Monday, 27 April 2015

Not a bad weekend...

Planning to visit family in South Lincs on Friday night and Saturday, I could resist calling in to Broom Gravel Pits near Biggleswade on my way up. A White-winged Black Tern had been found there earlier in the day and was still present on arrival, showing well over the pit - if a little distantly for photos. the bird was characteristically restless, rapid and unpredictable as it fed over the pit; occasionally it would head down to the south end of the pit and rest on the spit for up to ten minutes before recommencing feeding. I haven't had chance to check yet but I think this may be the first White-winged Black I've seen in Britain since 2006!

It was a pretty grey evening in Bedfordshire and photo opportunities were limited, this being the only half-decent shot I managed. There are a couple more on my Flickr page.

White-winged Black Tern

The pits at Gypsy Lane look great and it's no surprise to see that good birds are regularly reported there; best of the rest in the hour I spent on site was a Black-tailed Godwit plus the usual Little Ringed Plovers, Redshanks, Yellow Wags etc.

Saturday dawned bright and warm, and I was out early shovelling gravel on mum's drive. Needless to say I didn't go back inside and look at my phone until almost half past 8, by which time news of a Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset had been floating around the airwaves for an hour. Twitching never has been a sociable pastime and plans to meet family instantly went out the window. Four hours later and I was looking at this:

This meagre image hardly does the 'Hudwit' (to give its beautiful name an ugly abbreviation) any sort of justice. It really was excellent and although others had great flight views of the bird wheeling around with the Black-tailed Godwits, I was happy enough to see it wake up, walk around for a bit, kindly flap and then wing stretch to reveal the startling black underwings. There are loads of better shots here.

With news that it flew off a few hours later and didn't return, the decision to leave family behind was justified - in the mind of a twitcher, at least. Off to Azerbaijan on Sunday - hoping that's it for spring now, or at least until we return on May 17th.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Great Blue Heron

Had a brilliant day trip to the Isles of Scilly on Friday. There were quite a few nervous souls during the morning Scillonian crossing - many of those on the boat had dipped either on Wednesday, Thursday or both, and they were understandably apprehensive about connecting. As it turned out the Great Blue Heron played ball on Bryher throughout the day, favouring Big Pool and giving excellent views from the Hell Bay Hotel.

This was my first visit to Bryher and I can only echo what everyone else says - it's a bloody picturesque island that still looked great despite the bouts of early afternoon drizzle. The heron, on the other hand, didn't look so thrilled about life but soon perked up as the rain abated. A typically imposing individual with long snaky neck, the neck and underparts were washed with a rustiness not normally seen in Grey Heron. The thighs were quite a bit paler but tinged rufous on close views, while the neck and upperparts were a mix of dark greys and blues, and the crown obviously dark. A couple of shots below, more on my Flickr pages:

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

After almost an hour in its company half-a-dozen of us decided to charter the Falcon over to nearby Tresco to try the wintering American Black Duck. Tresco is another island that I'd not previously visited before and, like Bryher, is really very pleasant. There were a bunch of hirundines over Great Pool and it really looked ripe for a Red-rumped Swallow, but alas it was not to be. A 15-minute yomp round to Abbey Pool produced the Black Duck right away, showing near to one of the close islands and loosely associating with a couple of Mallards. It soon powered off towards the centre of the lake at the sight of a group of over-excited NGBers (for some of whom it was a tick) and with time at a premium, we bid farewell to this most glorious of dabblers and headed back to the quay.

Black Duck

Rather than slog around St Mary's for the final 45 minutes we retreated to the Mermaid for a celebratory pint before boarding on the Scillonian. It always impresses me how much you can fit in to these day trips to Scilly, and indeed see with a slice of luck. The crossing back produced a Basking Shark off the Cornish coast between St Levan and Mousehole and, bar a stop to dip the Hayle Ring-billed Gull, our next port of call was fish and chips in Indian Queens.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Easter Lapland Bunting

I don't really see that many Lapland Buntings and this male at Weybourne, Norfolk, on 5 April was the first I've seen in anything approaching summer plumage. This cracker was characteristically confiding yet continuously on the move, shuffling around among the wheat and thus rarely staying still for a good shot. By the time I'd found it the sun was already low and time was against me - images aren't as good as they could be, but I'm still happy to have managed a few given that I hadn't seen any of these birds, present several weeks, published anywhere else.

Lapland Bunting

Lapland Bunting

Lapland Bunting

Saturday, 11 April 2015

France, Belgium & the Netherlands trip report

A brief report from our trip to France, Belgium and the Netherlands in early March 2015. You'll find details on Black Swan, Bar-headed Goose, Reeves's Pheasant, Chilean Flamingo, Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers etc. If anyone wants a copy, please email me.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Last chance to see...

This stunning male Lady Amherst's Pheasant may (or may not) be the last of its kind remaining in the UK. The species has a fascinating history in Britain stretching back to the late 19th century, and its population peaked in the mid-20th century when it was said to number in to the hundreds across the Greensand Ridge in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Increased predation due to a rise in the fox population, along with increases in the population of introduced Muntjac, are cited as likely causes of its subsequent decline. By the turn of the century numbers of Lady Amherst's were suspected to have dropped to a few tens and, by 2010, just a handful remained.

It seems that birds have persisted at just one site for the past few years. I first encountered birds here in 2011, when at least three could be heard calling. It seems that these have now dwindled to just the one... I guess it could theoretically be almost as old as I am!

It's an incredibly wary bird and tends to show for just seconds at a time. Quite where it shows is unpredictable (it's been seen in several spots) though it had been favouring a certain ride in early March, and was apparently seen again there this morning (28 March).

Lady Amherst's Pheasant

Lady Amherst's Pheasant

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


I've just had a most enjoyable weekend on the near-continent in the company of James Shergold and Harry Murphy. Our quarry was a mixed bag of distasteful introduced species and some altogether more appealing Continental specialities. On paper, I guess you'd have to say that the highlight of the weekend was the wintering Wallcreeper in Dinant, Belgium - after a fair old wait, we were treated to some excellent views of this brilliant bird as it alternated between the cliffs and the Palais de Justice. At one point, it even disappeared under the eves for as long as ten minutes before resurfacing! After seeing Wallcreeper at about a mile's range at Les Baux last March, it was great to finally see the species well.

I suppose I shouldn't be admitting to this, but I did get just as much of a buzz out of some of the introduced birds seen over the weekend. Our first stop on Saturday morning was ForĂȘt d'Hesdin, where about a dozen Reeves's Pheasants were seen. Most were females, like this one:

We did see a couple of absolutely glorious males, including this one which briefly posed well for photos before scampering off in to the forest...

With the pheasant and Wallcreeper safely in the bag by mid-afternoon on Saturday, we decided to try a few woodlands in southern Belgium in the hope that we might be able to turf out Middle Spotted Woodpecker. And that we did without too much difficulty thanks to James' sharp eyes - a tick for Harry, as was Short-toed Treecreeper.

A successful first day was capped off with a few beers and fantastic tapas in a hotel near Utrecht. Leaving Harry - a testosterone-fuelled teen - to head off in to the night in search of local Dutch girls, James and I retired to the room for a good night's sleep - very much needed after a long day. Fortunately Harry returned in one piece, and was even up for our early start. Heading over to the east side of Utrecht, we met up with Thierry Jansen and friend who kindly showed us to a Black Woodpecker territory. It didn't take long before we were treated to good views of a male set to the backdrop of overflying White-fronted Geese and singing Woodlarks. Not a bad start to the day!

After this it was a case of 'eyes on the prize' as we re-focussed on two introduced species - Bar-headed Goose and Black Swan. The former was easily encountered near Culemborg while a pair of the latter were seen not far from Vianen, a third swan later seen in fields near Strijen.

Fortunately these were interspersed with more recognisable quality - namely a flock of Lesser White-fronted and many hundreds (thousands) of both European White-fronted and Barnacle Geese, plus Goshawk, Merlin, Med Gulls, Hawfinches and plenty more besides.

After dipping the Long-legged Buzzard at Maasvlakte we began the long drive south, calling in for these boys on the way - the less said about them, the better.

And so that rounded off a fine weekend on the European mainland. It was an excellent reminder of how much better birding can be just across the Channel and, even with the Cat Cs now safely planted on my Western Palearctic list, I'd happily return and do it all again. Very much cheap and cheerful, with some great birds to boot. It's my intention to produce a fuller trip report with GPS for some of the more interesting species (Reeves's, woodpeckers etc) in the coming weeks, so watch out for that.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Adult Caspian Gull

Popping home to Lincolnshire is always a good excuse for re-visiting Dogsthorpe and Tanholt tips - sites I spent so much time at as a teen. I still vividly remember seeing my first Caspian Gull here, more or less a decade ago now - and this bird at Dogsthorpe still remains one of the 'best' cachinnans that I've seen in Britain.

After briefly calling in yesterday without success, I returned to Dogsthorpe this morning. Bright and breezy conditions are the worst conditions for viewing Peterborough's gulls - for whatever reason, it makes them irritatingly skittish and they rarely settle in such weather. Today proved no exception and so I was frankly amazed when literally the only gull on the tip pit as I arrived was this stunner:

These are by far the best views I've had of adult Caspian Gull in Peterborough and it follows hot on the heels of the two showy juvenile Glaucs on New Year's Eve. True to form it remained for no more than a minute before flying off. As you'll see in the below images the pattern on p7 is striking - a black 'blob' is separate to the black subterminal markings. The primary pattern is also asymmetrical, with a complete 'W' on p5 right wing but just a black spot on the left - really interesting bird.

Otherwise had a third-winter Casp but nothing else despite thousands of gulls present. Checked the roost at CEGB reservoir which was woeful.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Grey-headed Gull, round two

One of the first shots of Sunday, taken very early in the low light and drizzle

The light might not have been particularly good throughout Sunday (it remained overcast with occasional bit of rain throughout the day) but the Grey-headed Gull certainly performed well. So well, in fact, that it far exceeded all expectations and provided a memorable day for myself, Rich Bonser and Mick Southcott (who'd arrived on Saturday evening),

Mick's 'Dungeness tactics' paid dividends as the bird, along with the local Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls, became ever tamer as the day wore on. We won their trust with a combination of several loaves of bread, popcorn and salami and the result was phenomenal and prolonged views of this African vagrant to within a range of a metre. A few of my favourite shots are shared below, with plenty more on Flickr.

We also had an adult Caspian Gull in the harbour at Bisceglie with two second-winter birds seen at nearby Molfetta harbour. And, with that, it was time to head back to Bari airport for our evening flight back to London. Not a bad way to spend a weekend!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

I spent the weekend around the relatively unspectacular Italian town of Bisceglie, where my quarry was the wintering Grey-headed Gull first found nearby in November 2012. The trip proved an overall success, with the two days differing quite considerably in both weather and views of the bird. I've only managed to have a look through Saturday's images so far, some of which are displayed below.

Saturday was glorious - 18 celsius and unbroken winter sunshine resulted in a rather red face! Having flown out the previous evening with Gordon Beck, Ernie Davis and Gary Fennemore, we spent the day at the small freshwater outflow a couple of km to the south of the town where several birders had connected in recent weeks. The bird's appearances here had been somewhat unpredictable - one French birder had waited three days while others had scored within an hour of daybreak on their first morning. As it turned out we struck a happy medium - five hours in and the bird noisily announced itself shortly after mid-day, arriving at the mouth of the outflow from the north-west and proceeding to preen and bathe at a range of around 40 metres.

Grey-headed Gull on the water with its Black-headed brethren

Naturally I introduced a bit of bread and the bird immediately played ball, giving several vocal fly-pasts allowing for a few flight shots to be taken. The bird then spent an hour or so roosting on the far side of the channel before flying off north-west again at around 13:30. Save for a couple of shots of it on the water, all my photos from Saturday are of the bird in flight.

Other birds included one or two Black-necked Grebes offshore, a handful of Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas, a pair of Black Redstarts, a noisy flock of ten Monk Parakeets and a Hoopoe.

The real excitement of the day was a speculative check of the town harbour itself late in the afternoon, where we found the Grey-headed roosting on a pontoon among the Black-heads. Immediate suspicions were that this must be where the bird spends at least a significant majority of its time - something that proved to be the case the following morning...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Two Ring-billed Gulls in Hampshire

One close....

Ring-billed Gull, Gosport, 11 January 2015

... and the other far away....

Adult Ring-billed Gull with Common Gulls, Blashford Lakes, 11 January 2015