Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Update from Kyushu

A few images from a productive few days on Kyushu below. Full coverage of our Japan trip will feature as an illustrated daily diary on this blog when I'm back and have chance to sort through my images properly - I'll also include galleries of certain species as and when I get round to it.

We've had two great days of weather on Kyushu, although today has been truly atrocious - the rain didn't stop and the light has been poor at best. So far we're not doing too well for targets with Japanese Murrelet, Japanese Woodpigeon and Scaly-sided Merganser not seen - though the latter hasn't been seen by anyone so far this winter.

Black-tailed Gull, Kadogawa

One of the many Black-eared Kites coming to bread at Kadogawa

Forest Wagtail at Miike

Four of an impressive 250+ Saunders' Gulls seen at Yatsushiro

Hooded Cranes getting an absolute drenching in the appalling conditions at Arasaki today

Oh, and for the record, the Baer's Pochard was back on its swimming pool in Suminoe Park, Osaka, on Saturday morning - I had some great views and will post more pics when I'm home.

Friday, 18 December 2015

First day in Japan

It's been one hell of a slog to get to where I am sat currently (in the Best Western Hotel at Suminoekoen, Osaka). In fact to be precise it was a slog lasting 25 hours from take-off at Heathrow to arriving at Suminoekoen station this afternoon, involving two planes and three trains. Although I was exhausted, my first ride on the Shinkansen woke me up - not only for the speed but for the views of Japan as we journeyed south, highlighted by the glorious sight of Mount Fuji on a clear day.

Mt Fuji from the Tōkaidō Shinkansen

After this quite considerable effort to reach Osaka on my first afternoon, I was naturally a little disappointed not to find the returning drake Baer's Pochard at his favoured haunt in Suminoe Park. And what a strange place it is, for one of the world's rarest birds - a swimming pool!

Prime habitat for critically endangered birds

Though the light was already fading by late afternoon, the park provided some reasonable compensation (for a Brit) in the form of a handful of Dusky Thrushes and Oriental Turtle Doves, as well as a few new birds for me: Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Oriental Greenfinch and Eastern Great Tit, all of which fall between 'common' and 'complete trash' in terms of Japanese status. Black-backed Wagtails (lugens) were pretty nice as well, with one sitting still for long enough at dusk for me to rattle off a few record shots at high ISO.

 Eastern Spot-billed Duck

Motacilla (alba) lugens

Right, I'm off to bed.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

King's Lynn Iceland Gull

The drizzle was falling and the light absolutely atrocious when I called in at Fisher Fleet, King's Lynn, late morning on Saturday. The Iceland Gull was on view instantly so I fired off a few shots before jumping back in the car. Barely more than records, the flight shots were taken ISO 1000 and probably should have been higher - though this bird could be great for pics if we ever get a properly sunny day.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Shore Larks

Like many other scarce British birds, I don't actually remember the last time I saw a Shore Lark in Britain, so it was a real pleasure to spend a little bit of time with this trio - never alone, but you wouldn't expect that in Norfolk, even on a Friday afternoon.

Monday, 23 November 2015

North East Norfolk Bird Club talk this Thursday

I will be at Aylmerton village hall from 19:30 onwards on Thursday to give a talk about birding in the Azores throughout the seasons. Hope to see some of you there and, more importantly, hoping that I can inspire others to visit this fabulous archipelago.

Visit for more info.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Grip-back Crag

Sunday lunch was fast approaching and the glorious smell of a home-cooked roast had literally just infused my nostrils as the unmistakable sound of a singing Black-billed Cuckoo resonated from my mother's living room. Nonchalantly making for my phone, assuming it would be another feeble excuse for mega-rarity that I'd already seen (what else would be breaking on a quiet, grey Sunday in November?), I was therefore a little surprised to read that the aforementioned mega was actually something I very much did need - and something that I'd missed in the most hilarious of circumstances in April 2014.

I realise that I didn't post anything on my blog at the time so to fill those in who don't use Twitter (where much of the fall-out occurred), essentially I fell asleep reading my book on my bed a short while before David Campbell was picking me up from my flat in Chiswick. I didn't wake up until nearly 08:00 the following morning, by which time David (and everyone else) had got to Flamborough Head and watched the Crag Martin fly off down the headland until it was nothing more than a speck on the horizon. Disorientated, disappointed and feeling downright stupid, it's fair to say I was absolutely seething with the entire episode - particularly as, at that time, it was the most twitchable Crag Martin ever to be seen in Britain and a bird I hadn't anticipated clawing back in a hurry. Surely it would be years before another was so accessible?

Fortunately, that assumption proved to be wrong. Although there wasn't anything I could do about it that afternoon, I arranged to meet Dan Pointon on site early the following morning with the thought that the bird would probably be back around Chesterfield's famous 'crooked spire', which sits like a witch's hat atop the Church of St Mary and All Saints in the centre of town. A number of previous November/December records in Northern Europe have lingered for several days, so hopes were high that this one would do something similar.

And so it proved. The bird was there just after 08:00 the next day, flying round the spire as it had done the previous afternoon. The only problem was that I wasn't - I'd slept in again, ignoring my 05:30 alarm. What a cretin! Fortunately, the martin decided to linger throughout the morning and even had the decency to fly right over my car as I pulled up at 10:15. The weather was miserable, but it gave great views and even briefly landed on the church on a couple of occasions.

Almost as worthy of the #ThingsYoureUnlikelyToSeeInChesterfield hashtag was a female Merlin that zoomed over shortly after I arrived. I had my camera poised for the martin and had blasted off a few shots without really thinking about what the bird was, only realising the ID when reviewing the photos a little later in the morning!

So on the martin front, all's well that ends well - even if I am a bit of a shit twitcher.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Weekend wildfowl

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Startop's End Reservoir, Hertfordshire

Female Long-tailed Duck, Deeping High Bank, Lincolnshire, 7 November 2015

Called in to see the Ring-necked on my way back up to Lincolnshire this weekend - a nice bird nearly back in full breeding plumage, and quite showy to boot (as all the ducks are at this site it seems). The Long-tailed is my third in the Peterborough area following birds in 2004 and 2006 - the latter, which was on my old patch, is apparently also the last area record!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Last weekend in Norfolk

A few images of a memorable couple of days in Norfolk. Among the thousands of Goldcrests we saw two Red-flanked Bluetails, two Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit, Hume's Leaf Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, two Pallas's Warblers and a good selection of commoner migrants.

Great Grey Shrike found by Dan at Stiffkey campsite car park

One of a couple of Common Redstarts towards Wells

Goldcrests - thousands right along the coast - this one enjoying a sizeable meal

Olive-backed Pipit at Muckleburgh Hill

Record shot of the Hume's Leaf Warbler at Wells

Brilliantly tame Daurian Shrike at Beeston Common

Monday, 19 October 2015

New paper in Dutch Birding

Our exhaustive paper covering the birds of European Russia has now been published in the excellent Dutch Birding. It details locations for all the region's key birds and is up to date with all 2015 sightings. Many thanks to Felix Timmermann, Radoslaw Gwóźdź, Rami Mizrachi, Janne Aalto, Paul French and many others for their valuable contributions.

Jones J, Monticelli D, & Crochet, P-A (2015) Birding in European Russia: Ural mountains, Yekaterinburg and Orenburg region. Dutch Birding 37 (5): 302-320

Friday, 9 October 2015

Reflecting on Shetland

Though it was my first time on Shetland, I haven't come back feeling particularly put out after eight fairly challenging days. Despite conditions being sub-optimal at best our team still managed to unearth a decent selection of scarce between us: Arctic and Blyth's Reed warblers, Bluethroat, Nightingale, Common Rosefinch and four Barred Warblers. A decent result and reward for the effort put in by the team, particularly Dan and Guernsey Dave who were unrelenting!

There's no denying that working the iris beds, gardens and fields all day is tiring but in my mind the challenge doesn't compare to that in the Azores, where steep slopes, subtropical forest and dense scrub dominate. Therefore the next person to suggest birding on Corvo is easy will feel the full force of my wrath! :-)

The good thing about Shetland (unlike the Azores) is that there is always something to look at in late September. Common migrants - particularly the endearing Yellow-browed Warblers - keep you going, even during the slowest periods. Their presence encourages you to keep plugging away - if they're there, then theoretically something much rarer could be too. Early in the week it seemed that just about every garden with sycamores had this species, though they were sometimes found in the burns and in weedy areas, too. I had a ringed bird at Easter Quarff on our penultimate day, which I only realised when reviewing photos.

Here's a selection of other pics taken throughout the week.

Olive-backed Pipit, Lerwick, 3 October

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Bigton, 3 October

Bluethroat, Quendale, 4 October