Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Lady of Lidlington - 3rd April 2015

Whilst it used to be a past time for those in the know, standing on a muddy path and staring through this fence for hours on end has now become almost mainstream!
The assembled twitchers from the 'first' time around. 
I have now been to Lidlington in Bedfordshire three times including twice this year. The reason being is because behind the fences of the Millbrook Proving ground car testing facility, it is believed that the last remaining Lady Amherst's Pheasant resides in the surrounding woodlands. There may well be others and some are of the opinion there are at least four other males, but anyway, as far as most people are concerned, just the lone male occasionally visible from the public footpath behind Lidlington is the last bird. He is almost certainly over 20 years old, so I was certainly very keen to put in a bit of effort to see him. If and when he dies, that may mean 'Lady A' becomes one of the biggest 'blockers' for the next generation.  In mid-March, 
I went with Matt, Beth and Roland along with a few other NGBs. We set off from Rugby, so it wasn't too much of a hideously early start and we gave it all morning. Sadly, that was the first day it didn't show for quite a few days after seed had been put down in the open ride visible from the track. As much as it pained us, we decided to call it a day at midday. I was very disheartened for a variety of reasons. Mainly that I didn't really want to have to go back because it is a long way from Preston and it does seem strange to put in so much effort for a bird that derives from some birds a lord or lady once released! 

After our visit, it all kicked off on Twitter and the news went out to everyone about the bird's location. It even started getting reported on the news service websites and seemed to be maintaining a relatively reliable pattern. I therefore decided that I had to give it another and get it seen once and for all. I therefore set off from Preston at 4am with Jonnie and we were onsite for 7. Rain was forecast for the whole day so we were very pleased to see it hold off until about half 1. It was certainly a test of our patience having to stand up for many hours without anything other than the occasional Robin and Blackbird. It took us seven hours of staring through the fence before we got our first momentary adrenaline rush as a pheasant appeared at the top of the rise. Sadly it was 'just' a female Common Pheasant, which was then joined by a second female and a male. They spent about ten minutes feeding on the newly installed seed hopper.

We were really starting to lose the will to live and I was feeling it standing up for so long with a painful back (I don't stand up all that often...I'm not just getting old!). Even young Jonnie was starting to feel it and went to the back of the group to have a sit down. Not sixty seconds after Jonnie sat down and I was almost ready to throw in the towel, a shape appeared at the top of the hill. It was very dark with a big white back on the belly and white behind the head. It was instantly recognisable and I let out a very audible gasp and I think that was what alerted the others that the bird was there! I couldn't quite believe my eyes! What an incredible looking bird! It was enormous! The tail was so long, the ruff on the head was incredible and when it had a shake, it revealed the blood red and gold rump. It walked back and forth twice on top of the rise and then walked into the vegetation on the left of the slope. Moving to the right, looking diagonally, I could see it stood in the bushes and a couple of us managed to get our scopes on it. Just as I got a decent view through the scope, it walked out back into the open and slowly accelerated right and out of view behind the top of the rise and that was it. 
(Photo: Josh Jones from mid-March)
A nine hour wait for a single minute of pure elation. Some say twitching is a completely crazy past time, and on paper, I think I might agree with you, but to go from such a depressed feeling prior to it walking out, to the indescribable adrenaline rush when it walked out is exactly why I love this hobby! No matter what you think about this bird or even the species in general, you cannot deny that it is incredibly beautiful. I'm just happy I don't have to go back to that bloody ride again! Having said that, I would certainly go back and pay homage to a complete legend of a bird!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Little Bunting, Cardiff.

Great to finally see Little Bunting and what a bird to see! It showed really well coming to seed at Forest Farm Nature Reserve in Cardiff. A great birthday present and also nice to see Mandarin in N. Wales earlier in the week.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Laughing Gull - New Brighton, Wirral.

I actually forgot to post this blog! I went to see the lovely first winter Laughing Gull at New Brighton. I say lovely, because in flight, it most certainly was! The strong contrast between the black tail and white rump was superb. On the deck, it was admittedly not looking it's best mainly because it looked practically hungover!
My second Laughing Gull after the stunning summer adult at Marton Mere in Lancs. I've always been partial to a yank gull, so this one was one not to miss!
Also on site were 8 Purple Sandpipers, which were additional yearticks.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Who let me have a car? - 7th February 2015

I've had a car for just over three weeks now and it only took me this long to drive on a long twitch for the first time. Serins, particularly to a northern birder, are a very very difficult bird to connect with as they are rarely seen for long periods and even fewer stick around for a few days.
It was therefore just too tempting when two males were hanging around Gunners Park in Shoeburyness near Southend, Essex.
I set off from mine in Preston at 01:15, meeting Scott at Lymm Services at 02:00. A few loops of the 'get psyched' CD and we arrived in Oxford for 05:00 to pick up Liam. The sat nav said we'd arrive at Gunners Park at 07:15 which was ideal. All was going marvellously well until 05:50 when we got to near Slough on the M40 and came across a very recently exploded lorry! It was filled with beds and propane gas tanks, which made quite an impact as towers of flames lifted above the blackened shell of the lorry and even thicker black smoke poured out over the motorway. There was no way past and the fire engines and other emergency services got involved. We just had to sit there with the engines off waiting for the police to come up with a solution. 07:15 tumbled past and it started getting light but we were no closer! By 08:45 we finally we able to move, but remarkably, we were asked to turn around and go back the way we came. It was very surreal driving the wrong way along a motorway 'racing' the cars travelling on the other side of the central reservation. A 15 mile detour onto the M4 saw up being back on track and ready to get to Essex.
We arrived at the painfully late time of 10:45 with the Serins being last seen thirty minutes before arrival. By 12:00 there was still no sign, but Liam had seen a small green finch fly up into a pine tree away from their usual haunt that he was adamant to be the Serin. With a bit of patience, Liam and Ephraim managed to pin down the bird in the middle of a pine sitting in the sun. We all piled over and got superb views of the adult male and presumed 1st winter bird. These really are STUNNING birds and after all that hassle, it definitely seemed to be worth the effort.
We started making the long trip back and I ended up getting back in the house by 19:30. 18 hours after leaving and 611 miles later! Not a bad way to introduce myself to long-distance twitch driving!

A great day, despite the frustration at times! Very memorable nonetheless.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Cornish Pastific Diver etc - 31st Jan/1st Feb 2015

1st winter drake King Eider
Pacific Diver, Penzance

winter Water Pipit
adult Yellow-legged Gull
male Cirl Bunting
female Cirl Bunting

Adult winter Bonaparte's Gull.

Excellent weekend away in the South West with Matt, Scott and Liam. We stayed in St. Ives at Liam's apartment, which was a great base and a really top night out in a beautiful town. The main target of the weekend was Pacific Diver which has been pretty reliable in Penzance. We found it in less than 15 minutes of being onsite which we were thrilled by! We had visions of being there at 3pm on Sunday reluctantly leaving having still not seen it.
We also saw the 1st winter King Eider near Falmouth which is only my second and a great Cornish record! We ended Saturday at Hayle having fantastic views of the Water Pipit and then the gull roost, which produced an adult Yellow-legged Gull and at least one hybrid Herring x LBBG. 
Sunday started slowly (the aforementioned good night out....) but we headed to look for the Devon Penduline Tits, but no sign sadly. Onto Broadsands and I managed to see my first UK Cirl Buntings which are WELL overdue! Stunning birds and such a shame they aren't more widespread.
Finally, we went to Dawlish Warren, where we picked up the adult Bonaparte's Gull within about five minutes, which was's a very big place and it's one small gull! We had great views in great light and at a stunning location.
All in all, a fantastic weekend with three great mates. 'Ideal'!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Another Sunday. Another trip round the Fylde - 25th January 2015

Second calendar year Pomarine Skua
adult Mediterranean Gull
4th calendar year Iceland Gull

Had a nice jaunt out on Sunday around the Fylde again to pay homage to the Pomarine Skua. After seeing photos of it flying around last week, I was hoping it had made some crazy recovery, but it seemed to be in the same condition when I saw it on Sunday, so perhaps if just a wing strain rather than a break. Also present were an adult Med Gull and a cracking flock of 120+ Twite.
I then went down to Lytham crematorium and saw a single Ring-necked Parakeet. 
I ended the day at Marton Mere looking for the Long-eared Owls, but was unsuccessful. I was repaid for my efforts by a cracking 3rd winter Iceland Gull which dropped onto the mere for less than a minute! Very lucky indeed.
The Big Garden Birdwatch also saw me see a Blackcap, so that was four yearticks in a day. Not bad!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Filley O'Fisk on the Fylde - 18th January 2015

 Great day out on Sunday with Jonnie Fisk around the Fylde. It began at Rossall Point where Jonnie got a lifer in the form of the long-staying Shore Lark. It performed remarkably well and even started feeding with Turnstone at one point!
After this we moved onto Knott End where we came across the Twite flock. These lifted form the marsh and landed on a hotel roof which was novel!
Next we went to Cocker's Dyke and joined an assembled crowd of 20 to see the juvenile Pomarine Skua which had been present for six days or so and wasn't looking in the best of shape, feeding on dead Mallard, Pigeon and Common Gull. The skua had what seemed to be a broken left wing, but as it was flying ok the day before, I wonder how this happened? It was an extremely showy bird though and therefore very educational indeed. A shame to see such a powerful predator in such a vulnerable state. As we were about to leave a wild swan flock flew over mainly consisting of 15 Whoopers, but 2 Bewick's added extra excitement. Always a pleasure to see
Finally, we headed to south Fylde and saw the end longer staying Great Grey Shrike which showed really nicely, despite the unforgiving photographic conditions!
Outside of the Fylde, we ended the day at Parsonage Reservoir where we saw the juvenile Great Northern Diver which is always a nice bird to see, especially in land and in Lancashire.
Great day.

Harlem Globetrotter - 17th January 2015

After heading up to Arctic Norway last year, I've got a bit of a thing for Arctic ducks! When a Harlequin Duck turned up in Aberdeen, I felt it was completely necessary to go and see it! I couldn't get there the first weekend and I was working during the week, so Matt Bruce, Jonnie Fisk and I drove up in the early hours of Saturday morning to go and see it. When we arrived, there was a film crew there filming Chris Packham and Martin Hughes-Games for Winterwatch, which was somewhat novel, but that's not what we were there for!
To begin with, the duck was playing a litle hard to get in a hard to view meander. It was still doing exactly what I expected it to though by playing around in a torrent like a professional kayaker. Later on, it decided to hang around with a couple of Goosander and eventually moved into the more open water. From here it sat right in the open on a rock, preening itself. When it came back into the water, it was drifted downstream by the current and much to the surprise of the assembled crowd, came and stood on the rocks about 5ft away from us! A truly remarkable encounter of a bird that, given such close views, is truly beautiful! If it happens to stay until the spring and moults into full adult male plumage, I will certainly have to have a return journey! What a brilliant twitch with two of the best birding companions a loner like me can ask for!

December in short!

I've been dormant for too long! I've been very busy over the last couple of months. December was mainly taken up with a target of 6000 Birdtrack records, which I acheived and therefore broke the 30,000 barrier for 2014. 
I ended the year in style with a trip to Pugneys for seconds of the Blyth's Pipit which showed superbly well. Pretty much as soon as we left the site, there was news of a Little Bustard flying around East Yorkshire. As soon as it was confirmed, we were well on our way and within an hour or so, we joined the assembled crowd of about 50 to see a Little bloody Bustard sat in a field eating Kale! What an insane bird and one that I really didn't expect to get on my life list anytime soon! A truly crazy bird that, at times, looked remarkably like a Hare!

In addition to this, I FINALLY joined the Caspian Club having seen a superb 2nd winter bird at Chasewater Reservoir on the NGB Gull Day in early December. This is a bird that I've put in more hours than I care to remember to look for, so it felt so good to finally see it. They say, you should never meet your heroes, but in this case, I'm so glad I did! Stunning bird!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Red-eyed Vireo - Walney Island, Cumbria - 4th November 2014

After the Eastern Crowned Warbler and Rough-legged Buzzards, I was wondering how many more lifers I would get in 2014. I certainly wasn't expecting an American Passerine or indeed 3 days later!
That is what happened though as I visited Walney Island bird obs for the first time thanks to a lift off Bill Aspin to see the Red-eyed Vireo found this morning.

We arrived mid-afternoon with golden afternoon sun. It hadn't been seen half an hour prior to our arrival but, it came out and showed really well just after we arrived, feeding and even fly catching! It showed pretty well on and off showing its surprisingly large size, blueish cap and wonderful supercillium. What a bird! Also on site, we managed to see three flocks of Whooper Swans - a flock of 22 on the sand, 35 south and another 5 south too. Magic.

This is a bird I've wanted to see for years and one I didn't think I'd get in the north west ever! Good to see Andy Kinghorn, Scott Reid, Paul Brewster, Tony Disley, Stu Piner, Andy Holden, Ian Fleming and Mike Ainscough onsite too.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike - Lytham Moss - 2nd November 2014

I woke up this morning to news of the Fylde Great Grey Shrike still present on Lytham Moss. As I still needed this for the Fylde, yearlist and also only ever seeing two previously, I felt it was rude not to! I set off from Preston and was parked at the Animal Sanctuary in 25 minutes. I hopped across the road and set my scope up, seeing the bird in less than ten seconds of arriving. Wonderful!
It showed surprisingly well, surprisingly close and just saw on top of brambles performing very well to the assembled crowd of c20 people. A stunning bird that I had embarrassingly, previously written it off as 'uninteresting' because of having previously seeing a couple. When I locked onto it with the scope, I instantly was reminded just how wonderful these northern birds actually are!

Spurn - 1st November 2014

After having a two-lifer day, we headed to Spurn, because when in doubt...Spurn! We knew there had been a Black Brant around, so we were eager to find the Brent Goose flock. It was off Beacon Lane between Westmere Farm and Crown and Anchor, so we set up scopes and tried to find it. It took maybe four minutes before I spotted a brent sp sat down with a seemingly enormous neck collar. It suddenly stood up and revealed a black belly with really white flanks. It was so obvious, especially when it was walking around causing trouble with the locals!
Once happy, we moved onto the Warren and had a mini seawatch, but little was moving. We walked round the triangle and then back along the beach. Once almost back at the Warren, we came across a 'long-staying' Snow Bunting which showed incredibly down to 10 feet! Wonderful! A lovely way to end a great day!