing spurred me into action and I managed to creep away for a couple of hours to have a look. A quick reference to Martin Garner's invaluable Autumn book from the Challenge series refreshed what the points of interest were, especially as there were initially thoughts (unfounded) of Stejneger's. Thankfully I have also been working on heaths in south Devon and had become acquainted with the white-rumped intergrades into rubicola from hibernans. On arrival it looked to be a pale and a uniformly pale peach rump was shown in flight as well as the upper-tail pattern pointing to a female Siberian rather than Caspian. The bird showed exceptionally well along a series of posts and I got great views although the light was somewhat dull and I made do with some cruddy record shots.


A Swift hawking by Highcliffe Manor was my first on patch this year after seeing a couple in the week around and about. A trip to Thornwick Pools failed to locate much of interest but news of a Wood Warbler at South Landing had me speeding in that direction post haste. I failed to see the bird but I was the only person who wasn't on site as it was found to hear it sing as a couple of penny spins were let go before it melted away. Good enough for a patch year tick anyway...

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive