Wednesday 29 June 2011

Further summery wanderings

This morning I went to the excellent Hills & Holes NNR, Barnack, primarily because it harbours several species of orchid that I have never bothered to go and see. Which is a bit embarrassing given how close the site is, and that orchids genuinely interest me. Well, it sure seems the dry spring has ruined this year's flower spectacle; usually this place is covered in flowers and grasses but this year it is most barren.

Having said that, there were plenty of Pyramidal Orchids about, although they seem very small and weak-looking this year. Here are a few photos:

I failed to locate any Fragrant, Bee or Frog Orchids - apparently a recent visitor had just one of the former, two Bees and a couple of small Frogs still in their infancy. I'll perhaps go back to look for the latter some time this week. Just about the only flower that seemed to be having any luck in the dry conditions was Common Rock-rose:

The only birds of note I've seen lately were four Curlews flying southwest along the River Glen at Katesbridge during the early evening of 27th. This Swallowtail Moth also made a brief appearance on our outdoor light as I got home a few evenings ago:

Sunday 26 June 2011

Summer Patching

Although I can't claim to have put back-breaking effort in to local birding over the past week or so, I have been doing quite a bit of walking (with and without dog) at local sites, and have consequently seen one or two half-decent birds. For example, I did a 13-mile walk the other day north from Bourne and up around some local villages - best birds were a Spotted Flycatcher at Grimsthorpe and five Crossbills in Bourne Woods, both new this year for me (don't see many of the former at all).

The patch has been very slow, and feels very lazy indeed. The gull colony is less busy than it was a few weeks back; compared to other sites (locally and nationally), the BLGP colony always seems to have a much earlier average fledging date and, with the sheer number of juveniles present this year (300+), I can only assume it is a sign of a very healthy colony indeed. Most juvenile Black-headed Gulls are well fledged and in various stages of maturity. Some still look like they have just fallen out the nest, being very brown and possessing very stunted primaries. Others, such as the individual below, are more advanced in to their first moult:

It's disappointing to see that few of the waders appear to have had a successful year (though still early days). However, there are a few fledged Lapwing chicks about so it's not all doom and gloom. Perhaps related is the persistant presence of several Lesser Black-backed Gulls; most are adults which appear to be prospecting the site (as they have done for a few years now but no confirmed breeding), but there are some immatures also, such as this second-summer:

One or two ducks are beginning to turn back up now. A flock of three Shoveler were present in the evening of 20th, with the first two Gadwall back on that date. The Gadwall 'flock' has since risen to three, and a drake Pochard is also back with the moulting Tufties. The Red-crested Pochards are starting to gather to moult (looking a bit grim now). This family of Mute Swans is on the workings on the north side:

The weather is beautiful today; I still haven't had any Quail despite there being loads at sites further north - perhaps tonight will be the night.

Friday 17 June 2011

American White-winged Scoter, 12/6

Until this year, White-winged Scoter was one of those highly-anticipated birds to make an appearance on British & Irish shores, but had not yet done. In March, I was fortunate to play a part in the discovery of the first Asian White-winged (Stejneger's) Scoter for Ireland, and the wait was finally over. I don't suppose anyone was really expecting the North American counterpart (ssp. deglandi) to turn up so soon afterwards. But that's exactly what happened at scoter hotspot Blackdog, in Aberdeenshire, on Saturday.

John Pegden now lives very close to me in Lincs (where I happened to be over the weekend), so we were soon teaming up and drafting in the exiled Mick Frosdick and Steve Webb. We were up at Blackdog (or rather off Murcar links golf course just to the south) by early morning, but the weather was very poor and prohibited an early morning search. As the morning progressed, the weather improved and it was now possible to look at the scoters. Swell was proving a problem, with most birds spending more time obscured by waves than being visible. The White-winged Scoter was eventually picked up and proved very elusive over the next few hours, although did show pretty well at times. Was surprised at how much contrast there was between the brown flanks and the rest of the body, and the head and bill shape were also pretty striking.

There were also three drake Surf Scoters, two of which are in the photograph below:

A few other bits were also seen, including a Black-throated Diver, a few Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas, and an Osprey. We moved round to the Ythan Estuary where the King Eider was asleep, then left and got back to Lincolnshire by 21:15 - a successful day!

Saturday 11 June 2011

Summer doldrums

Well, it looks like spring is well and truly over now - even the Sanderlings appear to have dried up inland. So, on my return to Lincolnshire this weekend, I was hardly expecting to see alot. That certainly rung true; I only had the usual breeders on my patch (Baston & Langtoft Pits) this evening - 4 Redshanks, 5 Oystercatchers etc but no sign of any young. Perhaps worrying but still early days.

Definite highlight was what seems to have been an incredible year for the Black-headed Gull colony. Many, many juveniles have already fledged (some even starting to moult to a 1st-winter type plumage); a partial count revealed almost 200 this evening, vastly outnumbering adults. Here's a few of them:

But, despite the large numbers of birds present, that elusive summer mega just wasn't there tonight. Let's see how the next couple of months go - not long before the first Green Sandpipers.

Tuesday 7 June 2011


Bit rushed for time right now so a brief summary of yesterday (6th), which finally produced the first real mega of the spring; it's been a while coming. I was woken at around half 8 this morning by a phone call from Staines, asking me if I'd like to go for the Red-flanked Bluetail that had apparently just been trapped and ringed at Hartepool Headland (Cleveland). I had had a few beers the previous evening, so my instant response was a groggy "no".

Things soon changed when a puzzled Dan Pointon rang me a few minutes later asking what was all this about a White-throated Robin at Hartlepool. I told him I was pretty sure they'd ringed a bluetail but I'd check it out. Quick check of BirdGuides and yes, the bluetail was in fact the robin. A few expletives later I was careering out of Sheffield towards the M1.

Journey took around an hour and 45 mins, and by half 10 I'd arrived at the scene of the crime - Hartlepool Headland bowling green. Unbelievably, the bird was casually hopping about feeding in the margins of the green(!) - I'd been expecting it to be a bit more difficult than that! Continued to watch the bird for a couple of hours as it fed on the bowling greens and in surrounding gardens but, as more and more people arrived and the day wore on, the bird became increasingly mobile, flighty and elusive. I managed a few record shots (below are the best) but this is definitely a DSLR man's bird - a very active critter. I appear to have also been selected as a pin up for twitching; to see what I mean check this out from 22 mins in!

Having had my fill of the robin, I went round to Seaton Carew where an absolutely beautiful male Red-backed Shrike was showing well in dunes south of the sewage works. This will presumably be the most-twitched Red-backed Shrike of 2011. The bird was feeding quite actively but was a better subject for me to try my new camera on (Canon Ixus 220HS). A couple of shots below; very pleased with how it seems, especially given light and heat haze were pretty grim by early afternoon:

Final stop of the day was Saltholme RSPB where an adult Spoonbill was sleeping. Looked at it for a few seconds then went off on a wild shrike chase in the Calor Gas Pool area; eventually found the site with the help of a couple of locals and a bit of searching revealed my second male Red-backed Shrike of the day. Fantastic! This individual was really mobile, and disappeared on to one of the landfills in the area - I don't think many saw this one; a much smaller crew than at Seaton Carew that consisted of a few locals, Mulvey Tours and myself.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Terek Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper is one of those birds which, although it occurs annually in the UK, I had previously never seen. Several birds in the past have come at the wrong time for me; I've either been abroad, at work, or without transport. In addition, many are very brief stayers, rarely lasting longer than a day. So the occurrence of a bird at Hauxley (Northumberland) certainly pricked my ears up on Saturday afternoon. However, with a rather big football match on the tv in the evening, I decided against making a move as I didn't want to risk missing some of the action.

It wasn't much of a surprise to hear that there was no sign of the bird early on the Sunday. I quietly thought to myself, "there goes another..."

So imagine my surprise when the bird was again seen on the wader scrape at Hauxley mid-morning. Quick change of plans from revision to driving and, via an offensive drive in to York to collect Staines (who had lost his car keys, useless tw*t), I was on my way. We got to Hauxley mid-afternoon; it was very breezy, but the bird showed well (above). A very charismatic and striking wader, always hurrying around feeding. Love that bill as well!

A few Roseates were seen out towards Coquet Island, but we saw little else during the rest of the afternoon. The Great White Egrets weren't at Castle Island when we stopped in on the way back south. Got back to Sheffield for 19:30.