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Never Enough Time

Life has been pretty busy over the last few months and the blog has been one of the things that has fallen by the wayside. So this is an attempt to get things back on track. I shall try and do a catch up soon but in the meantime here is a look back at the last few days.

I was working on Saturday with a drive down to the New Forest to visit family when I finished. Fortunately I managed to finish at half-ten and as the rest of the family had driven down in the morning I had a bit of unexpected free-time. The Weymouth Little Auk sprang to mind as it was sort of on the way to Verwood from Swindon! I had a good drive down and parked at the Swannery car park. I gambled that two hours parking would be enough and headed for the harbour. There were plenty of birders around but all had the same thing to say, “it was very elusive” not what I wanted to hear. It was decision time, stay around where it was last seen or have a wander downstream to the lifeboat station. I chose the latter which turned out to be a mistake as it was seen again around the boats in the inner harbour. I spent another hour or so in that area and it was getting closer and closer to expiry of car park ticket time. I then spent some time trying to reactivate my Justpark app while keeping an eye on the harbour. I couldn’t sort the app but did manage to find the Little Auk as it broke cover and crossed an open channel. I managed three brief views totalling about ten seconds before it disappeared again. And unfortunately that was it but at least I had found it myself. To celebrate my thirteenth lifer of the year I treated myself to tea and cake at Craigs Farm Dairy in Osmington before heading to Verwood. Sunday was spent with the family and we walked a section of the South West Coast path. We started from Worth Matravers and did a circular walk to Chapmans Pool, St Aldhelms Head, Winspit Quarry and back. An absolutely stunning walk and makes me determiined to do some proper walking along this coast. There wasn’t a lot of birding done but a few Gannets, a couple of Ravens and plenty of Stonechats were seen.

On Monday morning I did a circular walk from home, along the railway path then up onto the Ridgeway to Liddington Castle and home again. About five miles and again it was more walking than birds. Meadow Pipits and Red Kites were all that I really noted. I was heading up to see my Mum and my Sister who was over from France in the afternoon and while I was eating my lunch I checked Birdguides to see if there was anything worth looking at on the way up. A drake long-tailed Duck at Staines had been reported so that was where I headed. On arrival I could see a small group of birders gathered at the top of the slope and a quick walk up and the usual is it still around? got the answer “yes and showing well”. The good thing at Staines is that there are plenty of Landmarks on the horizon and so I was soon able to get on the bird. I watched it for about five minutes before it flew, fortunately it came directly towards us and landed around a hundred metres away. It then drifted closer and ended up no more than thirty metres or so away giving superb views in the late afternoon light.

I stayed at Mums overnight and first thing my Sister and I set of for Bushy Park where we were hoping to get Dartford Warbler. We arrived just after the gates opened at eight and parked in the Pheasantry car park. It was a lovely morning with clear blue skies and quite a heavy frost. We headed for the bracken along Cobblers Walk but had no luck with the Dartford so then moved to the South East corner beyond the ponds. After several false alarms we eventually we got lucky and had brief but good views of a single Dartford. My first for the year and for the London area. A few Stonechat were seen along with twenty-three other species. The best of the rest was a Treecreeper which was the nice for my sister to add to her year list to go with her usual garden Short-toed version. We also saw plenty of deer including a striking white male.

The Right Choice?

On Thursday myself and Matt had decided to go for the Black-browed Albatross that has been gracing the cliff at Bempton for quite a while. It had been showing well all week but on Friday it didn’t put in an appearance and nor did it on Saturday morning. So we made the decision to instead go to Snettisham for the Western Sandpiper and then onto Frampton Marsh for the Pacific Golden Plover. The route to Snettisham is now around seventy-five percent dual carriageway and we arrived in the already busy car park at around a quarter past six. This was a new site for me so I was looking forward to exploring it. I have to say that it was not as I had imagined it to be. We set of on the mile or so trek to the sea with just over an hour to go to high-tide. We got to the sea to find the mud rapidly being covered by the incoming tide and several thousand waders in the air moving ahead of the rising water. A spectacle that I have seen on video which was truly amazing in real life. After watching Common, Little and Sandwich Terns flying about we spent a bit of time scanning through the flocks of Dunlin on the shingle spits but of the WP there was no sign. As the last of the birds flew in from the sea onto the old gravel pits we set up in the Shore Hide to enjoy the birds. The species count mounted but we soon realised that our best opportunity of seeing the target bird was as the waters started to recede. While we were in the hide news of the return of the Albatross came through making us wonder if we had made the right choice of destination.We were the last two people in the hide when one of the RSPB Wardens came in and he gave us an expert tip of where the Sandpiper was likely to be found. We were a bit concerned as we headed North back along the shore as the majority of birders were staying put at the Shore Hide end. Trusting in the advice we kept going passing several birders heading the other way. A Turtle Dove, the first of three, flew past and landed in the line of vegetation along the shore. It seemed a little strange as the only ones we had seen previously were at scrubby inland sites. It was good to see as I had only heard a single bird at Martin Down this year. The sea was receding and as the mud was uncovered the small waders started to fly in. Hundreds of Dunlin and Knot along with a few Ringed Plover were scanned through to no avail. The number of birders grew and finally the bird was found, after an initial panic we all got onto it feeding fairly close in on the mud. It had a really strange head down feeding action and with its short tail looked quite comical. The rufous tones on the head and the breastband were easy to pick out as it moved around in front of us. By now the number of birders had swelled considerably as we were joined by many of those who had been watching from the “wrong place”. The RSPB guy had turned up and I wandered over to thank him for his advice. The bird slowly moved away from us and after twenty minutes or so we decided to head back to the car to be towards the front of the line of birders that we had heard would be heading, as we were, to Frampton.

After skirting Kings Lynn we headed north into Lincolnshire on the A17, a road I haven’t travelled on for many years. To the best of my memory I haven’t birded in Lincolnshire before. It took just over an hour to get to Frampton and after spending a few minutes topping up the energy reserves with a sandwich we headed onto the reserve. Again some excellent advice was given by the friendly RSPB guys on site and it wasn’t long before we were on the sea wall watching the very obliging PGP which had just moved onto the seaward side of the reserve. Some further scanning got us our first Greenshank of the day, followed by sightings of hunting Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl. The Owl being constantly harassed by Lapwing as it drifted over the Marsh. After watching from here for a while we set of for a tour of the reserve. And what a fabulous place it is with a great variety of birds to be seen at every point. In all we saw twenty species of wader here, absolutely incredible. We stopped to a Corn Bunting singing, it seemed odd to hear in this habitat as it is a common bird for us near to home in the very different landscape on the Downlands of Wiltshire. A flock or apparently a Canteen of ten Spoonbills flew out from the Saltmarsh, the most I have seen in the UK. From the 360 hide we found another nice selection of waders including 2 Curlew Sandpiper, several Ruff and some Spotted Redshank. From here it was back to the car and after a drink and a bit more food we left the car park at three, twelve hours after I had picked Matt up in Swindon.

The journey home was obviously busier but with only a couple of delays I dropped Matt home at half-six. We covered three hundred and eighty miles, plus the walking in around seventeen hours and notched up eighty-nine species, in which for me were five year-ticks with two being lifers. So was it the right choice? Bempton would have been good but with the amount of birds seen today, even without including the two lifers it was a unanimous yes from us both.

A Busy Week

Started on Monday with a half-morning visit with Matt to the current local wader hotspot of Pit 132 which is just over the border in Gloucestershire. The morning started well with a Little Owl seen on the fence of RAF Fairford. 132 didn’t disappoint with ten of Green and six Common Sandpipers, five Little-ringed Plover, singles of Ruff and Snipe and plenty of Lapwing. Also at least twenty Little and three Great White Egrets.

On Tuesday it was a trip to Salisbury Plain with Ian who was staying in the area for a few days. Again fairly successfull with three Stone Curlew, Curlew, three Gropper, several Whinchat and many Stonechat seen. Also plenty of Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and Linnets. We missed out on Tree Pipit and Great Bustard though which was a shame.

I also managed to evening visits to Liddington Hill area which gave me four and two Quail.

Morning at the Water Park

As planned I headed for the Water Park this morning. My intention was to go to the current wader hotspot of Pit 132 which is one of the Gloucestershire pits. However as the A419 was closed I had to go via Wootton Bassett which put me on the wrong side of the Park. So instead I started at Kent End where I saw Lapwing, Ruff (county year-tick), Little Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher along with several juvenile Black-headed Gulls and a couple of young Common Terns. From here I went to Twitchers where a Little Tern had been briefly seen both yesterday and earlier on this morning. I watched form here for about an hour but saw only Common Terns. A Marsh Harrier was seenin the distance and a Ruddy Shelduck flying onto the scrape was my 2nd county year-tick of the day. I then walked along to Lake 68 in the hope that the Little Tern was on there but with no joy with just a few more Common Terns seen. Reed, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler were all seen or heard and a couple of Green Woodpeckers flew overhead.

Red-footed Falcon

On Thursday news came through of a Red-footed Falcon at Langford Lakes in Wiltshire. I had already planned to go to Anglesey on the Friday and fortunately I already have it on my county list so I wasn’t upset at missing it. It was still there on Saturday but I was unable to go due to family commitments. The same applied on Sunday as we still had visitors and I was heading up to London in the evening. This morning it was still there so instead of heding straight home in the afternoon I found myself driving down the M3 and onto the A303. With a slight diversion to avoid the usual traffic queues in the Stonehenge area I arrived at Langford Lakes at four o’clock. Fingers crossed this would be the first bird seen through my new scope. Again my luck was in for as I arrived at the far end of the reserve the Falcon was hunting over the scrape and my first sight of it was as it returned to one of its favoured perches with a freshly caught dragonfly. Over the next ninety minutes or so it regularly flew over to the scrape area and each time returned with another dragonfly. Mostly it was obscured by branches while it was perched but on a couple of occasions it sat out in full view seemingly unperturbed by the machine gun rattling coming from the several cameras that were trained on it. Having spent so long watching the Falcon I didn’t have time to see a Common Sandpiper that was there but did have good views of a Green Sandpiper that flew past a couple of times calling loudly.

A Three Lifer Day

Last Monday evening I was laid in the bath and struggling to decide where to go birding the next day. The usual Marlborough Downs or Water Park trip or maybe to the South Coast. In a moment of madness I went left-field and plumped for the Elegant Tern on Anglesey. This would mean a really early start so I needed to get out the bath, get my stuff ready and go to bed. Unfortunately in my haste to get on I manged to slip while getting out of the bath and fell heavily onto my leftside. With some obvious damage to the rib area the trip to Wales was already cancelled. After some poor quality sleep I made an early morning visit to the hospital to be told i had torn an intercostal muscle and either bruised or mayb a little worse for the ribs. Fast forward to Thursday morning and I was sore but okay so managed to book Friday off for another go at the trip to Anglesey. I woke a little before the 01:30 alarm and was on the road before two. I had been wondering if there was anywhere I could stop en-route and came up with Black Grouse near to Worlds End which is not far from Wrexham and only a short diversion from my route. Thanks to directions from Ian I was up on the moors as it was getting light and had soon found a lek of ten grouse. I enjoyed about fifteen minutes of watching and listening to them from the car enjoying the spectacle and the solitude. Travelling on along the road I was saddened to see that even up here they suffered from fly-tipping with two separate lots dumped just off of the road.

Then it was a lovely drive trough Snowdonia and onto the North Wales Expressway and across the Britannia bridge onto Anglesey. The Elegant Tern seemed to have settled into a pattern of flying out to sea early morning before returning to the colony a couple of hours later. Because of this I headed first to Holyhead and then South Stack. At the harbour in Holyhead I soon found Black Guillemot with one on the water and another flying out to sea. Turning onto the road to South Stack a field of cows also had thirteen Cough who were busy feeding on the insects on and around the cow pats. Not a bad bird to reach two hundred for the year with. At South Stack a short walk down to the cliff edge was rewarded with the sight of thousands of Guillemots along with Razorbills, Fulmar, Kittiwake and gulls. A short scan of the sea soon found a couple of Puffins amongst the other Auks.

I could quite happily have sat here for a couple of hours watching the avian activity but really needed to get over to Cemlyn bay and the Terns. After a couple of quick stops in Holyhead, a bakery for me and petrol for the car I was on my way. The car park at Cemlyn was fairly empty and getting out of the car I could immediately both hear and smell the Terns. Walking out onto the shingle ridge the sight and sound of the masses of Terns was impressive. I made my way along to the small group of birders and photographers. From the amount of optics and cameras aimed at the colony it looked as if I had got my timing spot on. And so I had as the Elegant tern was quite active, flying around with a small fish in its beak and regularly landing and presenting it to any Sandwich Ten that was close by. It was also displaying, strutting around and thowing its head back and up. Often all that could be seen was the large orange beak moving up and down amongst the vegetation. After watching it for a few minutes I started to check out the other terns. With plenty of young around and birds constantly flying in with food breeding seems to be going well. It was good to see Arctic Terns so well, usually they are some distance away over some reservoir or lake. I had a chat with the warden asking the Roseate Terns were still around. He said he believed so and showed me their favoured area. I moved along a bit to the east and started to pick through the birds, not an easy task with the constant comings and goings. After a few minutes and a couple of false alarms I found a likely candidate for what would be my third lifer of the day. After a good look and some checking of the Collins I was confident that it was a Roseate. Then the moment of truth as a couple of other birders joined me asking what I was looking at. I told them, got them onto the bird and then waited for their judgement, it was quite a relief when they both agreed with me.

It was by now time to move on and I set off for the headland to do a bit of seawatching. Stopping to check out a couple of small birds I went to use my scope and the focus knob sheared. A quick look showed there was nothing to be done to fix it so a decision had to be made. I have been intending getting a new scope for a while and had even decided which one and from where. Question was should I carry on birding with just binoculars or head for home and hope to make it to Worcester before the Birders Store closed. A quick phone call confirmed the scope I wanted was in stock and the sat-nav indicated I would be able to get there at around four. Decision made I headed off, typically for a Friday there was a lot of traffic and my arrival time was steadily moving away from four. Just before LLangollen they were top-dressing the road and a convoy system was in operation. It took almost twenty minutes to clear the work so I made a call to the shop to check if they would be okay if I didn’t arrive until close to five. They said they were so I kept going for it. I finally arrived in Worcester at five to five which was cutting it a bit fine for my liking. Anyway I was in time and was soon the owner of a new scope, tripod and carry pack. Then it was over to my Son’s house for a cup of tea before heading homewards. After stopping for pie andchips and negotiating a couple of road closures I finally arrived home at half-past nine having travelled five hundred and twenty miles to get three lifers and three other year ticks

Evening Birding

I have been a bit lazy in the evenings lately so both yesterday and today decided to get myself out for a while. Yesterday evening I headed for Savernake where I managed to see three Woodcock. This evening it was just a walk at Liddington Hill which was quite productive. Only fourteen species but these included, double figures of Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer, Raven, Grey Partridge and best of all four calling Quail. An excellent result.

It Started with a Roller

For the first time in a long while myself and Matt heading off on a mega-day out. The target bird was the Roller in Suffolk followed by a visit to Hickling Broad in Norfolk. As forecast it was raining when I picked Matt up at 04:30 and it got worse as we headed east. We were hoping that the forecast showing the rain stopping by seven was right. We arrived at Icklingham at around quarter -past seven and it had indeed stopped raining but was still ovecast and dull. As we drove past the site there were a few people about so having parked in the nearby layby we headed back to a viewing point by the birds favoured field. As we approached we could already see the Roller perched on overhead wires. A nice easy lifer for Matt and second in the UK for me. After having a good look with binoculars Matt went back to the car to get his scope. The Roller flew up a couple of times and both times relocated on the wires. It then flew down again and when it came back up had prey in its beak. Possibly a small lizard. We stayed for about forty-five minutes and having decided not to walk along the main road to get a little closer we walked a little further along the fieldside track to see what else we could find. Cuckoo and Yellowhammer were the best. From here we moved on to the nearby Lackford Lakes to try for Glossy Ibis. No joy unfortunately but a nice walk around this lovely reserve got the day-list up to fifty. Then it was back to the car to head further east, into Norfolk and our third new site for the day Hickling Broad. Matt is and NWT member so got in free but I had to fork out £4.50 to get in. We made a leisurely circuit of the reserve soon getting Marsh Harrier and Bitter flying over the reedbeds. Overall it was pretty quiet until we got the viewpoint over the scrape. From here the highlights were six Spoonbills, several Avocets and good numbers of Ruff in various plumages including full summer. There were plenty of young birds around with Avocer, Redshank and Lapwing all seen. With no sign of our main target bird Black-winged Stilt we moved on to the Stubb Mill path to view the other side of the more open area. Matt soon picked out a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper and I found a Wood Sandpiper. No sign of the Stilts though or of a black Spotted Redshank that had been seen the previous day. From here we had better views of the Spoonbills including two juveniles with their black-edged wings. Also, we didn’t see any Swallowtail butterflies which wasn’t surprising with the dull and overcast conditions. Returning to the visitor centre we found out that the Stilts had relocated to the reserve a tPotter Heigham so that it where we headed next. This was another new site for me and wasn’t that easy to view due to the high reeds along the watercourses. However we soon found the two Stilts along with nineteen Blackwits and several more Avocet. It was then time to start heading for home but we had decided to have a look in at Cavenham Heath which was very close to where we had seen the Roller. A message came up on Birdguides saying the Glossy Ibis had been seen again at Lackham so we stopped in on the way. We walked quickly to Paul’s Hide and were extremely lucky to get a view of the Ibis just as it was moving out of sight behind the reeds. We also added Great Spot, Great Tit and Marsh Tit here to bring the day-lisy well ito the eighties. We initially approached Cavenham from the wrong side but eventually found our way to the car park. Thye main feature here were the large amount of Crows with several hundred being seen. We did however manage to find a single Stone Curlew and also added Green Woodpecker and Stonechat to the list. Our Deer species total reached three with a few Red in the distance adding toseen earlier Muntjac and Chinese Water. Leaving here at around half-six we had a great journey back (apart from me missing a junction on the A14) and I dropped Matt off at a little after nine. So a seventeen hour, four hundred and forty mile day had given us an excellent ninety species with six year-ticks each.

A Very Big Bird

The Antonov 225 Mriya is the largest plane in the world and on the 24th it was heading for Brize Norton. I managed to get out of work in time to get to Brize to see it land. Despite being at the wrong end of the airfield for the landing it was well worth the drive over. It was nice of the Yellowhammer to photo-bomb the second picture.

A Midlands Warbler Hunt

Having spent the last three days doing things for other people, today I fancied a drive out to do some birding. Initial thought was somewhere on the South Coast but following a quick look at BirdguidesI decided to head for the RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire where a Blyth’s Reed Warbler (lifer) has been around for a few days. As the journey involved using the M42 below Birmingham I left home reasonably early to avoid traffic. Access to the site is on a private road that runs alongside the Aston Villa training complex. I arrived at around half-seven and headed off on the mile and a bit walk to the far end of the reserve where the bird had taken up residence. As I got close I could hear it singing and I managed to see it as soon as I arrived. I then spent a very pleasant hour enjoying watching the bird as it moved around it’s favoured Willow which was just across a small stream. The occasion was marred slightly by one particular birder who continually moved around, effing and blinding every time it went out of sight as he tried to get photos of it. He also seemed continually stood close to other people to try and get a better angle. A bit of a pain to be honest and totally unnecessary as the Warbler was showing really well for most of the time. There was a nice lot of warblers around with Chiffchaff, Cetti’s, Reed, Sedge, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat all seen or heard. A couple of Cuckoos were calling in the background. My plan had been to see the Blyth’s then to spend a couple of hours here before visiting a friend in Alcester. However I had a look at Birdguides and saw that a Melodius Warbler (lifer)had been seen at the Lickey Hill Country Park which is just north of the M42. Sorry Chris but it was no contest. Arriving at Lickey Hills I was pleased to find that it was only a short walk to where the Melodius had been seen. There were just a couple of other birders on site and I soon heard it calling from an area of scrub that consisted mainly of young Birch. And so the next couple of hours were spent listening to it call from close by but deep in cover with it giving only fletting glimpses as it moved around. A few more birders arrived including a couple of locals who seemed to enjoy pointing out the places that it had, on other days been perched up high while singing. In the end I decided to go having had a couple of slightly better, although not great views. Another great warbler spot though with Willow, Garden and Blackcap added to the day-list giving a total of eleven warbler species for the day. By now it was definitely too late to stop-off at Alcester so instead I stopped off at my Son’s house in Worcester for a quick cuppa. So another good birding trip with June turning out to be an excellent month. Can’t complain at three Warbler lifers in a month.