Tuesday 29 December 2015

Review of 2015

My year list total for 2015 is 276

I added fifteen new birds to the life list to move that to 366
The new birds were

The best twitch amongst these would have to be the Crag Martin as the massed crowd let out a cry of joy as the bird finally showed itself. The worst without doubt the Lady Amherst which underlines all that is wrong with this crazy hobby with a gathered crowd standing for hours to hear or maybe see a slight movement or in my case a head of the bird. It really had me doubting the sanity of what we do but then days like my trip to Iona for Corncrake come along and remind us of the pleasure the hobby can bring in seeing great places, meeting like minded people and seeing some great birds along the way.

The bird of the year would have to be the Merlin at Elmley that just posed superbly for the camera but last weeks Hoopoe would be a close candidate too.

Merlin at Elmley
Hoopoe at Hinksford
My birding travels took me to Scotland twice where as mentioned above I enjoyed my first trip to Iona and a terrific encounter with my first Corncrake and my first trip to Applecross gave great views of Ptarmigan.

Corncrake Iona
Ptarmigan at Applecross
I have a few big holes in the year list which include Jack Snipe, Nightjar, Velvet Scoter, Capercaillie, Black-winged Stilt, Pomarine Skua, Chough, Mealy Redpoll, Lapland Bunting and Cirl Bunting. All birds I could and should have connected with but didn't make enough effort.

Still no Sooty, (I missed ten at Dunge by a few minutes on 28th Dec.) Great or Cory's Shearwater on the list and I'm still waiting to connect with a Tawny Pipit.
Despite staying in Strontian for a week I failed to find the Black Duck so that's still missing from the life list and I keep looking at the Pacific Diver in Cornwall but it's a fair way outside my two hour rule so this may be missing for a while yet.

Whilst work pays the bills and funds my birding trips it also prevents me dropping everything and dashing off for anything within my two hour rule with the biggest casualty of this in 2015 being the Acadian Flycatcher at Dunge. (Big regret) Other misses this year included Hudsonian Godwit at Meare Heath (stretching the two hours a bit but a bird I should have gone for) The Terek Sandpiper at Pagham, Radde's Warbler at Holkham, Black-eared Wheatear at Acres Down (Went a day late) Moltoni's Warbler at Blakeney and the Citril Finch at Holkham.

But I did add fifteen new birds in twelve months which wasn't a bad return for my efforts and I'd gladly take that next year as I chase down the magic 400 (366 plus 15 = 381) could 2017 be the year I make 400?

The plan for next year is to simply get out as much as possible, see as much as possible and yes I'll be year listing starting in Norfolk on 1st January. My main targets for the year are the three missing Shearwaters so I plan a late August trip to Cornwall in an attempt to finally add these to the life list.
The year will also be remembered for the 500 plus Yellow Wagtails on a visit to Dunge, the huge fall of Goldcrests whilst at Landguard along with the arrival of Short-eared Owls whilst at Holland Haven and a Little Auk that dropped into Salthouse pond as I was driving by proving that you just need to get out there and you will see stuff!

Little Auk at Salthouse
Thanks for reading my ramblings and here's wishing everybody a healthy and happy 2016. 

Tree Sparrows at Bempton given Photo of the week on Birdguides.
And my personal favorite image from 2015

Monday 28 December 2015

Capel Fleet, Elmley and Dunge

A nice bright forecast had me heading down to Kent today.
I arrived at Capel Fleet at first light and watched first a Barn Owl then a larger Owl hunt from the watch point. In the half light it was difficult to call it from SEO or LEO. As the light improved the Harriers started to leave the roost with a count of fourteen Marsh and a single Hen (Ringtail)
The majority of harriers lifted straight up to gain height and then drifted straight over me towards Elmley and Oare. Two Marsh and the Hen Harrier lingered to hunt over the Capel Fleet area along with a couple of Common Buzzards.  A count of twenty plus Corn Bunting flitted between the overhead wires and some seed on the road and were joined by several Red-legged Partridge taking advantage of the free meal. Large groups of Starling flew around the mound and a Cetti's Warbler sang from nearby bushes.

Marsh Harrier
From Capel Fleet I moved on to Elmley and a drive down to the barn and back gave good views of several Marsh Harrier, three Common Buzzard and a nice Merlin. Again lots of Starling and good numbers of Fieldfare around. The ducks and waders are present but right at the back of the reserve and only evident when flushed by the passing Harriers when hundreds took to the skies in panic.

Marsh Harrier at Elmley
Marsh Harrier Elmley
Next stop was Dunge where I plotted up for a brief sea watch before sitting by the puddles to scan the gulls. I'd missed ten Sooty Shearwaters by arriving late but in the hour I watched I saw only Brent Geese, Wigeon, Guillemots, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Red-throated Diver and a single Bonxie.
At the puddles I quickly found the first winter Caspian Gull and enjoyed another hour with it.

Caspian Gull first winter Dungerness

Caspian Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull 
Jim and I visited Norfolk yesterday where we dipped on the Pallid Harrier but connected well with the Rough-legged Buzzard at Choseley. At Brancaster Staithe we watched two Short-eared Owls on the golf course but failed to find the Red-necked Grebe on this occasion. A quick stop at Thornham provided good views of a small group of Twite. Whilst waiting for the Harrier to show we had good numbers of Brambling in a huge finch flock and a Barn Owl hunted over the fields. Lot's of Common Buzzard around along with Red-legged Partridge. Muntjac and Roe Deer entertained along with several Hare and a Stoat while we waited in vain for the Pallid to arrive. Sods law the bird has showed well all day today!

Rough-legged record shot

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Caspian Gull at Dunge

A few more images of the 1st Winter bird found at Dunge on Saturday. One of at least two birds on site.

Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull 1st Winter
Caspian with Herring Gull
Caspian Gull
The Boss!
Caspian Gull

Norfolk again

We travelled up to Norfolk again today stopping first to check out the Iceland Gull at Kings Lynn docks and we spotted the bird from the car just sitting out on the waters edge from the car park area. (I thought I needed this for a year tick forgetting the one seen in April at Loch Garten) We watched the bird for an hour then headed off in search of the reported Red-rumped Swallow that the Jims needed for a life tick. We pulled up just before Lady Anne's drive and scanned the fields. I spotted a Swallow in the distance but it moved east at speed. Shortly after we connected with the Red-rumped and a single Swallow further down the A149 by the old farm buildings. The Bird showed really well to the small crowd and we had added entertainment when a Stoat chased a Rabbit all the way across the field.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull at Kings Lynn
Record shot of the Red-rumped Swallow
Stoat at Holkham
At Thornham we walked the sea wall all the way to the point stopping to watch a small gathering of Twite and a couple of Stonechat. At the point we found the three Shorelark but they remained distant and mobile.

Twite at Thornham

A brief stop at Brancaster Staithe to check on the Red-necked Grebe and grab a shot of an obliging Oystercatcher and we moved on to Titchwell where news came through that the Pallid Harrier had been seen again at Flitcham. We arrived at Flitcham just as the bird was lost to view and after an hour or more waiting we left without the target although we did see a few Grey Partridge and a Barn Owl here.


Year list now 276

Monday 21 December 2015

Hoopoe at Hinksford Staffordshire

With the winter solstice upon us I decided to brighten a dull day with a trip to Staffordshire for the wintering Hoopoe. I called the Jim's but shopping commitments prevented them joining me on this mornings trip. The 134 miles were covered without drama in around 2 hours ten minutes. I pulled up at the gates in Enville Road and walked to the top of the hill stopping to scan the fields at regular intervals. I'd climbed the hill and walked around without site so headed off back down the hill still scanning the ground and fence line for any movement. Just when I was beginning to think it would be mission impossible I noticed a small brown "blob" a few feet away in the grass and as I lifted my bins I knew it was the target. The bird sat less than ten feet from me and didn't move for a couple of minutes before deciding I wasn't a threat it started to feed happily for over an hour sitting briefly on the fence before dropping back to the ground to continue feeding. The crest only came up once whilst the bird was preening but I missed the shot. I did manage to get a couple of other guys on the bird but as the weather got worse the bird took flight to find cover from the wind and rain.
I was amazed at the tiny size of the Hoopoe having only seen them through long range scope views before having this one only a few feet away made it easier to scale. The bird was no bigger than a Starling.

Year list now 274

Good news from tomorrow the days get longer again.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Glossy Ibis at Petts Level

With 2015 almost over and having missed a couple of Glossy Ibis so far this year we decided to head down to Petts Level today hoping to connect with the wintering bird. We arrived at first light and quickly found the large flock of Coots that the Ibis has been keeping close to. Within a couple of minutes we spotted the target wondering around in the field and watched it for a couple of hours. Also seen here were a Barn Owl and a pair of Marsh Harrier along with the usual waders and ducks.

Glossy Ibis at Petts Level
Glossy Ibis in flight
Moving on to Dunge we entered the reserve and found the Long-eared Owl roosting in bushes at the back of the dipping pool. A great roost site as it a) gives everybody a chance to see it and b) keeps ever body at a decent distance so that the Owl can continue roosting without disturbance.

Long-eared Owl at Dungeness
In the hide we bumped into Martin C (of Acadian Flycatcher fame) and congratulated him on his success. Martin obliged by putting us onto a second winter Caspian Gull that was roosting out on the shingle. A cracking bird with the cleanest of clean heads.

2nd Winter Caspian Gull 
Our final stop was the fishing boats where we found a first winter Caspian Gull taking advantage of the bread being thrown by the locals. This bird was larger than our previous and bullied the other gulls taking most of the bread filling it's crop to bursting point. A cracking encounter with a short sea watch delivering just a few Red-throated Diver, Auks, Gannets and a Slav amongst the Great Crested Grebes for our trouble.

1st Winter Caspian Gull at the fishing boats Dunge!
Caspian Gull

Year list now 273

Thursday 17 December 2015

Quick Norfolk Tick trip

So with the year almost over we headed up to Norfolk this morning in the hope of adding a few year ticks which we've thus far failed to find this year. First stop was yet another try for Golden Pheasant at Wolferton. Sadly we didn't see any in an hours wait but did all connect with a calling male which despite being very close still didn't reveal itself.

Next stop was Snettisham RSPB where reports had dried up yesterday of the Pallid Harrier but with the old man needing it for a tick we headed off down the very muddy track for a couple of miles to the far end where we watched hundreds of Geese, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot and Shelduck come and go. A Marsh Harrier hunted along with a Sprawk.

We then stopped at Choseley drying barns where we quickly found one then another Rough-legged Buzzard. The birds showed really well in the valley below the barns along with several Hares and Red-legged Partridge. At Brancaster Staithe we connected with the wintering Red-necked Grebe. The harbour also held a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, Dunlin, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Redshank along with the usual Gulls.

Record shot of the Red-necked Grebe at Brancaster Staithe
At Titchwell we stopped to feed the car park Robin before walking to the sea and back. Lot's of Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Grebes floated by but otherwise the sea was very quiet. The reserve water levels are really high and as such wader numbers are also low. A pair of Bewick Swans, single Brambling and a Chinese Water Deer the highlights of a dull visit.

Record shot of the Grey Phalarope at Cley
A quick 18 mile drive halted briefly to check out a ringtail Harrier and we were standing on the Eastbank at Cley looking for the reported Grey Phalarope that had decided to go missing just as we arrived. While the small crowd scanned the fields I walked along to the far end where I found the little treasure and quickly got the other birders on it.
This was a real little gem very active and unlike most Phalaropes it waded along the waters edge feeding rather than spinning in deeper waters. Can't believe that's my first Grey of the year but it completed the trio of Red-necked and Wilson's so was a very welcome tick which takes the year list to a respectable 272.