Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Reed Bunting Patch First!! (31st December)

A brilliant round off to the year on one of my regular dog walks behind the RSSKL farmland.  Like most of the UK, numbers of farmland species are dwindling fast but today was not such a day.  After crossing the A41 bridge and walking south towards Middle Farm, I stumbled across a female REED BUNTING sitting in the hedge!  This was a patch first for me!!!  Wow!!!  Shortly after finding it, it flew a short way down the hedgerow, crossed the path and came to land in a dense patch of weeds were it didn't re-emerge.

Moving on, I came to the southern extent of my patch (the farmland bordering the northern side of Berrybushes Wood) to see a big flock of Yellowhammer fly in, I was overjoyed to say the least!  Given that I rarely see more than two on a usual patch visit, such a large flock was unprecedented and in amongst them was a prob second Reed Bunting.  This was patching at its best!

The neighbouring field held a total of 6 red list species feeding together and highlighted the importance of this habitat to them.  The mixed flock included good numbers of Fieldfare, Redwing, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Starling and a Reed Bunting, this is what patching is all about for me.  Rewarding top quality Birding!

Apologies for the number of exclamation marks, I'm just glad I ended this year on such a high!

Happy New Year to you all!!!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Wow! and Wow!! (27th December)

Down to Devon!

Brixham Harbour

The White billed Diver was first on the agenda and thanks to a lift from Josh Jones, a group of four of us (including fellow young birders Daniel and James) we found ourselves at Brixham harbour at first light.  A brief search from the harbour wall was soon put to a stop as a call came through on the opposite side of the harbour with claims that the bird was showing nicely from their side.  Making our way round, I only just missed it by a minute before a grueling half hours search ensued as we chased around the harbour in search of it.  Eventually, all of us were finally treated to the WHITE-BILLED DIVER as it popped up in the very centre of the harbour!!  Brilliant!!!

Far from what I had anticipated, this wasn't just a GND with a huge white bill but an entirely different character with a stunning bulging white throat pattern ad an immediate paleness that stood out just as obviously as other Black-throated Divers also venturing around the harbour.

the White-billed Diver!!!

At one point we found ourselves stunned with exceptional views as it emerged from the water barely feet away showing off brilliantly before repeatedly diving again.

A Long-tailed Duck just outside the harbour wall was an added bonus and one of the guys next to me called out a surprise "shearwater!".  I was the only one who heard him and it certainly paid off as a Balearic Shearwater circled into the harbour entrance before banking and leaving as quickly as it had come.

Next stop Portland Harbour for our second target bird of the day.  After a nerve racking journey, involving more than our fair share of traffic, we skidded into the car park and joined the dwindling masses on the seafront.  There was plenty of action to be had and a hundred odd were still jogging up and down the path chasing after the guille.  I hadn't even set up my tripod when the BR√úNNICH'S GUILLEMOT burst the surface of the water and yet another swathe of people lunged its way.  The sense of excitement could be felt throughout the crowd and it was certainly a very enjoyable twitch.

As an added bonus, the majority of the crowd watched the bird in relative silence instead of loud voices boasting to one another about the last time they saw X species on X date in X conditions so it was great to see the assembled birders actually enjoying the Arctic stunner!

In fact, it was rather fun following it's feeding habits as it ventured up and down the harbour affording some excellent views to start.  A short burst of rain and a brief gust of wind didn't suit the bird as it went missing for a while before (thankfully) re-appearing where it continued to put on a good performance albeit a little more distantly.

Br√ľnnich's Guillemot!

A couple other good birds to be had in Dorset too, including a Black-throated Diver, dozens of Red-breasted Mergansers and a GLOSSY IBIS in Weymouth en route back home.

Glossy Ibis in Weymouth

Ivory!!! (21st December)

A twitch up to Yorkshire with Brendan, Dave and Chris in the driver's seat.  A couple hours in the car there was certainly worth the effort once we arrived and thanks to a couple stops on the way our legs still stayed alive and manged to walk us the final 1.5km to the pumping station.

It was here that we set eyes on one of the most fantastic gulls I've seen to date, a 1st winter IVORY GULL!!!  The brisk breeze did make viewing a little difficult so I worked my way to the front of the crowd and plonked my scope on the floor where I managed to steady myself and gain some more decent views.  None the less, it remained almost directly between us and the sun so a silhouette was the best we could manage and it spent the majority of its time preening its backside, which I must admit became rather dull to watch.

this Ivory Gull spent one and three quarter hours scratching its backside...

...but occasionally did this

Eventually... after an hour and three quarters, our wait paid off and it took to the air, did a brilliant flypast and to the glee of all those assembled, it came to land slap bang in amongst the rotting fish that had been generously donated to it.  As with all wildlife, it took full advantage of the situation and showed off for a good few minutes guzzling several chunks of fish down before it departed again to sit at the side of the estuary.

eventually some closer views

Job well done!

Next stop was Hornsea Mere to catch up with the recently reported phalarope.  It was only after a few minutes after our arrival that the shout went up and sure enough, flying straight towards us, was a GREY PHALAROPE!  It did the decent think and landed directly infront of the assembled group of scopes and cameras and performed well for a couple minutes before taking flight and landing back on the other side of the reservoir.  Other goodies included 2 Great White Egrets and numerous Goldeneye.

Grey Phalarope

Great White Egret

Many many thanks as usual to Chris for the driving!!

Birthday Birding (19th December)

I've just turned 21 and there was nothing I wanted to do more than go and revisit my old haunt, the Tring Res's!  I got dropped off at Wilstone Reservoir where I spent my time locating and watching the Water Pipit followed by the Little Stint on the spit.  Other than these two species there was little else to catch up on so it was off to the hide for a little relaxing birding which involved checking through the Golden Plover and Lapwing flocks (both numbering into the hundreds).

Water Pipit

Little Stint

A Black-tailed Godwit in front of the hide was a nice surprise and the usual wintering species littered the reservoir, including Goldeneye, Snipe, Water Rail and a Kingfisher.

As the afternoon wore on, I made a trip over to Marsworth and Startop's End Reservoir where a small group of us assembled on the causeway where we were treated to the awesome spectacle of the Starling murmuration.  It was a brilliant way to end the day and my birthday!

Starling murmuration over Marsworth Reservoir

Friday, 27 December 2013

KL Patch Stuff (17th December)

Not very much to report at all recently on patch but the Little Owl has been showing well despite the poor weather and Red Kites are still much in evidence.

patch Little Owl

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Transition from Cornwall to Herts (13-15th December)

I was still taking in the last of the Cornish scenery on the 13th December as Dan and I went on a brief drive up the road to Mylor Churchtown to collect seaweed for the allotments.  This gave us the excuses to check out the Carrick Roads which rewarded us with a decent sized feeding flock of 35+ Black-necked Grebes (the largest single group I have seen to date!)  I also managed to locate a single Slavonian Grebe amongst them.  The rest was rather more distant but included a nice selection of 7 Red-breasted Mergansers (3 males), 2 Great Northern Divers a Razorbill feeding close offshore and 9 Common Scoter.

Dan had discovered a decent flock of 400+ Linnets earlier in the week so we decided on checking that out again.  The walk to Gorrangoras from the bottom of Penryn yeilded a rather reduced flock of c.100 Linnet interspersed with Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and a hunting Sparrowhawk.

I managed to finish the day off at Mabe where we enjoyed a brief scan through the large flocks of Chaffinches and Linnets in search of Brambling but to no avail.  It was time for me to head to Uni whilst Dan continued to the res's (were he later found a patch mega: Shelduck!)

The 14th was predominantly spent on the train back to London for the winter holidays.  I rather enjoy passing through the Somerset Levels as the extensive rivers, marshes and arable fields host a massive amount of wildfowl (although not all are IDable from the train).  The highlight was a rather conveniently obvious drake Goosander that was drifting up a stream somewhere in the middle of nowhere!

Back in Herts and it was straight out onto the Kings Langley patch on the 15th.  Despite the rain and overcast conditions I took the long route down past Langley Lodge and back via Balls Pond Farm.  2 Yellowhammers were still hanging on but I was far happier to see good numbers of Fieldfare kicking about the area.  Flocks of 30-50 birds seemed to be erupting from most woodland coppices!  As I was heading back to Langley Lodge, a single flyover Raven cronked overhead and the usual Little Owl was in it's hollow sleeping.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Good ol' Fashioned Birding (28th November-11th December)

No updates recently as I've been too busy birding.  I haven't been off patch since dipping the Pacific Diver so walking around the same coastal stretch on a near daily basis is getting a little tedious and things are really grinding to a halt.

None the less, I've seen the campus Black Redstart a couple times before it made a disappearance for a couple days (along with a late flypast Small Tortoiseshell on the 30th November).  2 Dippers have also been great entertainment just outside the campus limits (although still audible from the campus grounds).  I even heard one in full song on the 30th November!  A 1st win. Mediterranean Gull also circled over campus a couple days back and a brief excursion down to Swanpool Point led to my discovery of a pod of 4 Common Dolphins offshore on the 28th November!  I also heard a Whimbrel calling over Swanpool whilst walking down through Swanvale on the 10th Decemeber.

my first bird pic taken with my new Nikon D3200, a Dipper! 

Besides numerous visits to the coast, I've also been inland a couple times and a brief visit to College and Argal produced little other than a single Marsh Tit and this hybrid Scaup x Pochard.

hybrid Scaup x Pochard (Pochard-like head shape and black tip to the bill extending beyond the nail suggest this can't be a pure Scaup)

patch tick Marsh Tit!

Mediterranean Gulls have been an almost daily occurrence down on the coast (and I'm regularly encountering 3 separate birds) but I've focused the majority of my attention on the numerous Herring Gulls that fly over the bay and out to sea to roost.  I've put my new Nikon D3200 to the test and have been photographing primary patterns of hundreds of individuals which has led to my discovery of a fair number of odd individuals highlighting the full potential of the word "variability".

Some of the more interesting facts and features have been the large number of argenteus with full white P10 tips as well as a fair majority sporting only a faint hint of a P10 band.  Some adults/sub-adults have had the occasional P5 band and most bizarre of all a 1st win Herring with a substantially paler double banded tail!

full white P10 tip and a weak P6 band point towards argentatus primary pattern although it's still more likely to be an argenteus (opinions welcome!)

here's one with a  P5 band!  probs inheritance from a younger generation.  I can't find a P9 mirror so this is a good support for a sub-adult option.

more variation showing the entire lack of a P10 band, rather contary to the usual argenteus

1st winter Herring Gull tail pushing variability to the extreme!

The AK Wildlife trips have been fairly productive lately too with an uncommon Common Seal being one of the highlights!  Grey Seal numbers have also swelled to a good dozen individuals and our team of volunteers are continuing to do a good job of data collection on their habits, distribution and numbers.

Grey Seal taking the lazy attitude to life

Common Seal at Killigerran Head (a rare sight in Cornwall)

Patching has also involved closely studying the local Rock Pipit population, most of which I suspect are winter visitors from further east as they appear to show several features relating to littoralis.

A trip down to the Lizard today with Dan was a great excuses to leave the patch and set eyes on some other scenery for which I was more than grateful.  Our WeBS count constituted a visit to Helston Boating lake (incorporating the nearby sewage-works), Loe Pool, Hayle Kimbro and Croft Pasco.  The former yielded the usual long-staying Whooper Swan with the nearby sewage works attracting the beginnings of the annual influx of Chiffchaffs.  Loe Pool was a little more exciting as I found a Bittern perched half way up the reeds.  A total of 5 Goosander (4 females, 1 male) also hit the highlights.  A weirdly patterned tail on a Great Black-backed Gull also grabbed my attention but not long enough to get a photo so I'll try and set that out of my mind...

Bittern at Loe Pool

thousands and thousands of small fish sp.

By far my favourite experience this month was trudging across the open moorland on the barren Lizard peninsula where Dan and I experienced some top quality birding.  Although neither rare or scarce, the 3 Whooper Swans that met our eyes on Hayle Kimbro represented one of my favourite moments in a long long time.  The pure magic of watching them trumpeting together in the middle of a small pool on the wide expanse of the open moorland was brilliant.  It was as if I was transported thousands of miles away back to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic.  The birding ideal was made all the more impressionable with a hunting Peregrine stooping in to have a fleeting chase with the flock of Wigeon and when finally settled, we picked out a single Pintail among them.

very early frogspawn at the Lizard!

Croft Pasco also rewarded us with a distant Peregrine and a second raptor sat on a distant rock just breaking the horizon.  Hinting as to what it might be, we invested a considerable amount of effort stumbling and falling our way across the moor towards the small spot on the horizon and on eventually reaching it, within a couple hundred meters, our reward was a scope full of grass, rock, lichen and a stonking Merlin!



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

More Patch Birding + a dip (17-27th November)

I've been out patching a couple times.  The highlights being on a trip over to the Roseland on the 23rd for an attempt at the Pacific Diver.  Despite having been seen every day for the past week, the day I went to visit there was no sign.  Typical!  The next day it was back...

I did see a couple other bits and pieces, including 1 Red-necked Grebe, at least 1 Slavonian Grebe, 5 Black-necked Grebes and half a dozen Great Northern Divers and similar numbers of Black-throated Divers.  In fact, I almost got fed up with searching through the divers for the umpteenth time, despite them being one of my favourite bird families.  A couple Common Scoter, and yet another Great Northern Diver in the Carrick Roads did break the day up.

Red-necked Grebe in Gerrans Bay

A quick nip down to Swanpool on the 19th still yielded the Kingfisher, 4 Ringed Plover, 6 Turnstone, 2 Stonechat and 3 Rock Pipits (all possibly littoralis).

"my" beautiful Fal patch

I also managed to catch up with the campus Black Redstart on the 25th and 27th November around the ESI building and jammed in on a single nearby Dipper twice in the past month.

phone-bin shot of the campus Black Redstart

Volunteering on board Free Spirit was another treat as we set of towards Gerrans Bay.  Although we didn't see the Pacific Diver we did have flight views of 2 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Purple Sandpipers at St Anthony's Head and a silhouetted view of what appeared to be a Wheatear sp. perched at the edge of the cliff also at St Anthony's Head just south of the lighthouse!  Commoner species included 2 Ravens, Kittiwakes, Mediterranean Gulls and a couple Grey Seals that the crew and I are studying and monitoring closely.

Gull Rock in the sun!

I'll leave you with this Buzzard and a rather unusual Shag which I photographed on the 21st at Pennance Point whilst walking the coastal footpath with my friend Matt.  It struck me immediately as a very pale bird and having heard of the Mediterranean race I decided to check it out a little more closely.  Quite a few useful comments on Bird Forum suggesting this may well be a leucistic bird instead http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=2875806

leucistic Shag?  Opinions gratefully appreciated

Buzzard at Pennance Point

Monday, 18 November 2013

Winter birding begins in Falmouth (9th-17th November)

I've been out patching a couple times recently and it's quite evident that numbers of winter visitors are flooding into the county.  It was a slow start on the 9th with only a couple of noteworthy species including Mediterranean Gulls, 1 Whimbrel and 5 Great Northern Divers on the seawatch.  2 auk sp. also flew westwards.

I didn't feel like repeating last weeks dip of the WRSands at Hayle so went patching again (surprise surprise).  It was still relatively rewarding and I encountered my first 2 Purple Sandpipers on patch for the winter down at Pendennis Point.  4 Great Northern Divers were also distributed around the bay and 2 Red Admirals were still on the wing!

1 of 2 Purple Sandpipers at Pendennis Point

The 12th experienced an increase in auk movement with 26+ flying west past Pendennis.  2 Common Gulls (ironically, an uncommon bird for the area) also flew up the Carrick Roads and there were good numbers of Gannets offshore.

A quick check of the patch again with Matt.  We were lucky enough to encounter 3 littroalis Rock Pipits on Swanpool Beach (despite considerable disturbance).  One of which still had remnants of a pinkish chest although this isn't noticeable in the picture.  A Kingfisher at Swanpool was also an exceptional sighting as it's the first one I've seen since patching the area.  After the original adults on site died out over a year ago, they haven't been replaced until now so fingers crossed this one sticks around and finds a mate. 

littoralis Rock Pipit on Swanpool Beach.  This one did have the remains of a pinkish chest but unfortunately this isn't visible in the pic.  The obvious supercilium is though

The 16th was somewhat more exciting as I was out volunteering on board the AK Wildlife cruises.  We headed for Gerrans Bay, where we encountered an impressive 14+ Great Northern Divers, 1 Black-throated Diver (no Pacific unfortunately).  I also picked up on a male Black Redtstart perched on one of the tug boats in the docks just as we casted off.  2 Purple Sandpipers at St Anthony's Head along with a Peregrine added to the days total.  We also encountered 8+ Grey Seals and even a Common Seal, in the Carrick Roads (a very unusual record for this part of Cornwall).  Lots of Mediterranean Gulls also between Pendennis and Gerrans along with good numbers of Kittiwakes, 2 Balearic Shearwaters west through the bay and a Guillemot on the sea.

one of my utmost favourites, Great Northern Divers!

From the entrance of the Carrick Roads, we worked our way northwards, heading up the River Fal towards Truro.  On route, we were very lucky to encounter a large feeding flock numbering no less than 27 Black-necked Grebes!  They were all diving/surfacing almost simultaneously so counting them was fairly straightforward but checking through the flock proved a little more difficult.  However, I still manged to pick out a single Slavonian Grebe.  14 Red-breasted Mergansers also in the Roads was an added bonus and I got a short view of a hunting Peregrine as it grabbed its prey in flight before dropping it and continuing south towards the Roseland.  Other sightings include 1 Common Sandpiper along with plenty of other waders at the northern end of the creek.

2 Great Northern Divers

a fraction of the feeding group of 27 Black-necked Grebes!

In all, a very enjoyable trip that really proved to me that winter was well a truly on its way.

Yesterday started with some moth trapping over at College and Argal.  Admittedly, I was still half asleep and we didn't catch much but the early start bridged me over to my bird trip later that afternoon.  I was secretly glad that no-one turned up (thanks to my halfhearted attempt at publicising the event) so I made my way to Flushing alone.

Patching was certainly a treat as I had great views of a stunning Firecrest (my first on patch for the winter)!  It took me several hours to get to Trefusis Point and scrambling over the rocky shore was nothing short of exhausting but patching is always rewarding whatever the results as I always get a sense of achievement at the end of the day.  1 Great Northern Diver in the Carrick Roads was my reward at making it to the Point along with a single Whimbrel.

Whimbrel at Gorrangorras

I also found my first Fieldfare of the winter skulking in the graveyard along with numerous other winter thrushes.  On my way back, walking through Flushing, I picked up on a classic "tseehwee" Yellow-browed Warbler call coming from a pair of fruit trees surrounded by housing!  I searched the two trees thoroughly and got plenty of odd looks from the locals staring at me from their windows.  I didn't get much of an opportunity to track the bird down as I was soon distracted by a couple old guys asking what I was looking for.  I eventually broke away and searching the tree more again, I noticed a plastic owl sp. had been placed in the tree (with the intention of spooking birds from the area).  This was probably the reason for the incessant YBW-like calling.  None the less I didn't locate or hear the bird again after the interruption from the locals and I could only find a single Coal Tit and Great Tit hopping around the tree.  Was I just fooled by the incredible works Great Tit mimicry?

Today's birding with Matt consisted of a short walk around College Reservoir, incorporating the dam at the northern end of Argal.  Very little of note and the continuous light drizzle wasn't very encouraging.  8 Curlew on the surrounding farmland were the highlight.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Recent Patching (7th and 8th November)

The past two days on patch have been fairly decent and I've made a couple visits down to Swanpool, Swanvale and the neighbouring coastline in the early morning before lectures and late afternoon.  I've only managed to squeeze in a couple daylight hours either side of lectures but Thursday's visit was still relatively eventful as I located 5 Mediterranean Gulls in Swanpool car park, including my personal highlight a 1st winter bird with a green colour ring on it's right tarsus and the standard metal BTO ring on the other.  However, I was rather disappointing that I couldn't read the number as I am keen to see if the influxs that occur here are boosted by numbers from the continent.  Moving on, I finally managed to locate my first 2 Great Northern Diver of the winter close inshore at Pennance Point (a winter and adult sum plum bird).  2 Water Rail at Swanvale and some Chiffchaffs also pushed the day up a notch.

After lectures, I headed back down to the coast, this time with Matt, and whilst scanning the bay, Matt suddenly picked up on a small pod of dolphins moving through the bay!  Sure enough, we were treated to great views totaling 7 Bottlenose Dophins!  The pod of three eventually moved around to Gylly where we encountered a the second pod of four all performing brilliantly with one individual even swimming on it's back and jostling the others in its group.  They truly are a social animal.  2 Great Northern Divers were also in Falmouth Bay.

Today started out rather damp and drizzly as I made my way down to Pennance Point for some sea-watching.  It was uncomfortable to say the least to sit on the slippery wet rocks at the edge of the cliff but viewing conditions were as close to perfect as they would get for finding cetaceans.  Sadly no dolphins this time but 2 Harbour Porpoises made up for this.  I also logged a total of 4 Great Northern Divers in the bay, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a flypast Peregrine

Stringy White-rumps (3rd November)

With up to three White-rumped Sands being reported at Hayle in the past couple days, I finally had the opportunity to go twitch them on the Sunday.  I arrived with no sign of the birds but wasn't too concerned as there was a good possibility they were up the road at Copperhouse Creek.  I didn't see much in my initial scan from The Causeway other than a single Mediterranean Gull and the usual selection of wildfowl and waders.  On my walk towards Copperhouse some bloke shouted to me from his car.  I assumed he said they had been relocated at Copperhouse and sure enough as I finally approached the Creek, the heart warming words of "it's just over there" met my ears.  The assembled bunch of rather grumpy birders didn't do much to help me get on the two birds but I soon located them myself.

Unfortunately, even from my first impressions, the two birds they claimed were juv. WRSands were nothing but two Dunlin.  Having no experience of the former, I would be rather surprised if the reported yanks could truly look as much like Dunlin as these did.  I tentatively suggested this to the group of birders but all were too keen on bagging a stringy tick.  Without flight views I was still unsatisfied to call the birds either way so I stood in the pouring rain with my eye glued to the scope waiting for them to fly.  After an exhausting wait they finally flew but views were still insufficient for me to be certain so I finally dismissed them as Dunlin.

the birds claimed are the two on the right.  I'll leave you to see if you think they might be WRSands

There was a chance the real WRSs had been pushed up towards The Causeway as the tide was coming in fast so I retraced my steps back to Ryan's Field but there was no sign of any there either.  Once again, I trudged back to Copperhouse Creek and as the rain came gushing down I relocated both of them again in the fading light.  They did fly on two or three occasions but still not giving decent hind views.  They did in fact come to roost a couple dozen meters from were I was stood but even so it was neigh on impossible to pick them out thanks to the rain, strong wind and darkness so I gave up and left...