Monday, 30 September 2013

Living the dream...

After Friday's excitement with the Brown Shrike and the long drive home, I wasn't sure I'd be out of bed and at Bridlington in time for my scheduled boat trip next morning. In the end the lure of the coast was enough, and I was on the quayside watching Purple Sandpipers on the sea wall by early morning.

Bridlington Bay - Saturday 21st September 2013

I was joined by my friends Sue Gale and Andy Kisby, and we managed to claim the best seats on the Yorkshire Belle. But, this didn't help much when there aren't many birds about... A few Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins were the main players, with a few gulls as background noise. Two distant Great Skuas were a brief blip of excitement, with the odd Arctic, Common and Sandwich Tern adding some colour.

The biggest talking point was a potential adult Yellow-legged Gull which was seen circling the boat. I saw it from underneath well - it clearly had yellow legs and a clean, unstressed head. On the water, we could see the bird with its darker grey wings, but most people (including the spotters) were struggling to get on to it. When they did, much debate ensued until we all realised the bird we were looking at now was different to the one we saw earlier...

After a while, the Fulmars started to show close in - these are always a joy to see - but there was little of real interest until a few minutes from the end. An eagle-eyed punter spotted a close-in Red-necked Grebe on the sea. Very nice. We turned back for a closer look and everyone got to see the lovely bird close up. A nice adult moulting into winter plumage.

Red-necked Grebe, Bridlington Bay, East Yorkshire - Saturday 21st September 2013

The westerly breeze put us off the idea of hedge-bashing on Flamborough Head, so we settled on a trip to Filey Brigg for a reported Yellow-browed Warbler. We weren't disappointed. The little sprite - one of my favourite species - was on the seaward (and leeward) side, in very non-Yellow-browed habitat. A real cracker.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Filey, North Yorkshire - Saturday 21st September 2013

I'd earmarked the following day for birding too, but when you're offered a free ticket to the Manchester derby, playing at home, in a box with free booze and food, and a pitch tour and freebies, etc, you don't say no. Did I mention it was free? Anyway, City were great, Utd were pathetic (I'm being kind), and we won 4-1. The perfect end to a great few days.

The view from the posh seats...

Blue Moon...

Friday, 27 September 2013

Lightning Shrike - Friday 20th September 2013

Brown Shrike, Hook-with-Warsash, Hampshire - Friday, 20th September 2013

Two-barred Crossbills have become a proper bogey bird for me, but I'm happy to say I'm not bothered. The reason is simple: Brown Shrike!

I've spent a fair few hours at Broomhead reservoir near Sheffield over three or four visits trying for these. I decided the ones at Lynford Arboretum were more reliable (and nearer the Wilson Phalarope I needed at Cley), so headed down to Norfolk on 20th September. I spent a very pleasant six hours watching Common Crossbills, happy to wait off their two-barred cousins to show. Which they didn't. But then the pager said "Possible Brown Shrike, somewhere in Hants, way down south". Brown Shrike, eh? Now that's a bird...

I wasn't going to go for a "possible", especially with all the Red-backed Shrikes around, so I waited anxiously for an hour until Twitter provided the confirmation. It was a first-winter Brown Shrike, a bird at the top of my dip list.

So, it was 2pm and I was already down south in Thetford (I'm a northerner, so even Norfolk is down south) and Hampshire couldn't be too far away, could it?

I arrived at Hook-with-Warsash (where the hell was this place?), and tried to find some on-site directions... LGRE's 2013 year-list challenger John Jennings rocked up next to me, equally clueless. A nice old lady with a dog sorted us out and we were soon
marching towards the coast. The light was fading (it was around 18:30 by I got there), and people were leaving the site (in fact, there were far fewer birders than I'd expected - maybe all the locals had seen the 2010 Surrey bird - see below).

We were directed down to the coastal path, and there five or so birders helped pick out the young Shrike on the fence by the brambles. Phew - the demeanour of the first birders I'd met on site had caused me to worry the trip had been in vain.

You could see why someone would think it was a Red-backed Shrike at first, but those Brown Shrike features we're told to look for were all there. The tail was long and red, the bill deep, the crown a nice rich brown. The deep eye-stripe/mask was a very dark brown. The feathers all had brown edging on the breast - there was no grey on this bird at all. It looked "cuter" than a RBS - a very nice bird indeed.

 Brown Shrike, Hook-with-Warsash, Hampshire - Friday, 20th September 2013

The light was good when I first arrived, and the bird was easy to see, but it soon became dark and difficult to photograph.

 Brown Shrike, Hook-with-Warsash, Hampshire - Friday, 20th September 2013

There is a deep satisfaction when finally seeing a rare bird which you'd wasted many cold and boring hours looking for unsuccessfully in the past. This was very much the case here. I'd dipped the long-staying Brown Shrike at Staines, near Heathrow, in January 2010. I'd not gone for it the previous autumn, but decided to try for it on 2nd January after it had been refound on the 1st. I was travelling down to London to visit friends and took a "quick" detour to add it to my life list. Of course, when I got there it had gone to ground, and six hours of looking didn't turn up anything more than many Stonechats. It was never seen again (and it was some time before I saw my London friends again too, after letting them down). So getting this one - just - was very sweet.

This Hampshire Brown Shrike wasn't seen the following day, despite many people looking. There were a few false alarms and another bird appeared on Shetland; but this one had gone. I sympathise with the birders you dipped the following morning, particularly the long-distance travellers. I've done it myself with this and other species, and I'm sure I'll do it again. It's a crap feeling, but all the better when you finally get the bird.

The irony is I now have Two-barred Crossbill on my "birds-I've-wasted-hours-looking-for" list. Should be sweet when I finally nail that one though... ;-)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Leach's Storm-petrel, Leasowe, Merseyside - 16th September 2013

I've been told plenty times that to see Leach's Strom-petrels off the west coast, you need the winds to be just right. You need a good 24 hours worth of strong westerlies in the middle of September to push the birds towards the west coast. Also, the wind must keep up during the passage, and visibility out at sea must be bad. Plus, you must close your vantage point wisely: northwesterlies and New Brighton is the place; southwesterlies mean go to Hoylake; anything in-between and Leasowe should do. Oh, and make sure you are there at high tide.

All these variables, combined with work and family and other commitments, have meant getting there at the right time has failed me in the past. But not this year. This year I managed to make the dash across country after work to be at Leasowe in filthy weather, sustained high winds, and on a rising tide. And the Leach's Storm-petrels came flying past south just like buses…

 Leach's Strom-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), Leasowe, Mersetside - 16th September 2013

I had five of them in the two hours I was there. The first had perfect plumage features - really handy when looking through a hand-held scope in 70mph gusts. The pale bars on the wings were so clear, and the white rump was clearly bisected by a dark line. I couldn't clearly see the forked tail, but the larger size (than European Storm-petrel), the longer, pointier wings, the shearing flight action added up to a positive ID.

Te second was even better - the forked tail clear to see. I was joined by Secret Twitcher and third bird came along the shoreline. This one seemed smaller and more rounded in wings and tail, with less defined wing markings. I wondered about it being a European, although it did look very brown and the rump wasn't extensive enough. What do I know? The fourth and fifth birds were closer in, as the tide was week up by then.

Fantastic little creatures, appearing strong and hardy, yet so slight and vulnerable. The way they dance over the surface of the roiling sea, dangling their stick-like legs in the foam, was a joy to watch. Like that bracing, sea-tossed journey to Inner Farne (also post-work) to see another ocean wanderer the Bridled Tern in July, this was a great, atmospheric, memorable trip.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Great Snipe, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - 15th September 2013

A lovely, confiding, handsome bird - this Great Snipe showed well at the southern end of Beacon Lane, Kilnsea from late Saturday 14th to late Monday 16th.

 Great Snipe (Gallinago media), Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 15th September 2013

And some video...

When I arrived around 08:15 on Sunday morning, the bird was roosting in the driveway of Warrenby Cottage. It soon perked up and fed in the garden. The Great Snipe spent most of its time in the ditch on the opposite side of Beacon Lane, seemingly very happy.

Unfortunately, the Spurn Obs Twitter feed announced on Tuesday 17th September that the bird had been found dead and was probably killed by a cat. Before long BirdForum went into it's usual cycle of debate: Blame the cat > kill all cats > hey, I've got a cat, don't blame them, blame wind farms > no, blame humanity > no, blame the Great Snipe > LGRE didn't see it, he's blaming twitchers > blame LGRE! Personally, I blame cats.

This Great Snipe was nice grip back after narrowly missing the last one at Spurn on 5th September 2010. I had just arrived for my first stay at the Observatory, sharing a room with Ray Scally. Ray suggested we go to the pub, then spend the following day birding Spurn together. Great idea, I thought, and while he went off for a shower (saying, "Let's swap phone numbers later"), I drove down to the Point to watch the sun go down. Ray never reached the shower… Someone ran into the Warren to say a Great Snipe had been found outside! Everyone present went out and got good views and photos as it was flushed, flying towards Sandy Point, never to be seen again. Except, I wasn't present. I was starting the car, and heading off to the Point, blissfully unaware (Ray didn't have my number…).

So, yeah, it was nice to see this one, and get such good views. And the fact it was a stone's throw from the one I dipped almost three years to the day made it extra sweet.

Afterwards, I had a walk up the coastal path at Easington. Not much around, apart from the the odd migrating Wheatear and a Common Seal pup. Here are some photos to make you go "aww..."

Common Seal (Phoca vitulina), Easington, East Yorkshire - Sunday 15th September 2013

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

7th-8th September: Spurn, Kilnsea ...and Nottingham

View from the top of Spurn Lighthouse - Saturday 7th September 2013

Last-minute cancelled boat trips are a good thing. If you've already put the time aside, got the pass out from your better half, you can go and do something else instead, like birding, drinking, and getting locked in lighthouses… 

I was booked on the RSPB Skua and Shearwater Cruise out of Bridlington on Saturday 7th September (along with my Norfolk birding friends Chris and Sue), but it was cancelled the night before due to heavy swell. By the time the weekend arrived, the forecast easterly winds which promised so much had developed into a straight southerlies too. But fortunately there were some good birds at Spurn, so we spent Saturday there.

Swallow vs microlight, Kilnsea - Saturday 7th September 2013

First up was a spot of gentle twitching, with a juvenile Common Rosefinch in Churchfield - a lifer for both my companions. The Spurn Obs warden was on hand (as part of his role with the 1st Spurn Migration Festival, I guess), playing a tape to the Rosefinch song, to entice them in. We were lucky it showed well within a couple of minutes of us arriving - others had been waiting a while, which is probably why there was so much chatter from the waiting birders…

Common Rosefinch, Churchfield, Kilnsea - Saturday 7th September 2013

We ambled down the road and looked in at Southfield Farm for a reported juvenile Red-backed Shrike - and any shrike is always worth watching.

Red-back Shrike, Southfield Farm, Kilnsea - Saturday 7th September 2013

While we were watching the shrike a small finch/bunting-type bird flew in from over my head (southeast) and landed in a shrub in the farm garden. Something about it caught my eye as it was overhead. The colour was very grey/brown which made me wonder if it was a female House Sparrow, yet it wasn't flying like one - undulating, though not bouncing like a Gold or Greenfinch. Through bins the kind-of Spotted-Flycatcher-like colouring was obvious, as was a dark eye on a featureless face. It was a finch alright, dumpy, sat upright, and with with a distinctive head shape...  I started muttering "Common Rosefinch" while getting my scope set up. Through the scope the bird was obviously a juvenile/female Common Rosefinch - self-found, eh?! The streaking on the breast was very clear as it stared right at me, the bill was small, rounded, stumpy and stained purple/pink. Before anyone else could get on it, it flew (towards us) and on towards the Blue Bell. If only some else could have seen it well too, I wouldn't have had to listen to Chris over the next two days talking of the "possible" Common Rosefinch I saw…

Wrynecks seemed to be everywhere, though I hadn't (and still haven't) seen one this year. We drew a blank Canal Scrape and failed at the new scrapes at Kilnsea Pools. A young male Ruff on the small pool nearer Beacon Ponds confused us briefly as we tried to make it into something rarer, and so it was the common birds that entertained us. Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, and Dunlin on the scrape. Yellow Wagtail, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Whinchat around the edges, and Swallows everywhere - in the air on the wires, and on the deck.

This Dunlin looked very moribund on Kilnsea Pools. A damaged right wing
can be clearly seen in the photo above - Saturday 7th September 2013

Ruff, Kilnsea Pools, Kilnsea - Saturday 7th September 2013
Spotted Redshank, Kilnsea Pools, Kilnsea - Saturday 7th September 2013

Later, we headed for the Point - Sue had never been - and I decided I'd have a look in the lighthouse, which isn't normally open. Also, Ray Scally - who first introduced me to Spurn a few years ago as we spent a day birding here together on my first stay at the Observatory - had an exhibition of his artwork in the lighthouse.

Ray Scally's artwork in Spurn Lighthouse - Saturday 7th September 2013

Another Common Rosefinch! By Ray Scally

The lighthouse was due to close in 15 minutes, so I heard straight up. I bumped in to Ray as he came down the stairs with two dead Dunlin, as you do, and had a quick catch up. Check out his fantastic work here. I explored the building along for ten minutes and as I came down I heard the doors clanging shut. After rushing down, I found them locked tight. Erm… I checked my phone. …no signal! Erm… I rushed upstairs to the top and finally got a signal - enough to ring Chris so he could find someone with keys. I tweeted a distress call too, for good measure. I also rang my wife - not to say goodbye, but so she could have a good laugh at my expense…

I was freed after an hour or so in there., and we ended the day joining in with the Migration Festival sea-watch party at the Warren. A close view of a Manx Shearwater in the Humber was the highlight on an otherwise quiet session. Over gin, Sue suggested we try the Nottingham area on Sunday - the birds were certainly better there. It made sense as Sue and Chris needed to get back to Norfolk that evening and I could catch a train from anywhere.

We headed for Attenborough first thing on Sunday, and were rewarded with great views of the juvenile White-winged Black Tern there. This was made all the better by the presence of a Black Tern to provide ID comparison.

We headed off about ten miles northeast to Netherfield Lagoons, hoping for a Spotted Crake. The smell from the slurry lagoon was a bit off-putting, but it looked an interesting site. As soon as we all raised our bins, we saw …a Great White Egret. That one goes on the self-found list too… I put the news out, but the bird flew high west after five minutes.

We had a pleasant couple of hours here in the sunshine. Highlights were an eclipse Garganey, Pintail, Common Sandpiper, Snipe, Blackwits, Sparrowhawk, Grey Wagtail, and a Fox sat watching the birds from the cover of the reeds. As you'd imaging, there were plenty of insects around, especially dragonflies and butterflies. Painted Lady, Large White, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, etc.

Common Blue Damselfly, Netherfield Lagoons, Nottingham - Sunday 8th September 2013

Comma, Netherfield Lagoons, Nottingham - Sunday 8th September 2013

A very pale Meadow Brown, Netherfield Lagoons, Nottingham - Sunday 8th September 2013

Juvenile Godfinch, Netherfield Lagoons, Nottingham - Sunday 8th September 2013

Monday, 9 September 2013

Vendoire, Charente, France - August 2013 (Part 3)

The final round of photos from my recent trip to south-west France.

Dragons and Damselflies

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Broad Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Western Demoiselle (Calopteryx xanthostoma)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Willow Emerald (Lestes viridis)  
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013


Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Map (araschnia levana) 
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Comma (Polygonia c-album)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia)
Villebois-Lavalette, Charente, France, August 2013

We saw a few of these and my daughter found a seemingly dead specimen in the long grass beside the town's castle. No butterflies were harmed during the making of this blog... ;-)

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Dryad (Minois dryas)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013


Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis)
Champagne, Charente, France, August 2013

Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)
Villebois-Lavalette, Charente, France, August 2013

Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Other insects and Spiders

Large Conehead (Ruspolia nitidula)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

Field Cricket (Ruspolia nitidula)
Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

 Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013

 Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) 
Champagne, Charente, France, August 2013

Wasp Spider - Argiope bruennichi
Les Tourbières de Vendoire, Charente, France, August 2013