Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Roses are red, Chats throats are Blue - 14th February 2017

 Bluethroat was my No1 target for 2017 and whilst the views I got on Saturday were excellent, the photographs were awful! With the continued presence of the bird, bright sunshine and a day off work, I thought it was almost a crime to not pay homage to the bird once again. I arrived to about twenty birders all trying to get their shot ranging from people with 6ft tripods looking down on the bird, people stood twice the distance of everyone else attempting to digiscope through the crowd and my favoured group, the lads laying in the mud getting down to the birds level.
It was pretty mobile despite being exceptionally nonchalant about all of our presence. It would move about along the path appearing out of the reeds in random places and give wonderful views down to 10ft. I only gave it half an hour or so and had a good five minutes of photography time enjoying it posing in classic chat fashion with cocked tail and long spindly legs. A real treat of a bird and one I feel i have now down justice with my camera


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Birthday lifers - 11th February 2017

 A bit of a blast from the past and before this blog even existed. These photos date back to 2006 and 2007 as follows: Glossy Ibis, Fluke Hall Lancs Jan 07, Red-backed Shrike Wells, Norfolk May 07, Great Grey Shrike Bowland April (?) 07, White-tailed Plover Leighton Moss, June 2007, Waxwing Leeds Feb 2007, (2nd row) Common Rosefinch Sheringham June 2007, Lesser Scaup Pine Lake, Lancs, November 2006, Laughing Gull Marton Mere Lancs May 2006, Great White Egret Leighton Moss (May 2007?), (3rd Row) Green-winged Teal Marshside March 2007, Wilson's Phalarope Upton Warren October 2006, Blyth's Reed Warbler Blue Bell, Spurn October 2007), Stone Curlew Fylde April 2007, Lesser Snow Goose Blackpool, February 2007, (Bottom Row) American Robin Bingley February 2007, Black-winged Stilt Martin Mere April 2006, Alpine Swift Heswall Cheshire April 2006, Woodchat Shrike Great Orme September 2006, Short-toed Lark Great Orme September 2006, Dotterel Pendle Hill May 2006.

The reason I posted this is because on 11th February 2007, I enjoyed a visit to West Yorkshire with my parents to celebrate my 15th birthday with some twitching. I saw the American Robin in Bingley, a Waxwing flock on a housing estate in Leeds and a Shore Lark on a dry ski slope in Halifax. The above collage is the only photographic evidence I can find of the American Robin as I don't really have much record of birds I saw prior to me starting this blog in May of that year!

On 11th February this year, also celebrating my birthday, except I drove this time and has my wonderful girlfriend Danni in tow. My 25th birthday treat involved heading to Willow Tree Fen to see, what I still regard as a surreal February birthday twitch, a Bluethroat. Seen the previous day by a photographer and posted online, the 1st winter male was favouring the main track through the centre of the reserve and when we turned up showed remarkably well (even if the photos don't show it) a few metres in front of us.
Bluethroat is a bird I have always admired and I strongly believe they are one of the most beautiful birds in the Western Palearctic because they look phenomenal at every age. This had a nice amount of blue on the throat and I managed to see some of the red at the base of the outer tail feathers.
The weather was quite grim, but that's to be expected in mid-February.
Bluethroat is/was also my number 1 'tart' on my British List so was one of my biggest targets for 2017 and to see one on my birthday is just something you couldn't write.

A really wonderful treat and one that will go down in my own birding folk law. Hopefully it is wintering and having a nice time in Lincs rather than being recently blown off course.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Casp(s???) - Hoveringham Lake, Notts - 6th February 2017

Following reports of a possible Azorean Gull just over and hour and a half away, I thought I'd use one of my rare afternoon/evenings off to head over to Hoveringham Sailing Lake to do a spot of gulling. 
I initially pulled up to what I thought was the main lake as it was rather large, but turns out this was the Railway Lake and therefore should really have known considering when I turned up at just before 15:30, there were only about 40 gulls on the water. The vast majority were Common Gulls with only 4 large gulls: an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull and to my great surprise, a 1st winter Caspian Gull! I was almost hesitant to call it as one just because I'd only been here for about 20 seconds before I saw it!




Showing the pale underwing on a quite frankly awful video grad (I'd just pressed record as it stretched, so the camera was shaky)

Sophie Barrell turned up and she informed me that the main roost was supposedly on a different lake, which we went to and the gull flock was probably about 3-4000 birds which was a bit more to get stuck into!
Within a couple of minutes we'd picked up the two juvenile Glaucous Gulls, including one very pale bird which is different to the several biscuit ones I've seen this winter. Next up was an adult Yellow-legged Gull which showed classic clean head, dark mantle 1/2 way between HG and LBBG, minimal white tips to the primaries, long primary projection, chisel-tipped bill and general stockiness.

I then picked up the 1st winter gull photographed below. It immediately jumped out at me as being a dead ringer for Caspian Gull. The white head, with grey shawl to the nape and breast sides, the long-thin bill with minimal gonydeal angle and pinkish bill base, the very dark tertials with a very thin neat white edge with no notching, the long black primaries with obvious primary projection and broad white edge to the greater coverts. The photos make it look darker faced than it actually was, but there was some darker marking around the eye in the field. One of the other birders wasn't happy with it because the 'back' looked so dark with general dull grey cast to the mantle and scapulars. This was a bit of a worry, but there was obvious replaced scapulars which made the back look spotty with dark centres to these. I was pretty convinced this was a 1st winter Caspian, albeit a dark one, but I was left with some doubt due to the other observer. It didn't flap unfortunately, but it did briefly preen its tail revealing a very clean belly and undertail coverts with next to no dark markings and what appeared to be a clear cut black trailing edge to the tail.
If it's not a Caspian Gull, I guess it could be a small Yellow-legged Gull, but I think even with the darkness, I can't see a Yellow-legged Gull having that much of a skinny bill.

Comments welcome



Finally, I managed to pick up a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull which was my first for a good while. On the lake, a Black-necked Grebe joined in the gull roost and a small fishing lake behind us held 3 Red-crested Pochard

An impressive gull roost and one I'd like to return to

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Slavonian Grebe - Cleethorpes Country Park - 4th February 2017

I was up on north Lincs this morning and due to the lovely weather, thought I'd have a shot at getting some nice photos of the Slavonian Grebe wintering on Cleethorpes Country Park. It did not disappoint in the ten minutes maximum I was there! I'd have stayed longer but my camera ran out of battery.
Slavonian Grebe - January 2008 - Barrow, Clitheroe, Lancs
I've come along a lot in my photography over the last few years and you'll see my last attempt at Slavonian Grebe photography from January 2008 in Barrow, near Clitheroe, Lancs. The weather and equipment certainly helped me, but even so. Always nice to show improvement!
http://zacswildlifeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2008/01/slavonian-grebe-barrow-lodge-sd740381.html

Taiga Bean Goose armchair - Cantley Marshes - 30th Januray 2017

 I will start this off with a little confession. Previously, I've neglected Bean Geese for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and most embarrassingly, as I follow BOU rules for species listing, the two 'races' of Bean Geese aren't split so hasn't seemed all that important to know which is which. Secondly, I have in the past looked into the ID of Taiga from Tundra and I found the ID criteria a little ambiguous to say the least purely because they all seem variable and there are often birds that turn up that are in 'no man's land' and often get ID'd confidently as both by some observers.

This winter, I have been over to Norfolk a few times, with the main attraction being the adult Red-breasted Goose that I saw at Docking in late December. Within the main goose flock there, I saw up to 7 Tundra Bean Geese, Todd's Canada Goose, 4 Barnacle Geese and 15 European/Russian Whitefronts. I have found it really rewarding sifting through Pinkfeet flocks in the same way I find looking through gull flocks. I came away from this with an added interest in Bean Geese due to how seemingly similar yet entirely different they are to Pinkfeet. I remember seeing one individual you could pick out with the naked eye because it was so all over dark. The orange legs also really are something else, and even seeing an orange-legged Pinkfoot was nothing in comparison to the carrot legged pulses I had a growing fondness for.

It was to my great interest when the BOU officially declared they will be adopting the IOC world list as their official guidelines for the British Bird List meaning we will lose Lesser Redpoll/Mealy Redpoll as two species as well as Hudsonian Whimbrel/Eurasian Whimbrel. In contrast, we will gain Two-barred Greenish Warbler (split from Greenish), Daurian Shrike/Turkestan Shrike (Isabelline Split), Eastern Yellow Wagtail/Yellow Wagtail, Stejneger's Stonechat/Siberian Stonechat, Thayer's Gull/Iceland Gull and Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose. Whilst reading this, I lost out to both of the lumps and I have gained Stejneger's Stonechat and hopefully the Eastern Yellow Wagtail I saw on Scilly. One glaring omission for me was Taiga Bean Goose and I felt somewhat ashamed of that, especially considering how regularly I've been to Norwich in recent years with Danni and the regular flock that visits Buckenham/Cantley marshes.

By January 10th, the flock often have already departed, presumably to Netherlands or southern Scandinavia(?), but they had been reported quite recently, so Danni and I went to Buckenham last weekend. Sadly, there were no Beans or even Whitefronts to be seen, so we spoke to a local birder and he told us about how to view Cantley. Following his instructions, I got us to where I assumed he meant which was a random farm track and not even close to where he meant, but I got out and started scanning the bit of Cantley I could see. I managed to pick up several Whitefronts and a few pinks, but nothing that looked like a Bean. I, having assumed this was the right place, left confident that they must've disappeared. It was only later that night that I saw a Birdguides report that the flock of 6 were still there. Nightmare!

The monday morning came and I left Lincolnshire early to get to Cantley, but I got stuck in mammoth traffic in pretty much every town and village along the way, so it wasn't until 11:45 that I arrived on Burnt House Lane.

Almost straight away I was aware of the presence of c1000 geese which sounded different to what I'm used to and I was in awe at 350+ White-fronted Geese in amongst the pinkies. Whilst walking across the marsh when the flock took flight, I heard a much deeper honking which alerted my attention as 5 bean geese flew low over my head. I managed to get them in the scope and my first thought was how short, thick necked they looked and reasonably stubby billed. Listening to Xeno-canto, I surmised these were Tundra Bean Geese and I watched them fly off towards Strumpshaw.

I walked all the way round to the far side of the marsh, regularly stopping to scan the geese and could only spot the occasional Egyptian Goose in the Whitefronts/Pink-feet. After some prolonged shooting from the nearby woodlands, the whole flock took flight and headed east towards the coast. I thought I may have missed out on seeing Taiga for another year, but had one last scan before I walked back to the car. Half way out in the middle of the marsh, I spotted a group of grey geese all sat down by a gate. I noticed straight away there was orange on the bill and some had a surprising amount of orange there almost looking like immature whitefronts. I thought that alone made them very promising. There was something about the one I could see best however which was sat down with a narrow band across the bill and what appeared a shortish neck. I thought my first Taigas would be much more obvious than this and I was worried they were Tundra. Aside from the extensive orange bills to some, I wasn't getting a massive impression of anything different. They started to wake up a bit and waddle around. It was only then that I managed to notice how some of the birds did indeed have very long, thin necks almost swan-like. The bills were variable to say the least, but some had strikingly long bills which were accentuated by the lack of a protruding lower mandible, so they looking thin based too. Occasionally a hybrid Canada Goose would wander by and their large size would be evident. The whole flock all had darker heads than their body which is something I hadn't previously seen on Tundra.

 I managed to get a picture of a flapping wing which shows how long winged they looked and also the greyish wash to the coverts which I hadn't noticed before on any bean I've previously seen in flight. I think this may be due to being an adult, but I can't quite find enough information about it. The only previously bean goose I've photographed was a presumed adult Tundra at Aber Ogwen in Wales and that has dark coverts. It's something I am interested in looking into further.
In the end, I was happy I was watching Taiga Bean Geese and I must say, they have captured my interest absolutely and I can't seem to go a day without googling Bean Geese and trying to find out more about these interesting Ansers.

Friday, 3 February 2017

White-billed Diver - Woodhall Spa - 22nd January 2017



It's not everyday an inland White-billed Diver turns up and by no means is it every day one turns up 20 minutes from your house! That's exactly what happened when this 1st winter bird graced the River Witham just north of Kirkstead Bridge in late-Janaury just into February.
I saw an adult with full summer plumage off Portsoy on the day Danni and I met in Scotland, so it was nice to see this juvenile so close to home with her (and the dog!).
Like most inland divers, seaducks and grebes, this was particularly bold and didn't really seem bothered by humans pointing expensive tubes at it and allowed for wonderful viewing. A great bird and one I've been back to see since, along with half of the birding world!

Black-throated Thrush - Adwick-upon-Dearne - 16th January 2017

1st winter female Black-throated Thrush (bottom) with Redwing

Wow, I really have neglected this blog since last summer! A lot has happened since my last post including the remarkable invasion of Siberian Accentors into the UK. I was lucky enough to see the Spurn bird on the second the last day of its stay. I went to Scilly again in October and the only really ‘decent’ bird I managed to see was the 1st winter Eastern Yellow Wagtail which basically was a monochrome yellow wagtail and looked and sounded superb. The call was almost tree pipit-esque
Over the winter, there was a wonderful influx of rare birds and several people I know got more lifers in the month of December than any other month last year. I managed to get Dusky Thrush, Red-breasted Goose and Blue Rock Thrush, but one that I just couldn’t find the time or money to go and see was the St. Asaph Black-throated Thrush.
Black-throated Thrush has been high up on my list of birds to see for years and even the ‘dull’ females are charismatic beyond belief. I think it’s the colour grey with a hint of bright yellow at the base of the lower mandible that does it for me! I love a bird with a yellow bill-base.
I thought my luck was up when the St. Asaph bird disappeared, but I got a second chance when Adam Hutt and Heather found a 1st winter female at Adwick-upon-Dearne in South Yorkshire. I set off early on the second day arriving just after 09:30 having hit some annoying traffic and walked along the river bank not really knowing where I was going. I soon spotted a group of telescopes all watching something and when I worked out where they were looking, I spotted a grey thrush-sized bird at the top of a Hawthorn. It almost immediately flew low into cover and I only managed to imagine what I’d seen. A few seconds later, I got a whistle from Tim Jones who spotted what he assumed was it flying from behind me over my head. As I turned, I heard a Ring Ouzel-like ‘chacking’ and noted a medium-sized all grey thrush. Excellent! It flew over the river and into deep cover. There were lots of Blackbirds and Redwings about all being very vocal and occasionally you could hear the Black-throated Thrush calling. Suddenly, a thrush appeared at the top of an alder with a Redwing and it was immediately obvious it was the Black-throated. It was obviously all grey and the dark streaking on the breast made it look all over dark from a distance. There was an obvious moustachial streak and weak supercillium and through a scope, you could just see the yellow bill base.
It suddenly flew revealing a warm underwing like a Redwing viewed through mist and flew off high towards Adwick. Most people seemed to stay still and didn’t really react at all which surprised me. I headed off down the river until I got to a spot where I could scan and within about 20 seconds I picked up the striking facial pattern of the Black-throated Thrush at the top of a distant tree maybe 1km away. It stayed at the top of this bush for about 3-4 minutes before flying again and perching in a low hawthorn barely visible and then a load of Redwings flushed nearby thanks to a dog walker innocently walking along a footpath, which flushed the Black-throated too.

The views were by no means jaw dropping, but it was great to see in the flesh , hear it call and also note how big it was compared to Redwing. I always assumed they would be larger than that like a big Ring Ouzel.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Scilly Pelagics - August 2016

Another August, another set of pelagics. This year I did 7 pelagics with the first pelagic of the year being a private 'charter' for Scott's stag do, or a 'Staglagic'. This was without a doubt the best of the 7 and we were lucky to get 22 Cory's Shearwater and a couple of Great Shearwater (The only Cory's we saw on the trip). However, the star bird, and the species that has taken me back to the islands 3 times so far is Wilson's Storm-petrel. We were treated to at least 5 of these wonderful seabirds and they were on view from 18:25-c9pm. Just absolutely everything I had hoped for and it made for a fantastic evening! We ended up in the Mermaid in celebration and that's about all I can remember!










Later on the trip the weather wasn't quite on my side so there were several extremely quiet pelagics. Saturday's was the best of the further 6 pelagics though. A summary list includes:
Monday 8th - Sooty Shearwater.
Thursday 11th - Sooty Shearwater.
Friday 12th - Wilson's Storm-petrel, Sooty Shearwater, 4 Risso's Dolphin,
Saturday 13th - adult Sabine's Gull (self-found), Great Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, dark Arctic Skua, 5 Risso's Dolphin, 10+ Common Dolphin, 2 Minke Whale, Greenfinch! Also a Hooded Crow on St. Martin's.
Sunday 14th - 2 Sooty Shearwater, c40 Common Dolphin, Ocean Sunfish
Monday 15th - 1st summer Long-tailed Skua (self-found), 3 Common Dolphin