Monday, 22 December 2008

Lincolnshire Butcher

Steppe Grey Shrike Grainthorpe Haven Lincolnshire

After having met its unfortunate demise at the hands of a hunting Sparrowhawk (with a clear preference for local, mega rare, and extremely showy vagrants) the new year begins with a gap in the year list, for the many birders who would have paid a visit to grainthorpe on January 1st. Hardly surprising when you consider the various factors that were stacked up aginst it, in favour of its premature departure....

Its obvious, its lazy, it sits on top of bushes/tripods, it contrasts with the surrounding fields, its a reasonable size/easy to catch, and its probably so stuffed full with meal worms that its almost incapable of flight!!

P.S. Did anyone else notice that there were Lapland Buntings, flying around calling or was it just us youngsters?

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cape Clear August 08

The boat journey across. Grey and dull going over but much better on the way back... calm sea, no rain and a lot more birds! A couple of Sootys in with the thousands of Manxies, several Puffins and 16 Black Guillemots, along with some very close Porpoise. No luck with the Minkie Whale unfortunately...

Seawatching from the cliffs of Bullig.

This is where I spent nearly all of my time seawatching, only getting out to the tip of Blannan on my last day, when the weather had improved and stopped raining. A somewhat treacherous route along the base of the cliffs, and the damp rocks on which I would have to walk on sounded like a bad combination... This did however give me the inspiration to go back there sometime in the near future. Though it may not have been quite as comfortable, the views of passing seabirds were simply amazing. Thankfully the Great Shearwaters that I saw from bullig (5 birds) were all close enough to provide me with a more than satisfactory tick of these truly wonderful birds... the next best thing to seeing an Albatross!

Now on the scale of probability, an albatross, would be just about possible, and a Feas Petrel would nowadays be hoped for, but when it comes to a trio of Yanks (at the end of August) most people would probably agree that you have more chance of seeing an Albatross. In most situations they are probably right... this year, however was different.

On returning from a morning seawatch, I was greeted to the news that Steve Wing (the Obs warden) had managed a brief view of what he assumed to be either an Icterine or Melodious Warbler. Given that I have only managed a 2 second flight view of an Icky (and missed out on about 5 others) I was hopeful we would nail it down to the above, finally crossing off the dastardly hippo as my long serving bogey bird. Despite searching for the remainder of the day, none of those looking were successful. Regardless of our failed quest, we both thought it likely that, given the unsuitable weather, the bird was still present on the island... we hadn't given up hope just yet.

Despite the brief initial views, doubts were soon being expressed. Several features were wrong for Icterine, whilst Melodious seemed far from a perfect fit... Though the time of year didn't seem too favourable for an American passerine, there was one option that seemed worryingly real. As quoted by a friend (who knew I was going at the end of August) "you never know, you might get Yellow Warbler..."

Spurred on by new ideas, we continued our search the following day, but despite visits in the morning and afternoon there was no sign of the bird. The following day (2 days after the original sighting) I returned from a seawatch to be greeted to the news that, the bird had been re found, it WAS a Yellow Warbler. After almost 3 hours of fruitless searching, I was finally able to breath a sigh of relief... I had eventually layed eyes on the bird. It promptly disappeared, just prior to the first arrival of birders, but after another anxious wait, gave itself up for all to see.

The following morning saw me back outside the garden, along with 3 other birders, all waiting for the Yellow Warbler to make its first appearance of the day. In the surrounding mist, Steve called out a Green Sandpiper, that had risen from the fields somewhere beyond the nearby houses, and was flying behind us, and away towards the lake. Wasting no time in looking, I quickly found myself faced with something totally unexpected. Clearly the bird in question, but with one major difference.. the rump was dark!! We all watched on in a state of shock, as it disappeared out of view, into the mist, and over the far corner of the lake. Standing in disbelief, all had to eventually face up to the facts; we had started with three candidates and had just eliminated two.

Despite the lake being a reasonable size, there was very little of it that could be described as wader friendly. After walking alongside the Northern shoreline (the only part that appeared evenly remotely suitable) we had failed to relocate the bird, and it was decided that we should split up to try and cover all the small pockets of potential habitat. After another unsuccessful walk spirits were dropping. With most of the likely spots already covered, it was looking doubtful that we would ever see our, known to be mega, again. After meeting up at the corner of Central bog, it was agreed that three of us would check the damp ground up on the Dotterel fields, whilst Brian would carry on along the edge of the bog. After only a few minutes apart, it was clear that our luck had changed. Shouts from below told us what we had wanted to hear all morning; Brian had, we assumed, re found our prize. Running down the hillside we arrived at the corner of the bog to be greeted by the biggest shock of our lives. Not the Sandpiper we had all come to expect, but another American passerine... a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH! After losing the bird against the wall, and embracing several celebratory hugs, I could see there was something waiting for us on the opposite side of the wall. At last, we were able to lay eyes on our intended quarry... a Solitary Sandpiper.

All three birds stayed of site for another three days, and were widely twitched by visitors from all directions, on several occasions, both the Sandpiper and the Waterthrush could be seen in the same telescope view! Equally as remarkable as the birds themselves, was the fact that visitors could see an Irish 2nd (Northern Waterthrush), 3rd (Yellow Warbler) and 4th (Solitary Sandpiper),together on the same island, on the same day! Remarkably, Irelands 4th Yellow Warbler appeared just accross the water at nearby Mizen Head the morning after our bird was finally nailed down. Unfortunately, I was able to break my camera on the floor of the pub, the night after seeing the Yellow Warbler, hence the lack of any further pictures...

Friday, 28 November 2008

Dungeness 2008

Dark-eyed Junco

The unexpected bird of the spring! The second Dungeness record, following a bird trapped and ringed back on May 26th 1960 (the first British record) Although it often gave good views, it compensated for its generally elusive behaviour, by proving to be the longest staying rarity of the spring! Many of the best birds were either seen just briefly, or proved to be frustratingly tricky to catch up with... Almost as many people saw the summer plumaged White billed Diver, that flew past on a seawatch, as saw the singing Common Rosefinch that stayed for two days!

Stonechat (rubicola)

Allthough the camera may slightly exagerate the darkness of the bird, theres no doubting that these are smart looking birds...

Red-breasted Flycatcher

After finding this bird lurking around the Heligoland trap, it was eventually caught and ringed and released, in front of the gatheing of locals. Needless to say, it promptly dissapeared and was never seen again! A second bird appeared on the point, right at the end of October and gave excellent views around the railway station, often showing down to a few feet.

Tawny pipit

Taken just down the road, and accross the county border, at Rye Harbour (East Sussex).


One of two trapped together at the end of April, these stayed throughout the Summer and proved to be the first preeding pair, within the Observatory recording area for at least 15 years.

Terek Sandpiper

After initially being discovered at Rye Harbour, the previous day, this bird relocated to the pools on Lydd Ranges, where it often gave very close views. A lifer for myself, more importantly, it was now within the Dungeness recording area, and gave itself up for many as a Dungeness tick!

Man Orchid

A kent speciality! Not that I can remember where it was taken...


Part of a family, present around the Observatory.

Late Spider Orchid

Taken on the downs just above Folkestone

Large Blue

Taken at Collard Hill Somerset, perhaps the best known reintroduction site in the UK for the species. Sadly, they were past their best by the time we got around to seeing them, but we did manage to connect with around five individuals. More than can be said for the adult American Herring Gull that failed to appear at Chew valley lake, in the time that we spent looking. Hats off to the lesser gull enthuseasts of the trip, who had to put up with three hours of boredom... A breeding family of Goldeneye (3 young) were un unexpected treat!

Bee Orchid

Taken alongside the late Spiders

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Galway Feb 08

American Herring Gull (Juv/1st winter

Easily picked out from from the crowd, thanks to its extensive brown smudging on the breast and Belly, and distinctive tail pattern (wide dark tail band with prominantly barred rump) The head shape of the bird was noticably different to the surrounding Herring Gulls, with the bill being somewhat longer, whilst the crown usually appeared flatter, making it look closer in shape to an Argentatus Herring Gull.

American Herring Gull (Adult)

Given the erattic appearances of this bird (Its regular daytime haunts appeared at the time to be unknown) I was very fortunate to catch up with it on my last day. This is the same bird that has been returning to Galway for the last 5 or so years, allowing many peaople to study its gradual change in plumage. Given the very small number of adult American Herring Gulls that have been positively identified in Britain, this bird looks as though it will be an educational experience for a good number of birders in the UK!

Iceland Gulls (2 1st winter and adult)

At least 15 along the river between the town and Nimmos Pier... great birds.

Ring-billed Gull

One of two adults present

Forsters Tern

The bird that I most wanted to see! This was always in my top 5 list of wanted species, alongside Ivory Gull (1st winter) Snowy Owl, Red eyed Vireo and, oddly enough, Lesser Canada Goose! (Preferably a Richardsons with a hugh flock of Barnacles or Pinkies) It gave excellent views over the first 2 days, normally sharing the rocks with a handfull of overwintering Sandwich terns, showing particularly well at low tide on day 2, when the top picture was taken. The bottom of the 4 pictures being my favourite photo of the trip...

If you click on the above picture (all have been resised so they can be viewed at a slightly larger size) you may just be able to make out the 2 dark blobs as female Surf Scoters... A bonus find in the bay just off of the pier. Showing unusually well, at fairly close range, these birds were both different to the other female that was allready present off of silverstrand, just a bit further along the coast.

Great Northern Diver

One of several seen around the town... a very showy individual!

In the fishing docks, alongside the Juv American Herring Gull, and its regular haunt.