Thursday, 31 January 2013

Godrevy (31st January)

After lecture today I bypassed the stream that runs past the campus on my way back to my flat, and am happy to report that both Dippers were still presnt!

 Carbis Bay

From the afternoon onwards, my course took me to the north coast of Cornwall, where we were kept busy with recording as many species of plant and animal as possible.  Obviously, this meant birding but a fair degree of plant ID was also squeezed in.  As well as sampling some rather disgusting mustard/petrol tasting Scurvy Grass, the group of us moved on further around the coastline to record Ravens, Gannets, Razorbills and Fulmars all in fairly good numbers.  A Kestrel also impressed the crowds by flying meters above our heads and best of all one of the lectures called a CHOUGH which came to land on the cliff edge giving good views as it probed through the thin soil.  Just below it was a colony of Grey Seals.

 Chough on the north coast!

 Grey Seal Colony


We watched these for some time before moving on to the small coastal brackish lagoons back near the car park where we noted 1 Curlew, 2 Shelduck, 1 Buzzard, more Stonechats, and a large mixed flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing at the brow of the hill.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Another Eco Soc Bird Trip (30th January)

Unfortunately, the Hayle trip had to be canceled but instead a small group of us keen birders decided to look for the Dippers on the local stream before heading off down towards Penryn Estuary.  Sadly, despite some effort wandering up and downstream we didn't connect with any.  Next, a bit of a walk down to the estuary where we were mildly rewarded with a couple of waders including Greenshank, Redshank, numerous Curlew and a flock of Turnstone.  A coupe of Little Egrets were also dotted around, including two on the farmland.  After some time of scanning the estuary, Lawrence suddenly realised there was a rather confiding drake Red-breasted Merganser swimming upstream which we had somehow overlooked.  Other species of note included 1 Grey Wagtail and a couple of Little Grebes in the distance.

I stopped of briefly by myself at the river again and sure enough both Dippers were still bobbing away happily a little further upstream than usual.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Double Dip (29th January)

I was down at Swanpool and Gylly Beach today doing beach surveys for my Environmental Science course so not much time for birding.  None the less a couple interesting birds, my favourites being c.10 Fulmar using the updrafts from the cliffs at Pennance Point and a flock of Gannets coming close inshore.  On the walk to Gylly a stunning adult male Black Redstart flew across the path, flashing its white wing panel and bright red tail at me before plunging behind a hedge into some lucky persons front garden.

Back at the stream again, opposite Tremough Campus, I attempted to refind yesterdays Dipper but was equally surprised to soon discover that there was not one but 2 DIPPERS now on the stream!  Both showing well and fairly approachable.  They seemed to prefer the section of stream just downstream of the Jahovah's Witness building and despite occasionally zooming off down or upstream for a few minutes I did get a few shots with them together.  I suspect there may possibly be a third individual although I cannot currently prove this and the other two may become hostile to an intruder on their territory so if by some chance there is a third bird, this may be forced further up or downstream.

 adult Dipper, nearly a garden tick!

 both Dippers, one in the background, one in the foreground

Tremough Surprise (28th January)

I was wandering around campus in the afternoon picking twigs of different tree species in order to later ID them for my "Field Techniques in Conservation Biology and Ecology" module and thought I'd cross the road to the stream that runs literally right past the campus in the hope of finding a few new trees to pillage their foliage.  I suddenly remembered that Dipper had been recorded here before and as soon as my hopeful mind began to speculate a DIPPER came whizzing into view and landed neatly in the stream only meters from where I was stood!  I could barely believe my chances and still rather surprised it had chosen such a minor stream as its wintering home I began texting birding friends on campus to spread the news that it was perched and feeding only about 100 meters from my flat!

Dipper! taken in the pouring rain and with a mini digital compact camera

After an all too short period of time it decided to fly off, shot through a tunnel and disappeared upstream.  In the hope of refnding it, I wandered a little further upstream.  The thought of Thetford and its Black-bellied came to mind and hitting myself on the head for not checking I tried extra hard to attempt to relocate it.  Barely seconds after slapping my forehead, I found it once again sat casually in the stream dipping away as Dippers do.  Not a Black-bellied Unfortunately.

Saturday, 26 January 2013


A great day and a great location for this years BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH!  It's not often that birding has a beneficial use but today was an exception.  Today's aim was to help play a small part in establishing the UK's population of some of our most favourite birds, our garden birds!  Myself and another member from the Eco Soc group arranged an event whereby we invited three groups of students in a hide situated on campus.  Each small group spent an hour in the hide with us before allowing the next to take over.  This enabled the maximum number of people to have the opportunity to marvel at the antics, behaviour and colour of the garden birds that we saw and recorded.

 stonking male Brambling!

female Brambling

1st Session

1 Brambling (male)
1 Green Woodpecker (heard "yaffling" only)
1 Jay (heard only)
1 Bullfinch (male)
1 Nuthatch
2 Blackbird
2 Blue Tit
7 Chaffinch
2 Coal Tit
1 Dunnock
4 Goldfinch
2 Great Tit
1 Greenfinch
2 Robin
1 Song Thrush
1 Woodpigeon

2nd Session

2 Brambling (1 male, 1 female)
1 Bullfinch
1 Nuthatch
1 Goldcrest
1 Siskin
4 Blackbird
2 Blue Tit
8 Chaffinch
1 Coal Tit
1 Dunnock
1 Feral Pigeon
4 Goldfinch
2 Great Tit
4 Greenfinch
3 Robin

3rd Session

2 Brambling (1 male, 1 female)
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker
1 Buzzard (unfortunately missed this one whilst it was sat in the tree in the garden as I was going to pick up the next group)
2 Bullfinch (1 male, 1 female)
3 Blackbird
4 Blue Tit
14 Chaffinch
1 Coal Tit
1 Dunnock
5 Goldfinch
3 Great Tit
2 Greenfinch
2 Long-tailed Tit
1 Magpie
2 Robin

In all, a rather successful day with a surprisingly large number of Chaffinches.  The highlights were definitely the pair of Brambling and occasional visits from a Nuthatch.

Later in the afternoon whilst in town, after trying to get a viewing of our potential new house, I went on to Swanvale and Swanpool.  Swanvale was rather quite with my first and only Chiffchaff of the day.  The only other species of note included Grey Wagtail, Goldcrests and Jays.  Swanpool was a little more exciting and people feeding the gulls and ducks did well to lure in a adult winter plumage Mediterranean Gull which approached on foot even closer to people than the accompanying Black-headed Gulls, affording excellent views!  Also had my first Great Crested Grebe of the year and the usual Coot with the malformed and exaggerated white frontal plate behaved rather tamely too.  From Swanpool Beach another close shower was a Guillemot diving in the surf.  2 Gannets also flew past Swanpool Point and a wader species was seen battling the strong winds some distance out to sea but the fact I only had my bins with me at the time didn't allow for a proper scan.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Another birding session during Uni! (24th January)

For the Field Techniques module I am doing at uni, I joined the Conservation students in a walk around campus recording as many species of plant and animal as possible.  The bird highlights included 2 Ravens over the campus and 2 Buzzards.  I could only hear the Siskins at the southern end of the student village as they unfortunately refused to show.

A day of inspiration! (23rd January)

Today I led my second Eco Soc walk, this time 11 of us went down to Swanpool where we enjoyed good views of a Mediterranean Gull coming to within a few meters along with the more numerous Black-headed Gulls in the hope of some scraps of bread.  Plenty of Little Grebes about too and several Razorbills off the beach at both Swanpool and Gylly, where we headed to next.  It only took a few minutes to find all 3 Slavonian Grebes still offshore from the coastal footpath between Swanpool and Gylly followed by a nice Black Redstart at Castle Beach!  A good turn in only the first few hours!  Next, a bit of a walk to Pendennis in the hope of sharing a Great Northern Diver with the rest of the group but 4 Purple Sandpipers were still a good bonus as we arrived.  I did in fact find a rather distant Great Northern Diver from the point but was unable to get anyone else on to the bird, simply due to its nature of diving and disappearing.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

House Hunting Tuesday (22nd January)

Another day of non-intended birding but whilst walking through Falmouth to view a house (in preparation for next years accommodation) 4 Curlew flew over.  5 Oystercatchers were also feeding on the rugby pitch near the middle of town and best of all was a Firecrest which popped out of someones hedge in their front garden along Marlborough Avenue!

Haircut Monday (21st January)

Barely any birding on Monday as the title may suggest but since I was already in Falmouth I had a quick check over Penryn River and Gylly beach for 10 mins.  Penryn River produced a stunning pair of Red-breasted Mergansers (a local patch year tick!) whilst Gylly had 3 Slavonian Grebes offshore!  Not a bad few minutes birding.  Obviously there could have been more as I only had my bins with me but still nice to see some good birds.

Birding West Penwith (20th January)

I spent an enjoyable weekend heading around some good birding spots in the west of the county, including St Just, Treen Common, St Ives, the Hayle Estuary and Marazion.  The first target bird for the day was the long-staying and elusive Subalpine Warbler at St Just but despite wandering around the streets for over an hour the bird didn't decide to show.  Instead, a few year ticks including 23 Snipe in the fields opposite Princess Street, 1 male Bullfinch,a single Redwing and Fieldfare.  On to Treen Common, the second stop for the day for a casual scan of the open moorland hoping perhaps for a harrier to quarter the fields.  No harriers unfortunately but we did see at least a dozen Yellowhammers (a Cornish tick).  One of the local residents was also in the good habit of putting out plenty of seed which attracted a further 100+ Reed Buntings to the shrubs around the house.  On to St Ives were a short sea-watch produced 1 Great Northern Diver, a few Razorbills offshore and a single Guillemot diving in the surf just off the beach.  I was taken utterly by surprise when a tern species flew close past the watch point, at first I was expecting it to be a Sandwich Tern (as they do occur here in Cornwall in small numbers) but was even more astonished to see a bright red beak stare me back in the face!  Forster's Tern was the immediate bird that came to mind as it was the only species of red-beaked tern I knew that would occur in the UK during the winter (despite being a big rarity).  It made two passes relatively close to the beach during which time I made note of several but not all the of the key features.  Instead of writing a list of the features, I've decided to compile them on a drawing which I have added below.  Other than the features added to the drawing, the bird appeared relatively dark against the dark background of the sea, perhaps a result of the grey belly and chest.  We concluded that we were 95% certain it was an ARCTIC TERN (after omitting Forster's as possibility following the first pass) but since it took us all by total surprise we weren't able to get all of the smaller features such as the exact length of the tail streamers and extent of the black cap below the eye.  Since finding the bird, a rather long thread has followed on Bird Forum and what is believed to be the same bird has been relocated at the Hayle along with some better quality pictures and it is now believed to be Common Tern instead.  Follow the heated discussion on BF if you dare!

Commic Tern drawing, seen only as a flypast in Carbis Bay

The Hayle was next, species of note, mostly waders included Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank and Grey Plover.  I also picked out a Mediterranean Gull out amongst the Black-headed Gulls2 Gadwall with the 100's of Wigeon and finally a drake Shoveler.  Several Little Egrets were also feeding in the creeks and finally 2 redhead Goosanders in one of the further channels.  The next stop, briefly near the middle of the bay in the hope of relocating the commic tern but all I could find was a single Stonechat on the dunes.  A final stop for the day at Marazion, for the evening Bittern roost.  First up was a wander along the beach were and had excellent views of a dozens of Sanderling, 6 Grey Plover, Dunlins, Turnstones, Redshanks, and a Purple Sandpiper all in a feeding frenzy literally at my feet.  Out in Little London bay, were at least 6 Great Northern Divers and probable Black-throated amongst them, although this was too distant for certain ID.  Also in the vicinity were a few Meadow Pipits on the beach and a single Mediterranean Gull.  Back at Marazion Marsh, I got news of a birder in Penzance who had been watching a distant probable Pacific Diver!  Since I had already scanned the bay between the Mount and Longrock without success I decided to spend the time focusing on the marsh instead.  During the wait, several thousand Starlings flew over the marsh in a south easterly direction, heading for Loe Pool.  Only a small group split of from the majority and decided to roost at Marazion but they were still rather flighty by the time I left and they may have moved on with the majority to Loe Pool.  A single Water Rail was rather brave in venturing out of the reed bed and I watched 2 Bitterns fly across the reedbed, a nice ending to an overly productive day.  It was also a great opportunity to get to know west Penwith a little better so it was nice to visit a few new sites including St Ives, St Just and Treen Common.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Stithians then Devoran (16th January)

A morning at Stithians with my target species being the long-staying Siberian Chiffchaff.  I arrived at first light so I thought it best to try my initial efforts on the Long-tailed Duck.  It took a short while but I eventually found the 1st winter LONG-TAILED DUCK from the southern cut-of causeway looking north across the reservoir.  It was rather distant so decided to make my way along the footpath but this proved a near impossible task as it was typically in a state of pure mud.  I returned back to the causeway where I continued looking for the duck and Sibe Chiffchaff but I couldn't relocate either.  Despite looking regularly for the duck throughout the day I couldn't relocate it until about 11am but 4 Goldeneye (including 2 drakes), 2 Raven and a flock of c.70 Lapwing did fill in for the quieter period.  From the hide, I observed large numbers of Chaffinches and 2 Reed Buntings coming down to the feeders but still no Chiffchaffs.  It took me the whole morning to catch a brief view of a Chiffchaff species that I saw briefly in a hedge near the southern cut off but it vanished after only a few seconds.  From first impressions, it looked good for the reported Siberian with a paler head than nominate, subtle contrast between the olive-tinged flight feathers and milky brown nape and head (both not containing a trace of greenish colouration).  However, most surprising of all was the characteristic "hweet" call of a Willow Warbler which I first noticed near the hide on the northern side of the cut off.  As the bird flew in I was astonished to see that it was in fact a Great Tit doing an extremely convincing mimic of the Willow Warblers call! (later heard several more times near the feeders).

In the afternoon another uni student and myself led a birding trip for the Ecological Society from the uni.  We left at 1pm with the minibus and arrived at Devoran shortly after.  My main aim was to show the new beginners a variety of waders to spark their interests in birds.  Thankfully a few keen eyes on board soon had us our first Redshank, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit with a couple of Greenshank and Ringed Plovers to follow.  Greg Wills also found a lone Oystercatcher in the distance and a Sparrowhawk flew through.  Other species of note included a small roost of Grey Herons on the opposite side of the creek and 2 Little Egrets.  Greg also put us onto a Red Fox that would otherwise have gone unnoticed had it not been for him pointing it out to us whilst Laura found three of there her favourite bird for us to all enjoy, 3 Buzzards.  In all, a nice casual outing to acquaint ourselves with some like-minded people on campus and better still to be able to show them something new they had all perhaps never seen before.  The pair of Bullfinches at the end of the walk definitely proved the point and were undoubtedly the bird of the day for us all.  As always, they prove rather popular, particularly to those beginners who had no idea such a richly coloured bird lived in the UK!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Swanvale and Swanpool (15th January)

I had a geography practical in the morning at 9am surveying down at Swanpool and Gylly beach so I left a couple hours early and arrived down at Swanpool before my flat mates had even got up.  My first 6 Fulmar of the year were a nice treat, especially having the opportunity to admire them close up moving backwards and forwards across the bay.  Further round at Swanpool Point, I picked up on a small grebe species, very probably a Slavonian but I only had my bins with me so it was just a little too far for certain ID.  An adult winter Mediterranean Gull was also my first for the year.  Next, on to Swanvale were I noted a total of 3 Chiffchaffs, a single Bullfinch and my first Little Grebe of the year.  2 Stonechats (a pair) were also feeding in the middle of Swanpool Beach along with a single Rock Pipit, both year ticks for me.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Back on the Kernow Patch! (14th January)

Once again I'm back in Penryn, Falmouth for my second term at uni.  A lecture in the morning but I decided to reacquaint myself with the local patch for a brief period so I took a walk around the quarry just north of the campus.  I took my time whilst wandering up the path hoping for a nice passerine but I saw nothing of note until I got to Carnsew Farm.  Out of nowhere shot a Peregrine low over the ground across the yard full of junk and in barely no time, it was nearing the campus at an impressive speed.  From here, I continued up towards the quarry where I stood watching the Jackdaws.  The Peregrine (presumably a male judging by its relatively small size) made a second appearance and spent much of the time using the updrafts from the strong wind to remain at a relatively constant height in the sky.  A single Buzzard was attempting the same maneuvers albeit a little less successfully.  Down near the quarry entrance again, I picked up on a single Chiffchaff of the nominate race before returning back to campus.  Not a lot for an afternoon out in the field admittedly but it was nice to be back on the Cornish patch.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Garden Birds (11th and 12th January)

Spent two whole days staring out the back window at garden birds, sketching and drawing annotated diagrams of wing patterning.  I couldn't be bothered to make the long bike rides to twitch some of the local birds and even if I was, there was always plenty of work that I could do to keep me from leaving the house.  The most numerous bird in the garden over the past two days have been Greenfinches, up to 14 at one point.  Other birds included occasional visits by a Nuthatch, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and a male Green Woodpecker in the neighbours garden.  A single brief view of a Red Kite circling over the house was probably the least common bird but my highlight was definitely having the time and will power to study the plumage detail of our commoner species.  As a result, I now have the precise plumage details of Greenfinch, Great Tit and Chaffinch imprinted on my mind, Hooray!  A week well spent in my opinion.  One mammal also seen in the past two days, this being my first Red Fox of the year, seen from my bedroom window in the early hours of the morning.

Back to some serious birding in a couple of days time as I'm travelling down to Cornwall on the 13th.  Can't wait to see the tristis Chiffchaffs at Stithians!

Friday, 11 January 2013

A few good Herts year ticks (9th January)

I was kindly offered a lift by Francis Buckle and together with him, Bob and I, we set off for Bramfield in hope of Hawfinches.  Soon after arriving I wondered to the back of the churchyard and soon picked up on a bird sat in the neighbouring field rather distantly.  On first impressions it looked good for our target bird, chubby, robust and buffy brown on the belly but a closer look through the scope soon confirmed that it was infact a WAXWING!

Waxwing at Bramfield

Not a bad self-found but still a tiny bit disappointed that we hadn't yet seen Hawfinches.  We moved on to Amwell where we were immediately shown a BITTERN perched up in the reed bed opposite the viewing point.  Next, a short walk along the canal where we soon arrived at the next lake which provided us with rather good views of the long-staying 1st winter drake SCAUP.  The Smew eluded us as did the recently reported Lesser Spot but a second attempt at the Hawfinches raised my spirits a little.

1st winter drake Scaup

This time I really put the effort in and instead of hanging around the entrance with all the other observers I decided to check the adjacent fields, the tall trees in the back gardens as well as the churchyard itself. Very unfortunately those who stood around at the entrance were rewarded whilst I was frantically checking the fields and hedgrows as they were successful in seeing a single flyover Hawfinch which I regrettably missed (the only one at that site seen that day).  rather downcast, we left but not before a brief stop to see the c.200 Golden Plover in the nearby fields.  Once back in Dunstable, I decided to spend the rest of the dwindling light I had left at Marsworth.  I arrived a little late so missed the roosting Corn Buntings and no Bitterns mad an appearance but a hunting BARN OWL at the rear of the reservoir was a real treat to end the day on a good high.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Rosy Day! (5th January)

The time had come to head back to Falmouth with an exam on the 7th so my parents kindly drove me down in the car, along with all my stuff.  I also had an additional favour in store and soon after the first 3 hour leg of our journey, we pulled into Milbury Lane in Exminster.  It took about 20-30 mins for one of the birders to finally find the target bird perched low in a hedge in someones back garden.  He soon put me on the bird, a 1st winter ROSE-COLOURED STARLING!  Not quite the stunner compared to the adults but a good bird none the less.  The rosiness was restricted to the legs alone whilst the yellow/orange beak and pale cream/grey chest, back and rump contrasted well with the dark wings.  It showed well on two occasions but seemed to be preferring a solitary life as it didn't associated with the Starlings but instead, sat preening itself and skulking in the hedge.

rump, tail and a small section of the primaries of the 1st winter Rose-coloured Starling

 It showed a lot better, trust me.  Here, only the chest and rosy tarsus showing

A good start to the year made all the better by 2 male Brambling that I also saw in the allotments behind the church.  The journey down was relatively productive too with c.300 Lapwing seen from the M5 and a total of 2 Buzzards, 3 kestrels and 5 Red Kites along the way!

First Dip of the Year (2nd January)

Since the Great White Egret was hanging around in Chenies into the new year, my brother was pretty keen to go down and re-twitch the bird.  I took the opportunity to join him in order to make the most of a nice brief outing, not to concerned whether or not I would see the bird.  We wondered around the fields for a while added a few easy ticks to the still very small year list including a small flock of Siskin, a much larger flock of Pied Wagtails and 2 Lesser Redpolls in the nearby coppice.  Several Little Egrets were also along the stream but by the time we found out that the GWE had relocated only a few hundred meters up the river out of site from where we were currently stood, it came the time to head back so rather reluctantly we had had to walk back on what can only be described as an inevitable dip.  No worries, there's still a whole year to catch up with the same species.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2013 The year list begins! (1st January)

I must admit I feel a little bad as it seems I was the only birder in the country not to have set foot outside, in my defense, I was still tired from yesterdays outing and a late night meant I couldn't bare to get out of bed.  This didn't mean I didn't fit in any birding.  On the contrary, I spent the whole afternoon slouched in an armchair staring out the window at the numerous garden birds visiting the feeders.  So far the year list is on a grand total of 12 species! (maybe I slightly over glorified that last sentence).

1. Chaffinch
2. Great Tit
3. Woodpigeon
4. Robin
5. Greenfinch
6. Goldfinch
7. Blue Tit
8. Blackbird
9. Coal Tit
10. Magpie
11. Red Kite - the best bird of the day which flew directly over the garden totally unexpectadly
12. Dunnock

2012 ROUND UP!



I started the month off down in Arundel in Sussex and got up early to enjoy a good days birding on the south coast with my first bird of the year being a Robin.  The month continued with further highlights including Siskin on the local patch, and concluding the month with a successful twitch to the Red-breasted Goose in Essex.  I also had one of my best birding experiences here as a Barn Owl came flying toward me making an incredibly close bank nearly brushing my face.  Other good birds of the month include, Bearded Tit, plenty of Short-eared Owls, Hen Harriers my only Red-throated Divers of the year, an immature Spoonbill, the long staying Snow Bunting at Startop's End Res and dark-bellied Brent Goose both in my home county of Herts.

Red-breasted Goose with Brent Geese at Old Hall Marshes Essex


Moving into February and I returned to Old Hall Marshes, this time with my brother to once again see the Red-breasted Goose (my brothers birthday present).  On top of this, we also saw Great Grey Shrike, and a good performance from the Bearded Tits.  Birds of note in the home counties included Jack Snipe, and a number of commoner winter visitors such as Water Rail winter thrushes and good numbers of Lapwing on the local patch, a rather scarce bird for the area.  Also helped co-find a Water Pipit, also a rather unusual wintering bird for Herts whilst one of my many cycle rides ended in success with Scaup and my first Bittern at Hilfield being a particular bonus.  Staines was also productive with Smew, Scaup, Black-necked Grebe and Shag all being good inland birds.  Two mega twitches at the end of the month were a real highlight of the year and would not have been successful had it not been for the kindness of strangers.  I got a lift between both sites and was lucky enough to see both stunning birds within a space of less than half an hour (they were the Dark-eyed Junco and Spanish Sparrow down in Hampshire)!

Spanish Sparrow, Calshot in Hampshire


Some last minute tetrad work to try and record some of the commoner wintering birds in some yet rather under-watched tetrads.  Tawny Owl was a particular focus, I was mainly locating calling pairs in the surrounding woodland to my home.  Cassiobury Park (my other regular patch) continued to produce records of Ring-necked Parakeets, whilst the lunchtime walks through the park produced many of the regular woodland species but unfortunately still no Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  Also had my first of two Peregrines at the local patch in the fields behind the RSSKL but a rather exhausting and nightmarish twitch down to Dungeness in hope of a Penduline Tit ended in a dip with Long-tailed Duck being the best I could show for my efforts.  Other good birds of the month included several Bittern, Great White Egret, and Tree Sparrows on the year list.  The local patch produced a flock of 21 Meadow Pipits, the largest I have recorded so far at the site, whilst the usual farmland and woodland birds continued to show well, including the stunning yet sadly declining Yellowhammer.  I also had numerous sightings of Little Owl, partly thanks to my focused efforts on the species as I attempted to establish their range and density of west Hertfordshire as part of a self-motivated project.  I was also thrilled to find a large flock of Lesser Redpoll on the local patch, I'm still hoping I'll eventually track down a Mealy amongst them.  Non bird highlights included Hares at Piccotts End whilst the Water Pipit at the same site had changed radically since my last visit and was now nearing its stunning adult summer plumage.  Also had my first singing Chiffchaff and butterflies of the month on the 21st, a Small Tortoiseshell.  March also produced the rarest bird of the year for my Kings Langley local patch.  It was no biggy but that female Black Redstart really did raise my hopes for my future birding trips around the local patch.  The month ended with my first Swallows at Stocker's and a Brimstone, a nice highlight in one of my many lunchtime walks through Cassiobury Park

the best bird of the year on my Kings Langley local patch, a female Black Redstart


The local patch continued to produce several nice species including Red Kites, Buzzards, and numerous farmland passerine species.  In the Tring direction, Crossbill, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and Firecrest on their breeding grounds were all quality treats.  New additions to the Herts list included Curlew, whilst inland Oystercatchers at the same site were also a welcome bonus.  An RSPB trip to Paxton Pits was well rewarded with singing Nightingale whilst I recorded a probable Black Kite over the local patch (later on in the month numerous other records of probable Black Kite started popping up all over the county, could it be the same bird?).    I enjoyed the continuing influx of Ring Ouzels into the Ivinghoe Hills and some of the first Orangtips made an appearance.  Staines produced some stunning close up views of summer plumaged Black-necked Grebes whilst the first spring migrants also included Little Gull, Swift, Black Tern, Yellow Wagtail and White Wagtail and Little Ringed Plover.  One of the definite highlights, was a self-found rufous variant Cuckoo at Croxley Common Moor, along with a Winchat but Whitethroat were rather slow on arrival, maybe an unfortunate result from their deteriorating wintering grounds in Africa.  Cassiobury Park also hosted an unprecedented arrival of Wheatear, a species that had not been seen in the park for many years.  Non bird highlights included a few more butterflies, notably Peacock and a Grass Snake on the canal near Cassiobury.

a really good passage of Ring Ouzels on the Ivinghoe Hills this year


May produced the first Lesser Whitethroat of the year.  This year I encountered numerous Cuckoos sometimes no fewer than half a dozen in a single day, although I fear the good times won't last long, especially for this species.  I was lucky enough to hear the Savi's Warbler at Wilstone, one of the many highlights of the year and Tawny Owls were almost heard nightly around Kings Langley Common.  Other bonus birds for the month included Black Tern, my first Hobbies of the year on my local patch, and I found Marsh Tit in a local woodland.  A very productive RSPB trip near the end of the month produced several Woodlark, Tree Pipit and best of all Nightjar all stunning heathland specialties   I was just kindling an interest in dragonflies at this stage so seeing Downy Emerald at Thursley Common was a good start.

Nightjar, a very memorable trip, Thursley Common in Surrey


The quiet period in the birding calender   A few Banded Demoiselles in Cassiobury Park and the odd butterfly including Brimstone, Dingy Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell and many more were the beginnings of a rather enjoyable butterfly season.  A few good birds were still of note including even more Cuckoos, Yellow Wagtails, and most surprising of all I found 2 very early migrant Sanderling at College Lake, perhaps forced to move south as a result of the increasingly heavy bands of wet weather that moved across the country.  Stocker's Lake produced the biggest home county rarity, a Little Bittern which chose to arrive rather inconveniently during the peak period of my exams.  More frustratingly it took a huge chunk out of my revision time but finally setting eyes on the bird proved worthwhile after a total of three days waiting.  I spent some time on the Ivinghoe hills too, following my new passion in butterflies and orchids, whilst waiting for the tantalisingly close songs of Quails to make an appearance.  College Lake became my new second home and the massive array of rare flowering plants, butterflies and occasional good birds proved irresistible   Non bird related highlights included Glowworms after dark at Dancersend, Greater Butterfly Orchid and a large number of new dragonfly species.  It was at this point in the year that the rain really set in and rather unfortunately, it is still persisting but hard work searching was at times rewarded with Pyramidal Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid and Southern Marsh Orchids all present at Long Dean.  The local bird highlights persisted with several Spotted Flycatcher on the large estate at Gorhambury and I was given great advice on Damselfly IDing which has now led me to seeing Variable Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Small Red-eyed Damselfly and Common Blue Damselflies as well as larger species including Hairy Hawker and Scarce Chaser.

Herts rarity winner, the Stockers Lake Little Bittern


Mid year produced some more surprisingly early vagrants including a stonking male Red-backed Shrike at Lake Farm Country Park which certainly deserved more than the two visits my brother and I gave it.  Even more surprising however was the arrival of a Sabines Gull at Startop's End Reservoir which my brother and I both rushed off to see as soon as the news broke of its correct ID.  More orchid fun, brilliant butterflies and some of the first juvenile birds of the year continued throughout the month.  As the birding slowed a little, I got my teeth into some proper butterfly finding and photographing and I soon dedicated most of my efforts on Bricket Wood where I had a great time observing and photographing Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral and several other species, including Large Skipper and Brimstone. A family holiday to the Isle of Harty on Sheppey was the first of many trips during the Summer holidays and despite producing only one Common Sandpiper as a year tick, there was always plenty to see besides.  Butterflies and mammals features equally strongly as did birds, the highlights being Mediterranean Gulls, Turtle DoveLittle Owl and Barn Owl all in the front garden of the house we were renting.  Essex Skippers was new to me and Hedgehogs made regular appearances, both behaving rather tamely.  Also saw my first returning Wheatear of the season and Small Copper butterfly was a welcome sight after having not seen any for nearly a year.  Still tuned into Sheppey mode, I returned to find both Turtle Dove and Dark Green Fritillary in the home counties.  Finally, it was nice to catch up with the breeding pair of Little Ringed Plover at College Lake again.

Silver-washed Fritillary a pair mating in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire.  Rather privileged to see this rare sight


My only holiday abroad this year to Germany to visit relatives in the region of Rheinland Pfalz.  I had never done any serious birding in the area so this was my chance to finally experience some of the good wildlife on offer beyond Britain.  There were numerous highlights but most memorable were frequent sightings of Red-backed Shrike, Crested Tit, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Black Stork.  Several species of Butterfly were also new to me, most of which occur only rarely or not at all in the UK including Pale Clouded Yellow, Map Butterfly, Painted Lady, Purple Hairstreak, Grayling, Large Copper and Brown Hairstreak (most of the above species could even be seen in a single day!).  A stop off on the way to Germany, on the NW coast of France produced one of the undoubted highlights of the month, a group of 45+ Kentish Plover, a sight I doubt I will ever see in the UK.  Other highlights from the holiday include excellent views of Osprey and Wood Sandpiper.  In the later half of the month, I joined sh4rpy on a trip down to Portland where we connected with several more good lifers including Woodchat Shrike and Balearic Shearwaters whilst another trip up north to Norfolk had Stone-curlew, Spoonbill and Osprey in store for us.  Finally at the end of the month another short holiday to the Isle of Wight with my siblings and my brother and I were rewarded with a stunning male Dartford Warbler.  A memorable trip to the Scillies at the end of the month continuing into September, with some excellent birds and birding experiences, including Buff-breasted Sandpiper and a self found Melodious/Icterine Warbler (ID still not resolved) on the 31st before moving into September.

My self-found Icterine/Melodious Warbler on St Marys.  A reminder of Scillies being a real education in rarity finding and identification


Citrine Wagtail surprise was undoubtably one of the top highlights of the year and my first self-found rarity!  I also saw my first Minke Whale, Storm Petrel and Sooty Shearwater, the pelagic trip being one of my favourite experiences from my visit.  Quite a lot of traveling throughout the month as well, including a trip up north to Scotland to help move my sister into uni at St Andrews, were I fitted in a little sea-watching with highlights being numerous divers, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and some of my first auks of the year.  On the way up, we bypassed the Lake District for a day and managed to squeeze in Dipper onto the year list before our journey continued northwards.  Then a trip to Rainham for the mega twitch that was the Baillon's Crake which I managed to tick off after a grueling 5 hour wait.  However, this was soon surpassed by an even greater rarity, the Short-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor which I visited on my way down to uni in Cornwall.  The later part of the month was dedicated to finding a new local patch so I was cycling round the various potentially productive areas in south west Cornwall, including Pendennis Point, Swanpool and Marazion.  I also managed to go down to the Lizard with my family, where Chough was added to the year list and I had some good views of a Ocean Sunfish, something I was now getting rather used to seeing following my trip to the Scillies.

My first self-found rarity!  A juvenile Citrine Wagtail


October was definitely rarity month with some excellent species on offer.  By far my most memorable afternoons birding was a cycle/bus trip down to the Lizard after lectures to see the Paddyfield Warbler, after which news came in of a Ortolan Bunting which I managed to refind after many hours of searching, much to Lees happiness.  Just to top the day off, the Red-backed Shrike showed brilliantly.  I also started to get to know the local area better and soon found several ideal patches that I hope to cover in the future, including Gylly Beach, Pennance Point, Pendennis Point, Rosemullion Head and College Reservoir  all of which have a high potential for some good birding.  The Jay influx started to become apparent mid-month as did a flood of Wheatear and Firecrest.  Other good birds, including Purple Heron only a few hundred meters down the road and Brent Geese on one of the local headlands (apparently a rather good bird for the county) rounded the month off nicely.

Who'd have thought so many birds could possibly be squeezed into a short afternoons birding down on the Lizard, this Ortolan Bunting really topped the day off


Even more good birds and there seemed to be no sign of the year list slowing with highlights being a trip to Marazion and Lands End with my parents and brother who came to visit.  Purple Sandpipers started to arrive as did the odd scarcity, notably a 1st winter drake Ring-necked Duck which I went to twitch at Helston located in an absolutely stunning part of the south west coastline.  Great Northern Divers also started increasing in number and I found a total of no fewer than 3 Yellow-browed Warblers, some no less than a few hundred meters up the road from my uni!  The bioscience course also put on a ringing demonstration an excellent opportunity for us to appreciate the stunning plumage's in close up (the best bird we caught was a striking male Firecrest).  The end of the month was dedicated to a two week period of visiting Swanvale in the dire hope of seeing the very elusive Dusky Warbler.  During the long waits I saw a flyover flock of 3 Waxwing, numerous Firecrest and another Yellow-browed Warbler.  The local area continued to produce good birds, including 5 more Waxwing, Red-necked Grebe and a local Peregrine.

Cornish Waxwing, comparatively rare to the rest of the UK


At the end of term at uni, I started using my flat simply as a drop off point between twitches and I went into 100% birding mode without a break.  The result being exhaustion but some excellent birds none the less.  The first twitch of the month was for the Pacific Diver at Marazion which performed well after a long day of trying locate it.   Next, up to Devon for the Lesser Yellowlegs which I successfully twitched and finally a dip, this being the Lesser Scaup that decide to relocate to a different lake a few hours before my arrival after having remained at the same lake for about a week.  Hand feeding a Robin was a nice gear down from the frantic twitching.  The local patch was also reaping the rewards with 2 Bitterns and  Black-necked Grebe before I headed back to Herts.  I was kindly given an insight to the Cirl Bunting project, and was privileged enough to set eyes on non fewer than 11 individuals (many many thanks Stuart for putting up with me).  Other good birds during the month included Ring-necked Duck, Slavonian Grebes, Long-tailed Duck and numerous more Great Northern Divers.  On my first day back in Herts for the holidays (which also happened to be my birthday), I had the best present I could have asked for, excellent views of the very showy American Buff-bellied Pipit at Queen Mother Reservoir!  Later on, my brother and I had a good day twitching the local Great White Egret, only a few miles down the road from my home in Herts.  Some additional trips to my old stomping grounds of Wilstone Reservoir and Stocker's Lake were rewarded with Smews, Water Pipit and a stunning drake Goosander.

extreme close ups of the American Buff-bellied Pipit

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have played a part in my birding year including those who have given me lifts those who have showed me some stunning birds and those who have patiently put up with my many questions.  The added photos are all rather poor quality but bring back my fondest memories on an absolutely brilliant years birding.

Good luck to all in your 2013 birding year!

Lastly here's my year list:

1) Robin
2) Woodpigeon
3) Herring Gull
4) Mallard
5) Mute Swan
6) Redshank
7) Black-headed Gull
8) Kingfisher
9) Brent Goose
10) Little Grebe
11) Grey Heron
12) Cormorant
13) Pied and White Wagtail
14) Moorhen
15) Starling
16) Magpie
17) Meadow Pipit
18) Buzzard
19) Oystercatcher
20) Common Gull
21) Green Woodpecker
22) Blackbird
23) Blue Tit
24) Dunnock
25) Fieldfare
26) Goldfinch
27) Kestrel
28) Wren
29) Goldcrest
30) Chaffinch
31) Great Black-backed Gull
32) Grey Wagtail
33) Long-tailed Tit
34) Collared Dove
35) Turnstone
36) Dunlin
37) Grey Plover
38) Gannet
39) Sanderling
40) Shelduck
41) Stonechat
42) Greenfinch
43) Mediterranean Gull
44) Carrion Crow
45) Pheasant
46) Redwing
47) Jackdaw
48) Mistle Thrush
49) Jay
50) Sparrowhawk
51) Siskin
52) Coal Tit
53) Crossbill
54) Red Kite
55) Great Tit
56) Rook
57) Stock Dove
58) Skylark
59) Linnet
60) Yellowhammer
61) Great Spotted Woodpecker
62) Lapwing
63) Reed Bunting
64) Green Sandpiper
65) Marsh Harrier
66) White-fronted Goose
67) Short-eared Owl
68) Hen Harrier
69) Merlin
70) Black-tailed Godwit
71) Bar-tailed Godwit
72) Curlew
73) Barn Owl
74) Peregrine
75) Avocet
76) Red-legged Partridge
77) Knot
78) Song Thrush
79) Bullfinch
80) Nuthatch
81) Wigeon
82) Gadwall
83) Snipe
84) Shoveler
85) Snow Bunting
86) Greylag Goose
87) Canada Goose
88) Teal
89) Tufted Duck
90) Pochard
91) Coot
92) Lesser Black-backed Gull
93) Ring-necked Parakeet
94) Treecreeper
95) Red-breasted Goose
96) Red-breasted Merganser
97) Red-throated Diver
98) Eider
99) Spotted Redshank
100) Spoonbill
101) Goldeneye
102) Bearded Tit
103) Lesser Redpoll
104) Chiffchaff
105) Great Grey Shrike
106) Rock Pipit
107) Pintail
108) Little Owl
109) Greater Scaup
110) Ruddy Duck
111) Bittern
112) Mandarin
113) Water Pipit
114) Water Rail
115) Jack Snipe
116) Shag
117) Black-necked Grebe
118) Smew
119) Dark-eyed Junco
120) Spanish Sparrow
121) Egyptian Goose
122) Great White Egret
123) Tree Sparrow
124) Ringed Plover
125) Long-tailed Duck
126) Golden Plover
127) Marsh Tit
128) Black Redstart
129) Common Tern
130) Blackcap
131) Swallow
132) Cetti's Warbler
133) Brambling
134) Firecrest
135) Ring Ouzel
136) Wheatear
137) Willow Warbler
138) Nightingale
139) House Martin
140) Sand Martin
141) Little Ringed Plover
142) Whimbrel
143) Swift
144) Whitethroat
145) Cuckoo
146) Whinchat
147) Black Tern
148) Little Gull
149) Yellow Wagtail
150) Lesser Whitethroat
151) Reed Warbler
152) Hobby
153) Woodlark
154) Redstart
155) Tree Pipit
156) Nightjar
157) Tawny Owl
158) Corn Bunting
159) Ringed Plover
160) Turtle Dove
161) Sedge Warbler
162) Garden Warbler
163) Little Bittern
164) Spotted Flycatcher
165) Sabine's Gull
166) Sandwich Tern
167) Common Scoter
168) Red-backed Shrike
169) Common Sandpiper
170) Kittiwake
171) Fulmar
172) Dartford Warbler
173) Woodchat Shrike
174) Balearic Shearwater
175) Grey Partridge
176) Ruff
177) Osprey
178) Stone Curlew
179) Red-crested Pochard
180) Great Crested Grebe
181) Little Egret
182) Greenshank
183) Raven
184) House Sparrow
185) Manx Shearwater
186) Buff-breasted Sandpiper
187) Pied Flycatcher
188) Wood Warbler
189) Citrine Wagtail
190) Great Skua
191) Storm Petrel
192) Sooty Shearwater
193) Dipper
194) Guillemot
195) Razorbill
196) Baillon's Crake
197) Short-billed Dowitcher
198) Chough
199) Feral Pigeon
200) Red-rumped Swallow
201) Paddyfield Warbler
202) Ortolan Bunting
203) Purple Heron
204) Purple Sandpiper
205) Great Northern Diver
206) Yellow-browed Warbler
207) Ring-necked Duck
208) Red-necked Grebe
209) Waxwing
210) Black-throated Diver
211) Pacific Diver
212) Iceland Gull
213) Lesser Yellowlegs
214) Cirl Bunting
215) Slavonian Grebe
216) American Buff-bellied Pipit
217) Goosander

heard only:

Savi's Warbler