Saturday 31 December 2011

Lesser Scaup, Cardiff Bay

Studies of an adult drake Lesser Scaup, Cardiff Bay, 31st December 2011.

Caught up with this showy individual on a brief sojourn in to the Welsh capital on New Year's Eve on the way back from a grey and drizzly couple of days at my father's down at Kenfig. Not done alot else recently - been very busy and not seen alot hence no postings. Dipped the Lesser White-front on 28th but hope to get back for that very soon.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

For two weeks now, I have been teased by a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in Somerset. However, I just haven't got round to going due to a lack of time - I've either been working, visiting friends, having a few beers (no driving) or simply sticking local. All this week, I had been planning a visit for this coming Saturday morning but, due to a friends' birthday in Sheffield on the Saturday, driving to Somerset then South Yorkshire didn't really appeal.

So, with a few hours free this morning, I decided to head down to Chew Valley Lake in the hope that the sandpiper had stuck overnight. I left South Lincs at around 04:45; slightly I later than planned as my car wouldn't start and I had t0 charge the battery for a bit. Arrived at Herriott's Bridge at around 08:15 via some slow traffic in Bristol and a McDonald's coffee. The target was not immediately apparent, although there were loads of birds scattered around Stratford Bay - especially ducks, including quite a few Pintail.

I headed round to Stratford Hide, where the Dunlin flock (c.40 of them) was immediately apparent. To my great relief, in amongst them was the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Although quite worn for a juvenile, it still sported a very attractive peachy breast, reddish cap and contrasting white supercilium. The white eyering was also prominent, as were the longer yellowish legs. Brilliant bird, but really frustrating - as my blurry shots below prove, the light was still very low whilst it showed well - just as the sun came out, the entire flock flew off towards Herriott's.

A scan to the right revealed three more roosting waders - the bigger bird was a single Black-tailed Godwit, but its smaller companions were my other targets - the two 1st-winter Long-billed Dowitchers. Amongst the throng of Teal present, I also had a female Garganey. Lovely stuff.

With the Sharp-tailed and its escort heading back towards Herriott's, I headed back round there to see what the views were like. Nice light with the sun behind me, but really quite distant - ample 'scope views, but definitely not as close as 150m as has been suggested elsewhere. A Water Pipit flew over me, calling quite a lot before disappearing somewhere on Herriott's Pool. The dowitchers also reappeared in the Dunlin flock; it was nice to see them awake and sewing. Then, more yankage - the adult Spotted Sandpiper was located showing well in the channel just below the weir by the bridge. Remarkable to see four Nearctic waders in such close proximity inland in December!

Spotted Sand chilling out in the December sunshine.

Time was not on my side today, so I soon headed off (some time shortly after 09:30). The journey back home was pretty smooth, and I was back in Langtoft for 12:45. A quick check of the patch this afternoon didn't reveal any wild geese, but 20 Little Egrets was a new site record.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Patching was the Anser after all...

After not really expecting much, yesterday (28th) turned out to be a really good day locally. During the late morning, I had a drive along Deeping High Bank where I was obviously overwhelmed to find this first-winter female Scaup:

Okay that sounded slightly sarcastic, but in reality this is the first Scaup in the Peterborough area in 2011 - they're pretty rare round here! So much so that local listing legend Mike Weedon was there not long after for an important PBC year tick. A couple of female Goosanders were also along the Welland - my first of the winter.

Encouraged by the pleasant weather conditions and the decent birds, I headed round to the Cross Drain at Baston & Langtoft Pits where a Water Pipit was scratting around in the recently-dredged surroundings. The Cross Drain is one of the best winter sites at BLGP when it has been dredged/drained; presumably the activity stirs up lots of food and the draining makes fish easy picking for egrets and herons. Also there today were 5 Green Sandpipers, 6 Little Egrets, 2 Redshanks, 2 Grey Herons and a few dabbling ducks.

Shit photo of Water Pipit and Green Sand getting amongst it.

I'm not going to lie, I was chuffed with the pipit - definitely the best views I've had of a winter bird on the patch. But my rare radar wasn't letting up, soon persuading me to head towards the old wader scrape where the local Greylag Goose flock has been congregating of late. There are still load of wild geese around, so I was keen to thoroughly grill the flock to see if anything interesting had joined them. It appeared that, from the first few scans, nothing had changed from my disappointing result last week. But, a bit of 'encouragement' saw the geese waddling off the heavily vegetated islands and onto the water itself and, bang! There were four Tundra Bean Geese, looking wary as f*ck but eventually playing ball for the record shots. Shame the sun went in:

Tundra Bean Goose is a Peterborough Area tick for me, so it was nice to find my own and even on the patch to boot. I gave Mike a call and he came charging down from the High Bank. Frustratingly the birds had disappeared back into vegetation but then, all of a sudden, the entire Greylag flock got up and headed noisily towards The Ocean. Shit! Fortunately, the targets announced themselves with a series of Pinkfoot-like calls (but slightly deeper) as they seperated from the main flock, flew over our heads and headed off west over Langtoft village - the buggers definitely would have been viewable from our house - drat!

Less than satisfactory views for Mike, even though it was clear they were 'Bean' Geese. Fortunately, they looked like they went down just west of the village and, knowing the fields opposite Langtoft West End GPs as a traditional hotspot for geese (Greylags, Canadas and rarer species alike), we headed down there. Mike quickly picked up four distant birds away from a nearer flock of Greylags. Phew... at least they were still here! 'Scopes up, but no! It was only a party of four European White-fronts (adult & 3 juvs)! They were feeding along the edge of an uncut sugar beet field, munching away but looking really wary. Fortunately, it soon transpired that the four Tundra Beans were also in the same field, and we left the eight birds together in field at about 13:45.

Euro White-fronts and Tundra Beans.

I could have gone for the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Chew over the weekend (or probably even early this morning); after all it would be a new WP bird. However, the morning had proved that, at least sometimes, local birding really is the anser. A great couple of hours that were infinitely more rewarding than driving 7 hours to mid-Somerset and back.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Patching is not the anser

Sorry for the lack of updates.

I've been really busy over the past few weeks and so birding has been minimal. I went out locally today looking for grey geese for a couple of hours in between work, but nothing despite a good few hundred Greylags making enough of a racket to attract any passing Anser within several miles.

Best today was a Green Sandpiper... desperate times.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Reorientating Pinks 6/11

Yesterday's patch Red-breasted Merganser was greatly appreciated, but it seems I underestimated this latest bout of misty conditions and northerly-based winds. I mentioned briefly yesterday that they tend to produce lots of birds in our area, and perhaps yesterday I should have put in a bit more work.

Although the merg had done one this morning, it seems that birds were obviously still reorientating back out towards The Wash. The first evidence I had of this was a group of 21 Pink-footed Geese in fields by the Cross Drain. This is by far the biggest group I've ever seen on the deck here and, when I checked back on them later in the morning, they had already cleared off - presumably they arrived in the poor conditions yesterday and had roosted overnight.

Eleven of 21 Pink-footed Geese near the Cross Drain

Further sign that things were on the move was later provided by a further 47 Pink-footed Geese flying low east over the northwest pools as I searched for the merganser. There was one considerably smaller bird amongst them, but I couldn't get anything on it - instinct suggested it was just a runt Pink.

There wasn't too much else of real note this morning aside a few flyover redpolls; I spent an hour or so hunting Firecrests with little luck. The weather forecast is for further overcast conditions and northeast winds tomorrow; these can be very productive in our area in autumn and winter so I live in hope.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Patch Tick!

Quick health warning that this post contains some horrendous images taken in horrendous light conditions.

Tiring week, this week. The shock of full time employment was evidently too much for me following three years of not really doing alot at university. Anyway, I woke up this morning about 8 feeling a bit shell-shocked, and was mildly disappointed to see that it was pretty foggy outside. Great - a morning's birding ruined.

Long story short, things started to clear up yet it was still pretty misty on my arrival at my favourite place in most of the world, Dogsthorpe Tip. The poor visibility was making gull-watching pretty difficult, but it did mean that the birds were mostly cotching on and around the pit, giving good views when the weather cleared. Although there were plenty of birds present, alot were sat out of view behind the crest of the 'hill' of ex-rubbish and finding anything interesting was proving difficult. The best I could do were the two creatures below:

Adult Yellow-legged Gull - a decent winter bird here.

First-winter Med

I also had a black darvic-ringed 1st-winter GBB Gull with the inscription 'JP070'. Which reminds me - the yellow-ringed 1st-winter Herring Gull I had earlier this week had actually been ringed the previous week at Blackborough End Tip (Norfolk). Interesting to get proof that gulls commute between Peterborough and there, but not quite the Polish-type I had hoped for.

As the morning wore on, the gulls started to misbehave a bit more, getting restless as there was no tipping activity occurring. By just after 11:00, they started to disperse and so I headed off home via Deeping Highbank, where these four adult Whooper Swans were chilling out in a field by the River Welland towards Spalding:

After heading home for some lunch and a chill out, I headed back down the patch to see if anything was lurking on the pits. These cold, calm and misty mornings traditionally produce decent birds in the Peterborough area; I've had Long-tailed Duck and White-fronted Geese amongst other bits on days like this previously. A check of the old wader scrape revealed plenty of birds, but nothing out of the ordinary, although a Dunlin was flying around calling in the poor visibility. It might sound weird, but waders such as Dunlin are usually a good indicator that some kind of displacement has gone on here in winter; indeed on 'Long-tailed Duck day' I saw Dunlin, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Curlew locally. So, with renewed vigour, I decided a more complete check than usual was necessary.

Our old friend Pochard 'H'. I originally thought it was an 'N' but better views today confirmed otherwise.

A female Pintail was nice on North Pit with a decent selection of dabbling ducks, as were a few redpolls and Siskins. However, that one bit of real quality was still lacking as I headed towards the northwest pools to check the slurry pits here for any odd waders. What I wasn't expecting here was to pick up on a young drake Red-breasted Merganser, just sort of floating about and looking a bit knackered on one of the small pools. After what must be about six or seven years since Mike Weedon gripped me off with a short-staying party of three at BLGP whilst I was in Norfolk, it was great to finally nail this to my patch list. And this is what it looked like, in the dank conditions:

Mike even managed to get over from the Nene Washes and successfully twitch it for his PBC year list, just as dusk was approaching.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Caspian Gull, 1st November

This 1st-winter Caspian Gull was amongst increased numbers of large gulls at Dogsthorpe Tip today. I also had a couple of birds with yellow darvic rings; one was a 1st-winter Herring "1U1B", the other was a 2nd-winter that I didn't manage to see on the deck although in flight it looked quite Caspian-ish.

Last week's Glaucous Gull appears to have moved on for now; surprised it hasn't been picked up elsewhere as it's not exactly a subtle bird.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Angel from the North

Spent my first proper morning in some time down at Dogsthorpe Tip today, primarily targetting Caspian Gulls and any Yellow-legged Gulls that might still be hanging on from the annual summer influx. As I was driving to the tip, I thought about the mini-arrival of white-winged gulls that seems to have happened in the far northwest over the past week or so - perhaps this year is going to be a bit better for them after two incredibly lean winters?

What didn't occur to me was that I'd find one today in Peterborough, but that's exactly what happened. Naturally, there were a few expletives when this massive white apparition emerged from amongst several hundred large gulls in fields south of the tip:

A monster of a second-winter Glaucous Gull; by far my earliest ever in the Peterborough area (I've never seen one before December) and one of very few around in England right now - I can't recall many aside the 'resident' birds in Kent and Devon...

Soon afterwards (this was c.10:30), most of the birds got up out of the field and dispersed, many heading for the tip but some elsewhere. In the following three hours of grilling the tip, I couldn't relocate the ghostly beast but did score a single 1st-winter mich, as well as one or two interesting looking gulls below:

Dark and smudgey 2w Herring, with dark coverts and chocolatey tertials - if it wasn't for the structure, tail and UTC/rump pattern then one could almost look towards 2w Azorean Gull, which do come this dark pretty regularly.

Really dark adult argentatus, approaching graellsii as well as the Rainham Slaty-backed!

Juv/1w Lesser Black-backed Gull, presumably intermedius as perhaps a little large and long-legged to claim a candidate fuscus; only saw this thing briefly so hopefully better luck with it later in the week.

Eventually, the Glaucous Gull was relocated at 13:25, back in the same field as earlier. I decided a bit of off-roading was necessary to get a few closer shots, so drove down the track leading south from the road. The result were pornstar views but, on such an unseasonably warm day, heat haze was making photography problematic at best, and thus results aren't really up to scratch given the close range of the bird:

Really good start to the 'winter'...

Thursday 20 October 2011

Scilly, 19th October

Despite openly confessing I have lost alot of enthusiasm for my Britain & Ireland list (and thus twitching B&I 'ticks'), I constantly had one eye on news back home whilst I was out in the Azores. This was accentuated by the fact that Britain and Ireland seemed to be receiving a constant westerly airflow that seemed destined to dump one or two juicy Nearctic birds on west-facing coasts at any moment. Luckily, that real biggie never came; the best in fact were two birds on Scilly, continuing a good autumn for the archipelago (what has happened to Ireland this year?!).

So, when arriving back in Lincolnshire on Monday to find both target birds were still present, it seemed wise to have a crack at them yesterday (Weds 19th). With local meat connoisseur Will Bowell confirming he had secured a rare day out of the butchers', things were set up to go very smoothly indeed. The drive down was problem-free and, although we couldn't find the Pec Sand at Drift early doors, we were soon on St. Mary's thanks to a sleep-filled outward journey on the Scillonian.

It was only when we arrived at Borough Farm did things start to become disjointed in our grand plan. The Upland Sand had flown off somewhere and wasn't showing - not to worry though, we strolled round to Watermill Lane where there were two absolutely stunning Olive-backed Pipits showing ludicrously well in a small field.

The 'duller' of the two OBPs

I'd only seen one OBP previously, that being last year on the saltmarsh at Stiffkey. Although that bird was close, it was bloody elusive and stayed amongst gorse and long grass for 95% of the time. Not these two though; they were on show more or less constantly as they fed amongst the furrows, and the constant tail-pumping was the first time I had noted such behaviour - amazing!

So, back round to the Upland, which we still couldn't locate. I decided to keep my eyes on the prize, and we walked back down to Lower Moors. No snipe... gargh! My previous experience with Wilson's Snipe has been painful, starting back in October 2007 on the Scillonian on the day the first bird that year was found. By the time the ferry had docked and we'd got to Lower Moors, it had done one, only to return the next day and gradually be confirmed as the month progressed. I've also had a bit of misfortune on the Azores - loads of people see Wilson's around the Archipelago (especially Terceira), but I've never seen anything but Commons. The trip in February was summed up nicely by a very interesting dark snipe I flushed on Pico once and saw once-only; the closest I've got to a likely Wilson's, but yet still so far. Surely the saga wasn't going to continue here today on Scilly, when the bird had been showing reliably virtually every day either at Lower Moors of Porth Hellick?!

Well in short, it did. We charged round to Porth Hellick to look there, but only had three Greenshanks on the pool. There was a very showy first-winter male Bluethroat at the seaward end of the boardwalk, but I'd manage to misplace my camera and so my mind was worrying elsewhere as I watched this little stunner walking round people's feet.

It turned out that the Upland Sandpiper had been re-found in the usual field up at Borough Farm so off we yomped again, up through Holy Vale to enjoy some really nice views of extra-terrestrial beast. Nice to see one on the ground for more than two seconds after experiences on Flores last week, although sadly the Scilly bird didn't utter that magical call (it's instantly become one of my favourite bird sounds). With relocating my camera at the top of my list, closely followed by the snipe, I was unable to enjoy the bird as fully as I would have done if relaxed, so I got a taxi down to Old Town where I was very fortunate to bump into the bloke who had picked up my camera at Lower Moors (thank you!).

The final half hour or so was spent in a noisy ISBG Hide at Lower Moors, longingly scanning the reeds for snipe but with no success. And that, via a sleepy ferry journey and six-hour drive home, was about it.

Monday 17 October 2011

Yellow-legged Gull

3rd-winter amongst a throng of gulls in fields south of Dogsthorpe Tip, Cambridgeshire, on Monday morning - primaries still growing. Ironically can't see the legs!

Sunday 16 October 2011

Azores: Days 12 & 13

First of all, an apology for not getting to update about the last two days of the trip until now - only just got back home today, and my laptop died out in the Azores so will have to buy a new one of those now... more expense.

Basically, I'll give a fairly brief run-through of the final two days. With so many birds on neighbouring Flores, we chartered the ferry (a rib) for a return trip across on Thursday 13th - this hopefully also giving us a crack at some of the interesting seabirds seemingly in Corvo/Flores waters. As we were getting on the boat, news broke that a Common Nighthawk had been found at Ponta Delgada (our destination), and with that the already-high expectation levels ascended further. The trip over was relatively uneventful for seabirds, with one or two Leach's Storm-petrels noted amongst the large numbers of Great and Cory's Shearwaters. After an enjoyable close look at some of the fascinating rock formations on the cliffs at the north end of Flores, we pulled up in Ponta Delgada harbour and were met by three taxis - enough to accommodate all 22 of us that had travelled over! First port of call was inevitably the old football field at PDL, where we arrived to find the Common Nighthawk sat in long grass by the clifftop. An attempted flush seemed at first suggest the bird was dead before it attacked me (no jokes) and then just lay there, looked knackered with it's wings open:

Unfortunately more shitehawk than dream bird...

Leaving the poor, wretched goatsucker alone, we all piled in the taxis and headed for Lagoa Lomba. A brief look at Lagoa Seca produced two Black Duck-types - perhaps hybrids but very BD-like; we did not linger for anything more than distant views from the road:

Black(ish) Dross

The drake Wood Duck was surprisingly easy at Lomba - I soon picked it up feeding in emergent vegetation on the far side of the lake but, with an excitable mob of the WP's keenest listers arriving, the bird wasted no time in making for overhanging trees and thus out of sight:

Things were going very smoothly indeed as we headed round to Faja Grande. This splendid first-winter Bobolink continued the trend, showing well in a small crop field, on stone walls and occasionally flying around calling. A much nicer bird than I ever imagined, being a beautiful rich yellow in colour with go-faster stripes and pink bare parts thrown in for good measure:

A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was also noted here on the the lava fields, but seemed quite wary as it bombed around looking alert as anything. Wary waders formed a significant part of the rest of the afternoon, as we headed for Ponta do Albarnaz. Another taxi-load had located the Upland Sandpiper that has been in the area here for a few days, and had even gone on to find a second bird with it. It took a while but, after walking through plenty of fields and jumping over several walls, an Upland Sandpiper was eventually located sat on a wall a few fields east of the lighthouse. The bird was pretty aware of our presence though, and soon launched itself into the air and off east, calling with a beautiful bubbling crescendo as it did so. Ridiculously, this was my fourth WP tick of the day(!) - something that doesn't happen often when vagrants are concerned. A couple of adult White-rumped Sandpipers were also here with a Dunlin and two Sanderling.

With no news forthcoming on the exact location of a reported Dickcissel, I spent the last hour or so left on the island lazing around near the harbour at Ponta Delgada, waiting for the boat. The trip back was a bit more eventful with a couple more Leach's Petrels, loads of showy Great Shearwaters, a shark species and plenty of Common Dolphins giving wonderful views. However, as we neared Corvo, the peace was shattered by a crackly message on the walkie talkie from Peter and Eric - they'd just had a large martin (presumably Purple) fly in off the sea at the windmills! Shit! The rest of the evening was spent searching for it and the Cliff Swallow found up by the power station by two Israeli birders - no luck, but a Spotted Flycatcher there was a good Azores tick, even if it has been round a few days.

So, that was Thursday. Friday 14th dawned bright and sunny, with me standing overlooking the fields, cliffs and sheds a few hundred metres up the road from the power station. Everyone was reasonably confident the hirundines would still be around, but less positive about how long it would take to track them down. The answer soon came - not very long! The Purple Martin flew south past me at about 08:05 - amongst expletives I sprinted down to the power station to find the first taxi load of birders had just arrived, and thankfully connected! At least it wasn't a single observer record...

The Purple Martin, along with the Cliff Swallow, went on to show pretty well on and off throughout the morning, mainly over the fields north of the power station - the latter bringing up the 600 for me in the Western Pal. The undoubted highlight of the morning was a ten-minute pornstar-style showing from the PM, when it sat on a stone wall chilling out in the warm sunshine:

A great trip - eight new WP birds, all of high quality. So, would I go back to Corvo? To put it bluntly - yes. However, don't let the long lists of American vagrants reported each day fool you. Corvo is not an easy place to go; the birding can be supremely difficult at times and, if the weather is not on your side (it wasn't for me - all but one day of east/southeasterlies) it can be a draining place that can mess with your mind(!). However, the rewards are high and, if you are lucky enough to encounter westerlies on a trip then the birds soon start to arrive - take the 24 hours we had on the 13th/14th that produced the two hirundines mentioned above, as well as a 1st-winter Blue Grosbeak for two lucky observers (a true first for the WP). The big difference between Corvo and the rest of Europe is that you really don't need fast-moving depressions to see Nearctic passerines - sure, the best 'falls' occur after these but the phenomenon is similar to drift migrants on the east coast; an airflow from the right direction and you're in business. Perhaps I'll be back next October.

Now, back to the reality of British birding...

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Azores: Day 11

I've spent much of today relaxing, trying to ease the pain of the blisters on my feet. So, all of the morning and much of the afternoon/evening was spent at the windmill seawatching - perhaps also because visiting birders from Flores saw both Fea's-type and Trindade Petrels from the ferry crossing yesterday!

The morning session was excellent, with superb views of a Madeiran Storm-petrel (a really fresh bird, whatever that means as to more specific identification) and a couple of Sooty Shearwaters amongst hundreds of Great and Cory's Shearwaters. The evening was less spectacular, with no gadly petrels seen.

The afternoon was broken up by a quick search for the Yellow Warblers in the tamarisks (no luck), as well as crippling views of a newly-arrived juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper that Morten picked up coming in over the airfield. The bird proceeded to show really, really well down at the beach:

Apparently a Dickcissel on Flores today. Who knows what is going on right now.

White-rumped Sandpiper: juvenile on the beach
Madeiran Storm-petrel: one past the windmills
Sooty Shearwater: two past the windmills
Great Shearwater: maybe four-figure numbers offshore today