Saturday 25 December 2010

Christmas birding 23rd - 25th Dec

More birding over the past couple of days. On 23rd, I went to Dogsthorpe Tip for a few hours. Amongst the many thousands of gulls present, there was a 1st-winter Caspian Gull (which I had on the tip briefly about 10:30), and then this bird:

To me, this a fairly 'good' Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid, and has arrived with large numbers of argentatus which look like they have come from a long way north. In my opinion, there are a few features that rule out the leucistic Herring Gull theory:
  • boldly-patterned greater coverts and tertials
  • extensive pale chevrons on primaries
  • scapular pattern lacks obvious chevrons
  • tail band is weak and broken
  • head and bill structure, at times, looking quite Glaucous-like
  • 'broken' eyering (see final picture)

BLGP and Baston Fen continue to hold 8 Bewick's and 3 Whooper Swans:

... and were joined by two lovely adult European White-fronted Geese, one of which is below:

All the wildfowl above are still present as of today (25th December), as well as good numbers of Wigeon and the odd raptor and wader.

Season's greeting to all.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

21st - 22nd Dec

Nice couple of days birding around the local area. Yesterday (21st) was really good; a spectacular hoar frost combined with very calm conditions allowed for some excellent birding opportunities.

On Deeping High Bank I had 5 Goosanders, 11 Bewick's and 2 Whooper Swans. The river was completely frozen save one or two duck-filled patches like this:

Baston Fen and my local patch (Baston & Langtoft Pits) gave a further 8 Bewick's and 3 Whooper Swans, as well as ringtail Hen Harrier, 3+ Short-eared Owls, a couple of noisy Curlews, Water Pipit and a few other odds and sods, which all gave for some excellent cold weather birding.

Today was slightly less productive in heavy snow showers and poor visibility, but at least it was milder (0 celsius rather than -5!). The Bewper Swan combination was still chilling out (literally) on the patch, and a nice finch flock contained a few Siskins (mostly Goldfinches). No redpolls. Gargh! I also had 4-5 Buzzards around, and 540+ Wigeon on the two small holes of unfrozen water on ARC Pit and the Old Wader Scrape. There are flocks of Skylarks everywhere.

A nearby game strip between Greatford and Baston produced alot of passerines this evening primarily made up of Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches, but I also had 2+ Bramblings and a redpoll over. Only had my bins and didn't have alot of time but will check it again in the next few days to see what else is lurking there.

Monday 20 December 2010

Glaucous Gull, 17-18th December

Back in the Peterborough area for Christmas now, which allows me to get out and do some local birding for a change. At the time of writing (2oth Dec), everywhere has frozen up in what is one of the coldest Decembers for a century. Water-based birding is therefore out of the question, so I've stuck to what I know best around here - gulls. Within five minutes of arriving at Dogsthorpe Tip on Friday, I had a winger flying around - from poor flight views it looked like a Glaucous. Further flight views with Mike Weedon confirmed it was indeed a Glauc, but I didn't see it again in three hours.
Mid-morning on Saturday, Mike rang to say the bird was still at the tip, and was indeed a 2nd-winter with unusually dark iris. Turns out it was the same bird which has been touring the Midlands over the past couple of weeks:

Dec 4th: Appleford Pits (Oxon), then roosted at Farmoor Reservoir that evening
Dec 12th: Throckmorton Landfill Site (Worcs)
Dec 13th: Stubbers Green (West Mids)
Dec 14th - 15th: Dosthill Lake (Warks)
Dec 17th - 18th: Dogsthorpe Tip (Cambs)

Couple of photos:

Otherwise, there was nothing really of note, save a few nice argentatus Herrings such as this pale individual:

I've also been trying to track down redpolls locally but so far it's been very frustrating.

Best of the Rest

Been a while since I've updated this, so here's a quick blast through the rest of the autumn in pictures:

Black-eared Wheatear, St. Mary's Scilly, October

Myrtle Warbler, Cape Clear, Co. Cork, October

American Bittern, Walmsley Sanctuary, Cornwall, November

Green Heron, Heligan, Cornwall, November

Ferruginous Duck, Kingsmill Reservoir, Notts, November

Monday 4 October 2010

September 2010

Another September flies by, and here are some of the highlights...

1st-winter female Northern Parula, Tiree Argyll; 28th September
A morning flight from Glasgow on the 28th saw us spend 24 hours on this beautiful, yet wild, island. In addition to the obvious highlight above Buff-breasted Sandpiper, scores of Lapland Buntings, and superb views of Otters made for an excellent first visit out here.

1st-winter Alder Flycatcher, Blakeney Point, Norfolk; 27th September
Following a busy (and heavy) weekend, I eventually emerged from a pretty grim hangover to tackle the point on the bird's last afternoon. Being very mobile and active, it was perhaps not surprising there was no sign the following morning.

Adult drake Black Duck, Ventry, Co. Kerry; 16th September
A three-day trip over to Ireland over 14th-16th September yet again proved to be a general success. Whilst many of the sites around Dingle were quiet for birds, it was pleasant to see the Black Duck back near Cuan Pier after an absence of almost two years!

2CY American Herring Gull, Blennerville, Co. Kerry; 15th September
Although this bird is reported with some frequency (and has been since it first appeared in July), it can be very difficult to catch up with as its appearances are strictly determined by the tide. Low tide is essential, when it feeds in the channel upstream of the windmill, although it regularly disappears into smaller creeks for extended periods of time. High tide is a write-off as the bird seems to head off towards Tralee town over the period (where it goes exactly is still a mystery). In at least five attempts to see this bird, I've only connected twice. Photo is poor but at least illustrates how much the bird had moulted since August, and is now well on the way to acquiring a most striking second-winter plumage.

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, Leam Lough, Co. Mayo; 14th September
An impressive first day in Mayo saw myself and Oliver Metcalf heading south to Dingle with high hopes for the morning of the 15th - in hindsight, we perhaps should have stayed and focussed on the former! This was one of a couple of Pecs seen on 14th, the other being a find on Achill Island (alongside 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers).

Adult drake Ring-necked Duck, Achill Island, Co. Mayo; 14th September
Our team found this bird back in late August, when plumage was much more drab (see older posts for a pic). Rapid moult has led to it acquiring a much neater appearance, and it won't be too long before this bird is back to it's breeding best. On this trip, the bird had moved to a small, crap-looking lough right by the R319 on the east side of Achill. It's still there as I write this (3rd Oct).

Saturday 28 August 2010

Ireland, 21st - 25th August

Just back from an Irish trip with Richard Bonser and Marc Read, which was a general success. To cut a long story short, the seawatching was very poor (numbers of even common birds very poor this year), although we did score a Fea's.

Most of the time was therefore spent doing anything but seawatching, with popular activities including drinking cheap, supermarket-brand continental lager, general pratting around and the occasional bit of birding.

After an overnight drive/ferry journey, our first port of call was Blennerville on 21st. Here, the American Herring Gull was located in the channel upstream of the windmill. Whilst it still looks pretty offensive, things look like they are on the up plumage-wise as the photo below shows.

That was the first of four lifers on the trip for Marc, and he seemed understandably overwhelmed by it. We headed southwest towards Dingle in the hope that the recent system had deposited some nice early waders, but it hadn't. The pool at Ventry is looking shit hot and was covered in Dunlin, although Baile an Reannaigh continues to degrade each year and now looks absolutely rubbish.

Realising the Nearctic wader dream wasn't happening on Dingle, we decided to head back north to Barrow Harbour. Tide was in, no birds. Carrahane was a bit better, although wader numbers were not at the levels one would expect in a couple of weeks. This streaky-headed beast was present, though:

Interesting bird; not sure it's a true Azorean atlantis, but presumably from an Atlantic population. Note the extensive head streaking, starting to extend down the nape. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the next couple of weeks. We then got bored and went to Clare, via the Killimer ferry where there was an adult Med Gull. At Kilrush, this 4cy Glaucous Gull was the only bird at Cappa Pier. Nice.

We then went to Bridges of Ross for a few days, saw a few seabirds including the aforementioned Fea's, but spent most of the time bored or in The Lighthouse. This was the first year the weather has been pleasant enough for me to seawatch for hours in flip flops and shorts. To be fair though, the Fea's was an absolute blinder in the close Manx line. Unfortunately, most present were gawping at a Sabine's Gull that went past just prior to the Fea's, and so it was only picked up very late. This meant that several members of the assembled crowd were at an angle where it would be too late to see it. Unfortunately, claims that suppression is going on by certain "satirical" members of the birding community have sprung up, although it was more to do with a bit of bad luck. The bird was called (loudly) pretty much instantly after being picked up. I was just lucky I was at an angle where viewed were most prolonged, and I thoroughly enjoyed all 15 or seconds of the bird before it went round the headland - Read was ecstatic.

By Tuesday afternoon, the weather had deteriorated to absolutely hopeless (no winds), so we seized the opportunity to head north to my favourite Irish county - Mayo. We scored the Snowy Owl on Termon Hill (Read's third lifer) on the Tuesday evening, and even found some memorabilia to take home.

After a cracking meal in Belmullet, the night was spent at Dooniver, Achill Island. We awoke to a f**k load of midges biting us to pieces, and a few hybrid offspring before the boy - the drake Black Duck - swam into view at Sruhill Lough. An excellent bird (I really like Black Ducks), and great to see it has been spreading it's seed around the local ladies. Views were distant, and we decided to move on when it paddled out of view. On the way towards Doogort, Read suggested checking the lough just north of the road and east of the R319 crossroads. Just as I exclaimed that the lough looked "rubbish" and probably "never gets birds on it", we all caught sight of an aythya-shaped dark blob in the margin of the lake. We all raised out bins, and it appeared to have a rather arousing peaked crown. None of us actually said it at the time, but we were all thinking the same - rare. I cautiously suggested it looked like a Ring-necked Duck (although it was rather too distant to confirm with bins), so Read jumped out and 'scoped it. And it bloody was! The only bird there; wonder how long it's been around - if it had been October I'd have said not long but who knows at this early date. It did a bit of stretching, revealing that it did indeed have wings and so could feasibly have been a bird fresh in off the Atlantic, but who knows!

Then we went home via Sandymount Strand and a load of Roseate Terns.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Gulls 22/7

More gulls I'm afraid. 11+ Yellow-legged Gulls on Dogsthorpe Tip today (5+ ads, 2 3rd-s, 2nd-s, 3 juvs). Nothing at Tanholt.

3rd-summer michahellis

slightly bulkier juv michahellis

Confusing beast - you can probably forgive me for thinking that, when I saw the head only, I was onto a cachinnans. It then walked out from behind a crowd of Herring Gulls revealing itself to be, a Herring Gull with a most odd head and bill structure. You're always learning with these critters.

BLGP was quiet this evening; the showers did not produce much more than a Snipe and a Common Sand on the New Works.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

More Gulls 21/7

I went gulling again today - it's about the only thing worth doing at the moment. In fact, it's probably the only thing worth doing in Peterborough at any time of year. Much improved on Monday, but that was presumably due to alot more gulls being present.

At Dogsthorpe Tip, I half-heartedly scanned the dump from the KFC car park and predictably saw nothing. However, I did get amongst the flock in the field south of KFC. Amongst the predominately Lesser Black-backed Gulls was this superb 2nd-summer Caspian Gull:

In addition to this beauty, there were at least six Yellow-legged Gulls in the same field. Who knows how many more were on the tip...

juvenile michahellis - these things are stunning when this fresh.

I moved on to Tanholt Pits, where a sizeable chunk of laridae was bathing/moulting/falling apart on the new pit. Amongst them was my first juvenile Mediterranean Gull of the year, as well as a couple more Yellow-leggeds (1st-summer and juvenile). Sadly my camera battery died halfway photographing the Casp, so no more pics!

I'll be back tomorrow.

Monday 19 July 2010

Yellow-legged Gulls

Couple of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls at Tanholt Pits this afternoon:

Bird one

Bird two

Also an eclipse drake Wigeon at BLGP today, but nothing else interesting. Been in Morocco recently; 16 WP ticks including Cricket Longtail, Pied Crow, White-faced Petrel and Black-crowned Finch Lark.

Monday 14 June 2010

Red-backed Shrike, 7th June

Have had a really busy past few weeks; thankfully exams all over now (just got dissertation to sort out). Been at Download festival over the weekend so much more rock and metal than birds. The last mildly interesting beast I've seen was another nice bird just outside Sheffield; this extremely wet male Red-backed Shrike:

I realise I never got round to doing a write-up for the Ireland/Wales trip the previous week, but the Marmora's photos just about sum it up. Dipped everything but the Glossy Ibis in Ireland (that was meant to be no more than filler material anyway), and also missed the singing Ibe Chiff in Wentwood Forest. However, news of a possible Marmora's Warbler up at Blorenge, near Blaenavon, perked me up as I drove home along the M4 - when it broke I was between Cardiff and Newport! So, as I was only 15 or so miles away, a trip was more than necessary to check it out.

Initial panic trying to find the site, but this subsided when I located the right car park with a slightly shocked, slightly thrilled-looking crew who still weren't sure they could believe their eyes and ears. On seeing photos, it was quite clear the bird was indeed as suspected.

Step one: get the news out.

A few frantic phone calls followed and the news went out, and Britain's twitching fraternity was mobilized and heading for Gwent. Problem now was that the bird hadn't been seen or heard for almost an hour. Then, by magic, a rattling sylvia song filled the air, and shortly later up it popped - fuck! Marmora's Warbler!! Massive relief all-round, and what a privilege to be one of the first to see this bird. The bird even indulged in a few song-flights, and appeared to be occupying a territory. Brown remiges readily aged it as a 1st-summer, but that wasn't the most important part of the bird - a beautiful yet small bird, slate-grey all over, prominent red eyering and long tail gave it real character. Then people started to arrive; the bird wasn't showing and there were shed loads of Whinchats and Tree Pipits all over the place.

Step two: lay down the law.

Seeing that the twitch was a recipe for absolute carnage, a message was quickly relayed to the news services to restrict birders to the road (which most people did, does seem a few have strayed since - shame on you).

Long and short was that the bird continued to show, on and off, very well throughout the afternoon until I left. At the time of writing (14th), it is still present and building a nest. Lovely stuff.

Friday 4 June 2010

Marmora's, 3rd June

Full write-up of the week's festivities (including 2nd June in Wexford) to follow in the next couple of days.

Monday 31 May 2010

Strange week - Broad-billed, Savi's and a right tart unblocked; 23rd - 30th May

Title says it all really..!

The week just gone was the most important of my second semester at Uni, with two exams (one going well, the other not) sandwiched amongst a shed load of 'revision'. I say 'revision', as much of it was spent pacing around my room, drinking, or twitching.

Things kicked off on a very hot Sunday 23rd, when a Broad-billed Sandpiper was located some 13 miles away from home in Sheffield. A pretty chilled post-work drive up to Old Moor RSPB produced rubbish views of a very pleasant bird - views were even worse than my last, a distant beast in Cambridgeshire some four years ago. The bird was a proper yellow-belly, looking absolutely terrified and freezing every time anything got anywhere near it, particularly if flying over. It loosely associated with a single Dunlin.

So, what's strange about that? Well, nothing. Apart from when I thought I started hearing things (more specifically, odd locustellas). No less than four or five times did I hear a locustella give short bursts (c.2-3 seconds at most) whilst sat in Wath Ings Hide. It sounded very interesting indeed, and I was pretty convinced about what it was. However, the bird didn't sing again and no-one else heard it, so I decided I was going mad. Now, imagine my absolute horror when a message comes out on Thursday, "Savi's Warbler singing from Wath Ings Hide, Old Moor for second day".


More like fifth day... at least! Absolutely gutted I didn't make more of it now but, as one friend pointed out to me, it would be a brave shout to claim a Savi's in South Yorkshire on a few brief bits of song. Never mind eh?! Didn't get back for it either so never saw (or heard) it again, sadly. Looks like it did show well once or twice from the pics.

Only other bit of news was a little better; eventually saw an Icterine Warbler on 25th. Those who know me will know I've had an ongoing battle with the species which has lasted some years (and seen me spend ALOT of money on dipping countless individuals). News of a bird trapped and ringed at Spurn early in the day didn't have me chomping at the bit, but further reports of it still showing on and off eventually got me off my arse and down to the coast for late afternoon. The warbler was singing occasionally (what a song!) in an isolated elder and hawthorn thicket, but was typically invisible. Just prior to me acknowledging yet another dip and heading home, I caught the briefest couple of glimpses of it flicking about low in the elders in between bursts of song. Shit views, but it'll do for now - next target is to find one.

Off to Ireland in the next few days; reports back soon.

Wednesday 19 May 2010


Well, at least the spring has picked up slightly. Weather's still pretty awful, though seems to be warming up at last. Hurrah! Last 10 days has seen me cruising about all over the place; down to Cornwall for a grotty House Finch last Saturday, followed by Oriental Pratincole half an hour from home in Lincs on the Sunday. Last week I had the Iberian Chiffchaff at Potteric Carr, and then the singing male Great Reed Warbler near Ilkeston. Yesterday I had shit views of the spotty Spotted Sandpiper at Stocks Reservoir, Lancashire. Lovely stuff. Not sure why I've got my twitching boots back on; presumably something to do with getting out of revision.

Oriental Pratincole - my first for 17 years

Great Reed, obscured as ever - see here for some absolutely outstanding images of it.

Confrontational Red Grouse by the Woodhead Pass

Now, where are those pesky Icterine Warblers...

Tuesday 4 May 2010


... I saw the first decent bird I've ever seen in the Sheffield area - incredibly brief views of a delightful Red-rumped Swallow at Rother Valley CP.

And that's about it... hopefully more to update on by the weekend.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Black-throated Thrush, 3rd April

Black-throated Thrush, Hartlepool Headland, 3.4.10.

Having lost all enthusiasm for birds and birding over the winter, I was probably the only active birder left in Britain who still needed Black-throated Thrush thanks to the long-staying North Yorks bird earlier on this year. As a result, the crowd was very small for this smart beast, found in gardens at Hartlepool Headland this morning. The bird seemed a little on the dull side for a first-winter male, but as it had been singing earlier in the day there doesn't seem to be much argument here..!

Friday 2 April 2010

Ireland, 30/3 - 1/4/10


With a relatively delicious selection of rarities strewn across west Ireland in recent weeks, I decided the time had come for a trip west. Preferred means of travel were a Landrover Freelander coupled with the Holyhead - Dublin ferry, so that I was mobile on the other side of the Irish Sea. As a result, I found myself in the pissing wet rain at Holyhead ferry terminal in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Some hours later, I was stood in the pissing wet rain at Claddagh Beach, Galway, dipping the Forster's Tern. A good start.

Things could only get better, but the choppy waters of Lough Corrib off Angilham Marble Quarries didn't hold the remedy - hundreds of Tufted Ducks offshore, but incredibly difficult (and thus frustrating!) to view in the strong winds . Things needed to improve rapidly, and so I headed off towards Lough Atedaun (via Rahasane Turlough, which was dead) in the hope with connecting with another of the trip's main targets. It didn't take too long for the Pied-billed Grebe to show itself in the small bay in the lefthand corner of the lough:

Target one acheived! Two Swallows were also at Atedaun. A search of nearby Lough Inchiquin failed to reveal little more than 27 Tufted Ducks, and a very choppy Finvarra Point didn't produce the third target - the adult Pacific Diver, although there were 3 Black-throated, 3 Red-throated and 30+ Great Northern Divers offshore there. Back in Burren village, the Green-winged Teal porned it:

With the tide against me, further searches for the Forster's Tern around Galway produced a blank, and so I retired for fish and chips and a few pints in Galway city centre. Overnight in the car at Finvarra Point seemed a rash decision as a storm rolled in, leading to a very rocky night's sleep.


It wasn't half windy this morning. As a result, diver numbers were much lower off Finvarra than the previous day, and there was predictably no sign of the Pacific again. However, I had ducks on the mind, and soon left Finvarra to get amongst as many loughs as humanely possible. First stop, at around 09:00, was Loughrea (Galway). Having never been to the site before, I didn't really know where to look and opted for the southern end first. This proved to be a good idea:

Adult drake Ring-necked Duck at Loughrea.

Not a bad start to a day of lough-bashing, first port of call produces a Nearctic duck simply sat there with 4 Tufted Ducks. Sadly, it didn't continue in the same vein, with most loughs checked producing next to, or indeed, nothing. This Minger was at Nimmo's late morning, with 5 Sandwich Terns (still no Forster's) on Claddagh Beach:

Routine grilling of numerous Clare loughs revealed very little wildfowl indeed (it never ceases to surprise me how Dempsey & O'Clery's book claims 'large'/'good'/'nationally-important' numbers of wildfowl on these loughs and you get there to find no more than about 10 Tufted Ducks), although I guess I was a little late on in the season for large counts. Even Bishop's Quay in Limerick failed to produce a Minger - this site has been quite reliable in the past couple of winters, but not today.

By 17:00 or so, I had reached Lough Gur. It didn't take too long to pick up my second Pied-billed Grebe of the trip; it was frequenting the west shore although proving quite elusive. I walked (illegally) round to the west shore, only for the bird to become even more elusive and then for it to hail/snow for about 20 minutes. Views were close, but brief and intermittent - I only saw it three times over the next two hours before the light started to go. For once though, wildfowl numbers were actually quite good - c.100 Tufted Ducks, c.50 Wigeon and quite alot of Teal - no generic rare yank amongst them though. There were also c.50 Sand Martins hawking over the lake, and an Irish Coal Tit was making itself known near the car park.

The light went as I reached Shannon Airport Lagoon, so I sacked it and went back up to Galway for a pub meal and more Guinness. Overnight in the car near Angilham, Lough Corrib.


First light at Angilham revealed a much more pleasant day - sunny and, more importantly for looking at hundreds of distant aythya - still(ish). Sure enough, it was time to score again. Out popped a splendid drake Ring-necked Duck on the far side of the lough (too distant for pics), whilst this hybrid drake Ring-necked Duck X Tufted Duck momentarily saw me thinking I'd found a second:

Apparently that little beast has been around for much of the winter, though the pure bird is seemingly new in. There were at least 50 Scaup off Angilham, making it clear just how important calm conditions are at this site - the previous day I had seen one female, and on 30th none at all!

So, I was filled with early optimism once more. The sun was out, and surely the Forster's was about to give itself up?! Wrong. Yet again no sign of the bastard bird, but 7 Sandwich Terns along Claddagh Beach, an unexpected juv Iceland Gull at Nimmo's, with the hybrid Glaucous x Herring on the slipway there:

Not been many of these this winter...

Grotty hybrid gull.

I headed rounded for Doorus Pier, but couldn't find the Forster's there either (though there were 6 Sandwich Terns and, in hindsight, I perhaps should have given the site longer). The day went a bit dump from thereon; yet again no sign of the Pacific Diver despite calm conditions (though 2 summer male Long-tailed Ducks were nice there, as were 7 Black-throated Divers). Water levels at Atedaun had risen sharply and the grebe's favoured corner had been submerged - needless to say, I couldn't find it. A blast of a few loughs in the midlands on my way back to Dublin proved useless, as did a jaunt along the seafront in Dublin (low tide = birds much too far away). And so that was it; a rather low-key end to a mixed few days.

Bring back white-winged gulls please.