Friday, 15 May 2015

Red-throated Pipit, Ludworth Moor, Chisworth, Derbyshire - Monday 4th May 2015

A cracker of a bird, with the added interest (to me) of being found around just a few miles from where I grew up.

Red-throated Pipit, Chisworth, Derbyshire - Monday 4th May, 2015

It was found by John Raines of nearby Hazel Grove on Sunday 3rd May. So, despite having low expectations it had stayed, I got over early on Monday morning to help in the search. Around 7:30am, while I was picking through Meadow Pipits and Skylarks a couple fields away from Gun Hill Road, I noticed birders running along the road. Someone had heard or seen it.

We all piled along the tarmac, stared into the sun and attempted to pick out the bird from the Meadow Pipits hiding among the tussocks. Finally the Red-throated Pipit gave itself up. Such a striking and beautiful bird.

Red-throated Pipit, Chisworth, Derbyshire - Monday 4th May, 2015

The bird had a plain rusty-red face, throat and upper breast, and a streaky crown. It had an unmarked off-white belly, whereas the flanks were gleaming white, with clear dark streaking. The mantle was also streaked, with two clear pale braces down the back (not unlike the Pechora Pipit I saw on Unst last year).

Red-throated Pipit, Chisworth, Derbyshire - Monday 4th May, 2015

I was a joy to see such a fine example of this species, and so well. And to get a lifer too, of course... ;-)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Hudsonian Godwit, Meare Heath, Someset - Saturday 2nd May 2015

The one that didn't get away! This lovely American wader looked like being a one-day wonder, but eventually reappeared to give late-comers like me a chance to see it.

Hudsonian Godwit, Meare Heath, Somerset - Saturday 2nd May, 2015

It was originally found by Tom Raven on the Meare Heath part of Shapwick Heath NNR on the evening of Friday 24th April; but he understandably took time to check out the ID before releasing the news. Fortunately it was still present the following morning and Tom released the news early. Only the third for Britain - what a great find!

The bird stuck around until 16:15, giving birders from all over the country time to get there before it flew off. Unfortunately, I had house jobs and family commitments all day, plus I was leading an RSPB event the following day, so I wasn't likely to get to see it. I heard there were lots of disappointed birders on site the following morning; whereas I was at home preparing for the guided walk, just glad not to have made a wasted trip.

More RSPB duties meant I was at Leighton Moss on Wednesday 29th, when the bird reappeared at Meare Heath. Would it stay until the weekend? Probably not... So it was with some trepidation that Joel and I parked up at Shapwick around 06:15 on Saturday 2nd May and walked the short journey to Meare Heath. Plenty of birders present. Was it there...? Well, of course it was, or I wouldn't be writing this or putting these fantastic* photos on my blog (* sarcasm doesn't really work on the web, does it?).

The flock of 114 Black-tailed Godwits were sleeping at the back of the scrape. And there at the back of the group, mostly obscured from view, was a darker bird with its head tucked in - the Hudsonian Godwit. It was clearly different (though I knew it was there and what it was - so I'm not dissing the finder), but it when the flock was spooked that it really stuck out. Such a dark bird, black underwing, with a darker head, neck and breast, and barring all the way to the tail. It had a black tail with the white base, similar to the Black-tailed Godwits, and was roughly the same size, but otherwise it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Hudsonian Godwit, Meare Heath, Somerset - Saturday 2nd May, 2015

When feeding its darker appearance was also very striking, the barring giving it the appearance of an over-sized Stilt Sandpiper.

There was an abundance of otherwise difficult-to-see birds on show too. A Bittern, booming out in the open was a rare treat.

Bittern, Meare Heath, Somerset - Saturday 2nd May, 2015

Further treats were the several Great White Egrets, including a nice side-by-side comparison with a Little Egret, circa twelve Cetti's Warblers that we heard and occasionally saw, decent Garden Warbler views, hunting Marsh Harriers, singing Cuckoos, first Swifts of the year, and lots more besides.

Great White Egret, Meare Heath, Somerset - Saturday 2nd May, 2015

Marsh Harrier, Meare Heath, Somerset - Saturday 2nd May, 2015

The Hudsonian Godwit stuck around all weekend, being seen last on the evening of Sunday 3rd May, before the godwit flock left over night, presumably heading north towards Iceland.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Leighton Moss - Wednesday 29th April 2015

I had a day off work on Wednesday 29th April, which I spent at RSPB Leighton Moss. Not because I had any particular urge for a day out birding there, but to attend a Child Safeguarding course - one of the conditions of my role as a leader of a RSPB kids wildlife explorer group, called Airedale Otters.

Of course, there wasn't anything stopping me checking out the reserve before and after the course, especially as a Pied-billed Grebe was being reported regularly from the Lower Hide. So I arrived nice and early and made my way down to the Lower Hide, being greeted by some of the tamest birds I'd ever met.

Female Mallard, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

Female Common Pheasant, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

Male Common Pheasant, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

I'd visited here a few times as a child, as it was one of the nearest RSPB reserves to where I grew up, and had never been disappointed. As soon as I set foot on the reserve I heard a Cetti's Warbler singing from cover, at the top of the causeway - not a bad start. Unfortunately, a windy hail storm blew up soon after, and so the Goldcrests and Reed and Sedge Warblers were all singing from deep cover too. Most things were. I got some decent views of a Marsh Harrier hunting over the reeds, but the birds were quiet and hidden, and I only had limited time.

I arrived at the Lower Hide, and the only occupant told me the Pied-billed Grebe was showing well just to the right. Only, it had just dived and hadn't yet resurfaced. Ninety minutes later and it still hadn't resurfaced... Ah well.

It wasn't all wasted time: I'd had some great views of hunting Sparrowhawk, more Marsh Harrier action, fantastic displays of hirundines over the water, and plenty of calling warblers (Reed, Sedge, Willow, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, etc). I had to leave for my course, and thought I'd head back down afterwards.

I arrived back at the hide around 16:30 to be told the star bird hadn't show all day. Ho hum. Fortunately, it wasn't a lifer (for that, see my first ever blog post), so I wasn't too downhearted, plus there was an Otter feeding straight out from the hide. I've seen lots in Scotland, but I can't ever recall seeing an Otter in England (I've found plenty of spraints!), so I spent most of the next hour or so watching it.

It was busy diving and hunting for the whole time, putting in so much effort, making very hard to photograph. It was underwater for most of the time. The glossy sheen of its wet fur made it look more like a fish than mammal, as it twisted in the water, only occasionally breaking the surface. Whatever it was catching must have been small. Everything was chewed and gulped down in a couple of seconds. It didn't bringing any prey to the shore, as I've seen in Scottish sea lochs.

European Otter, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

As the sun crept lower, I called in at Lillian's Hide. A group of 30 Black-tailed Godwits flew in and started feeding at the back. I checked them for the Hudsonian Godwit that had been in Somerset at the weekend (at this point, with my phone out of juice, I didn't know it had returned). There were a couple of Avocets on the furthest island, and a small party of Ruff were feeding in the shallow water to my right. The highlight was this fantastic male Garganey, dabbling away in the sunshine to the left of the hide. My best and most prolonged views of this species.

Male Garganey, Leighton Moss, Lancashire - Wednesday 29th April, 2015

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Great Blue Heron, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

Well now, this turned out to be quite a twitch - epic even - with lots of luck, discomfort and despair doled out along the way. But, more of that later, because the bird was the star of the show.

 Great Blue Heron, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

The Great Blue Heron, found on 14th April by Ashley Fisher on St Mary's, had seemingly developed a reliable pattern which included at least some time feeding on the Big Pool on Bryher each afternoon. The bird did exactly that on Thursday 23rd April, flying in from the direction of Tresco around 12:40pm. It put on a good show, and I make no apologies for posting all these photos and video.

 Great Blue Heron, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

Initially quite wary, it soon ventured out from the small inlet it was hiding in and went fishing around the margins of the Big Pool beside the Hell Bay Hotel. It was a very striking bird: very dark compared to our clearly smaller Grey Herons, the first-winter bird looking more like a large juvenile Purple Heron. The neck, breast, wings, and back were a dark grey, with a purple-ish sheen in places (cf Purple Sandpiper). As the wind lifted the feathers, lovey buff, white, and rusty orange feathers were revealed. The head was perhaps the most Grey-Heron-like feature, being white with pale grey areas and slate grey lines, but the bill was humongous!

 Great Blue Heron, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

I've seen a couple of Great Blue Herons in the USA before (both adults), but this bird seemed very large in the context of the UK. It appeared to carry itself differently to Grey Herons. The yellow legs were very long, making huge strides around the pond. The leg length was accentuated by the bird keeping its body hunched up while walking. The head was carried slightly to the side of the coiled neck.

The bird didn't appear immediately (see below) and so me and the other eight or so birders on the island searched the nearby creeks and shoreline. There were a few Northern Wheatears passing through, and I was chuffed to stumble across a Wryneck sticking close to a male Wheatear.

 Northern Wheatear and Wryneck, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

Our main focus was the heron, but we also picked out a Little Egret was in Popplestone Bay, a Ringed Plover in Great Bay and Common Sandpiper in Stinking Bay, along with the ubiquitous Oystercatchers. Swallows and Sand Martins were everywhere, and a Common Whitethroat and Whinchat were in the scrubby areas around the pond. Linnets and House Sparrows fed in the grass beside the hotel. On the way to the boat to get back to St Mary's we had great views of a Tree Pipit as it fed on the short grass.

  Ringed Plover, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

Periwinkles and Topshells, Rushy Bay, Bryher, Isles of Scilly - Thursday 23rd April 2015

Fortunately, the only dip we had was in the sea to wade out to the dinghy...

The trip hadn't all been plain sailing though. Far from it. The bird's movements had been a bit random at times during the previous week, and some birders had dipped and had to make a second trip. This, and confusion over whether I and/or the two other crew members (Don and Dave) could get out of our respective work commitments, meant we all ended up on different flights. Me on the 08:30 from Newquay, and Dave and Don on the 08:30 and 10:10 from Land's End respectively.

After work on Wednesday I met up with Dave in Huddersfield, and we set off around 18:30. We met Don along the M6, and transferred to his car. I figured we'd stop at Exeter services and have a kip, before pushing on to Land's End, dropping me off at Newquay en route. Well, we sailed past Exeter before any of us noticed, and by the time we did it was too far to go back. The other two wanted to get to Penzance before having a snooze, so they dropped me off in Newquay at 02:00. Hmmm, can't say I was massively happy with them about that. The airport was closed (and on a cold, windy hill top) so staying in the town was my best bet. No hotel would let me in their foyer, so in the end I braved the odd encounter with local drunk teenagers and spent the night in the doorway of the police station and later the railway station platform. Ho hum.

This wasn't a new experience for me. In my younger days I frequently found myself in this situation when following bands (and sometimes when I was actually in the bands), when money had run out, or plans failed, or I missed a train or coach. I've hitched the all over the UK, and slept (well, generally not slept) in a few bus and rail stations, at motorway services, and on the odd park bench, or doorway or under a tree. But I'm older now, and I didn't like it!

We met up at St Mary's airport at 09:15, Don having got a cancellation on the 08:30 flight. The first boat to Bryher was at 10:15, and the timetable claimed the last boat back that connected with the Scillonian left at 14:30. So, only around three and a half hours on Bryher... But, once on the boat we were told there would be no 14:30 service because of the low tide. and another boat was being laid on instead 12:15. What?!! We'd have 75 minutes on Bryher, and, given the quays were on the eastern side while the bird preferred the western side, we'd have 45 minutes to find and observe it! That's if it was even on Bryher!!

The skipper said he couldn't arrange a later boat. A few phones calls to boat operators later and we were resigned to our fate. To make matters worse, there had been no reports from anywhere. The heron just had better be on Bryher already, or our trip was doomed. I had a bad feeling about this.

Only around eight birders got off at Bryher and made the dash over to Popplestone Bay. We scanned every likely spot, and after 30 minutes or so, with the clock ticking down, despondency started to set in. Yes, it was nice to find a few migrants, but I didn't come all that way just to find a Wryneck!

The time came and we had to make our way to Anneka's Quay. I watched the skies all the way, hoping the bird would fly in from Tresco... but, nope.

The Golden Spray arrived and we prepared to board. Quite a few birders got off, and just as I was climbing aboard one shouted "Heron! Flying in!". I spun round and desperately tried to get on to it. Two distant dots - a gull and something larger - dropped down behind the hill, heading towards the Big Pool. Some guys had got on to it, many hadn't, and no one had tickable views. Arse! So close!

The newly arrived birders set off to claim their likely prize, while we trudged back to the boat, feeling absolutely crap. Dave and I had to be in work the following day, and there was simply no way we could stay on the islands. Then, just as we were boarding, the skipper shouted up the quay to the late-comers, "Don't forget, the last boat from Bryher to connect with the Scillonian will be at 15:00 from Rushy Bay." Eh, what?! Another boat?! How come?! What were we waiting for?!!

Despite the lack of sleep and being the last to set off, the three of us ran like the wind and were the first to arrive at Big Pool. And... there it was! An absolute peach. Victory from the jaws of defeat! I'd never felt so relieved when connecting with a bird. I spent the next two hours with a massive grin on my face, and could now properly appreciate the beauty of the place. The sun came out, and after getting our fill of the bird, I sat outside the Hell Bay Hotel with a pint, thinking how lucky I was. And even better, I could still see our American visitor as it hunted for fish on the Big Pool.

The view from Hell Bay Hotel with the Great Blue Heron across the pool

We had along but happy journey home. We saw a couple of Manx Shearwaters and a Basking Shark from the Scillonian, before I had my snooze. And we had time to pop to Jubilee Pool to see the Purple Sandpipers on the rocks (probably the same Purps I saw back in January) before the long drive north.

Purple Sandpiper, Penzance, Cornwall - Thursday 23rd April 2015