Friday, 10 August 2018

Get on this 'Buzzard', it's barred!

Back home for the weekend and first birding stop was at the couple of weirs along the river Don east of Sheffield city centre (Sat 04 Aug 2018). A scattering of Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls with a lone Common Gull. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull originating from Stavanger, Norway with black colour ring J793H showed briefly. It was ringed in 2015 its first calendar year - with thanks to Andy D for the information. Assuming intermedius. Several sightings of Kingfisher point to a healthy urban river and a Sand Martin showed well hawking insects.

Over the weekend the moorland edge provided good and varied birding as did the approach just outside of the Peak District where a Little Owl watched horse riders go by from its stone wall lookout, pausing before it hunted the edge of a newly cut field. Several Curlews remained in the uplands as the breeding season draws to a close, yet Ravens were reinforcing pair bonding as two put on a bit of a tumble over a moorland valley.

Hide your sausage rolls from this troublemaker, the one on the left, it even ran around the building to make a 3rd attempt on the food bag!

As dusk fell Venus and Jupiter began to shine bright in the western sky to the backdrop of a couple of churring Nightjars. Just after 10pm as Jupiter fell, Saturn and a bright red Mars showed well in the western sky.

Birding the South Yorkshire moorland edge is always magical and this weekend proved no exception. Whilst it was very early on in the autumn migration season this stretch is always worth a look. Arrived at Low Moor, Midhope at about 10 am (Sun 05 Aug 2018) and it was starting to get warm as high pressure remained dominant, although a light SW wind did help temper the heat. The fair weather marker clouds were beginning to melt into the blue background. Looking back towards Upper Midhope where the previous afternoon a Hobby had startled the hirundines, with thanks to the alarm calling Swallows who got us on to the scythe shaped predator, I was scanning this area for a repeat performance. Not to be, but a Common Buzzard drifted over fairly low down and another came into view but at a greater height. It launched into a power glide and soon they both headed towards Midhope Reservoir which they circled. Were they local or birds on the move using the light headwind to inform their route? A 360 degrees scan during the first hour also revealed several Buzzards to the south west along the moorland ridge and plentiful Kestrels hovered over both the moorland and grassy fields. A couple of the young Kestrels squabbled by the track much to the annoyance of a pair of Jays.

Just after 11 am my dad spotted a couple more Common Buzzards drifting in from the direction of Langsett Reservoir, along the same line as the ones mentioned above. Checking the status of wing moult is a good pointer to help identify if the same birds are being seen again and again, will help in ageing the birds, but sadly missing feathers may be for another not so good reason. A third 'Buzzard' appeared, a new bird because it was clearly missing a few feathers (at the join of the primaries and secondaries) in the same place on each wing. I scoped it and alarm bells started to ring, I'm glad to say not because of the state of the bird, because of what species it was. It had barring / thick spots on the underparts against a pale body with barring extending into the front of the underwing. Head appeared grey-ish, not totally hooded as it had a white throat. We watched it pass overhead and I took a few record photos as it glided towards Ewden Heights. Throughout the observation it never flapped and maintained at least flat wings, no dihedral discernible. We were confident that it was a Honey Buzzard, but could we track it down the Langsett - Strines valley? Off to Ewden Heights.

Within a few minutes we were set up half way down the valley just below the Heights waiting in hope for it to appear from the Heights, and luckily enough a couple of minutes later it did. Camera and scope at the ready, and after having nice scope views of the flight profile, its slender long tail and at the other end its grey protruding head, not to forget striking barred underparts and with more record shots taken, it made a beeline for Broomhead Reservoir. Likewise we made a run for it to Agden Side trying to alert as many birders as possible in situ and along the road. We were soon at Agden Side and with other birders present we concentrated on White Lee plantation hoping it would choose this route as its way south. A bit of a gamble but sure enough just after 1130 it appeared from the direction of Broomhead Reservoir and all present had nice views as it slowly crossed over the Rocher and was last seen heading towards Sheffield city centre. It didn't flap once!

Assessing the photos showed it to be a moulting Honey Buzzard, and at the moment I reckon it was a male. It was a very nice surprise, a brilliant Barnsley tick (#231) and a new one for my moorland raptor list. Come on Pallid Harrier, you're next on the wish list for the patch, but stay safe when in the area!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

May to July Birding Video Highlights

A compilation of birding videos from a trip to Cape May, New Jersey, USA in May 2018. Includes footage of the Swainson's Warbler that drew in the crowds, other migrating Warblers, Swainson's Thrushes and a good variety of other species including late in the season Iceland (Kumlien's) and Glaucous Gulls.

Please click on the link for the Birding Cape May Compilation - May 2018 YouTube compilation video.

It's almost from out of this world, a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring over the sea off Cape May Point in mid May 2018. Watching it glide in and out of the fog bank was pretty special.

Please click on the link for the Magnificent Frigatebird YouTube video.

A compilation of birding videos from Germany in early June 2018. Includes nice views of Purple Herons, Bee-eaters and wandering Spoonbills and Great White Egrets in the Rhine rift valley..

Please click on the link for the Birding Germany Compilation - June 2018 YouTube compilation video.

This beautiful Tringa, a Marsh Sandpiper showed well yet distant during the windy conditions on the last Saturday of July 2018 at Rainham Marshes RSPB. A rarity to the UK, this species is especially rare in the London area, reportedly the first one in over 30 years.

Please click on the link for the Marsh Sandpiper YouTube video.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Klingon Starship or something simply Magnificent!

Live Long and Prosper

Mid afternoon during the World Series of Birding (12 May) in between Brig and Avalon somehow the conversation turned to Star Trek, especially the role of the Trill. At that time I didn't have a clue as to who or what Trills are! I mentioned that if we saw a Klingon Starship decloak during the World Series then, "I'm out of here!". Little did I know that 5 days later...

It's a seabird Jim, but not as we know it!

Leaving Cape May to travel north to Sussex County, NJ (17 May). However, before the journey north spent the early morning birding Cape May Point where it was soon obvious that there had been a bit of a fall of Warblers. Highlights included a female Golden-winged, singing Wilson's and several Canada Warblers at the Point. Whilst trying to relocate the Golden-winged RC kindly signed a copy of the cracking Crossley ID Guide to Waterfowl. Returned to the Point after checking out of the Stockton Inns (best place to stay in town) about one hour later and was quickly directed to the Coral Avenue jetty, because RC had found a Magnificent Frigatebird! After a brief panic and 2 minute journey that seemed like 20, there it was. Looking like a 'Klingon Starship' it even decloaked out of the fog bank high up over the water, but not too far offshore in looking to the SW. Having never seen examples of this family in the 'field' I have always wondered as to how distinctive and therefore how easy they would be to pick out on a 'seawatch'?
  • As to the family - fairly easy.
  • As to the species - if I had seen this alone would I have known as to which species of Frigatebird I was watching? The honest answer is no!
To to get a little closer I re-positioned myself along the Point jetties to the west before settling on St Peter's where I got lucky with the photos below and video footage of this rare visitor.

Why is it a 'Magnificent Frigatebird'?

From studying the bird in the field and then the photos and videos later, and then consulting the available literature - the big size, extensive pure white head, the white extending onto the underparts and clear cut 'diamond' collars on the underparts point to this being a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird. This may be the expected species for this usually storm driven seabird in these parts, and perhaps adds credence. However, from a quick look at 'The Birds of New Jersey Status and Distribution' (Boyle and Karlson) I understand only 4 out of 24 NJ accepted Frigatebirds have been identified to species level as Magnificent. These figures may have changed since 2011 when the book was published.

Stop Press: The above has been accepted by the New Jersey Birds Rarities Committee in their Jan - May 2018 review as Magnificent Frigatebird.

Monday, 18 June 2018

World Series of Birding - 1000birds now in the champions league of birding?

I've been lucky to travel from the UK to Cape May, New Jersey (NJ), USA for birding many times since the turn of the century, initially in Autumn but with a recent focus on Spring. Over the years I have met some cracking folk, birders and non birders, and on occasion a character or two!

Car Number Plates:

A running joke I have with my friends at Stockton Inns is that until this year I've never had a rental car with a NJ plate. (There was one other but it doesn't count as it broke down before leaving the rental parking lot at EWR!) On this topic of car number plates, bear with me, as this takes me back to the time I first bumped into Nick Kontonicolas one autumn morning in the early 2000s. This was at Higbees at Cape May the place for the morning flight of passerines reorientating themselves for a while on their migration south. Nick saw my car and commented that I had come a long way, I think the car's plates were from Connecticut or nearby. I replied that I had travelled a little bit further... from across the pond.

Over the years I bumped into the same as well as new birding faces and one year Nick asked if I was interested in taking part in the World Series of Birding. I had never contemplated birding Cape May in Spring as it was always known back here in the UK as an Autumn place, specifically for seeing migrating raptors and warblers. I was interested and was pleased to join Nick's team, Team 1000birds in 2007, for the 25th annual World Series of Birding. His team's first race being the previous year.

Disappearing Cattle Egrets:

I have been very happy to have taken part in 10 races with 1000birds and have enjoyed both the race and helping with the scouting. This usually means arriving the weekend prior to the race, or early in the scouting week to cover the birding route in Cape May County. The ups and downs on the race days vary each year, where do the Route 9 Cattle Egrets hide, and that marsh had Northern Harriers on every scouting visit, but why not on race day? All teams have such stories to tell and happier ones which for our team included the Black Rail greeting us in full voice a few years ago on the Delaware Bayshore. With the change in rules we could and did enjoy sharing this scarcity with other teams. One constant with each race is that the camaraderie remained strong each time in our team.


During the visits I have seen the effort and dedication all members (current and past) have put into the scouting, detailing sites and back up locations down to GPS precision and applying extensive thought to the route timing. Notwithstanding the efforts of current team members, for many years the dedication of Bob H has been second to none. Weeks of planning both at the desk and in the field and receiving encouragement and guidance from legends of this competition, especially contacts at DVOC including Bert F. Our scouting has been no mean feat as team members each year have juggled their finances and like other teams have taken time out of their respective working and home lives to independently undertake the scouting, raise sponsorship for a variety of causes and of course take part in the race. Our aim has always been to have fun, challenge our totals from previous years and when possible raise funds through sponsorship and try to compete with our contemporaries.

Champions - "Don't be daft?"
The team membership has varied over the years and it has been a great effort of Captain Nick to get us all together. In the main the focus has been on the State run, home of the first prize the coveted Urner-Stone Cup. This year we were very happy, perhaps surprised, to have come top in this category and very happy for Nick to take the trophy home. (After 12 years or so of trying, not 22 years that has been reported!)


Please give a warm round of applause or exclaim a big cheer (for those familiar with BBC Radio Sheffield's former programme - Clueless - imagine they've just found a clue) to my fellow winning teammates of this year, Marc C, Ken W and Captain Nick K.

I hope our win has given inspiration to ANY team contemplating taking part in the World Series of Birding. You can do it, you can win it! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! You don't have to be superstars, just be keen, be lucky and remember to have fun.

Congratulations to all teams that took part, be it those recording big numbers, little numbers, big pledges or small pledges and good luck to future participants young or not so young. I'm sorry I missed the awards brunch this time. Dipped that Warbler in NYC!

Some good weblinks: 
  • Check out the official pdf summary for the day for each category. There were some good totals recorded on the day.
  • Have a look at Nick's website for more details of the team's adventures over the years including a light hearted video from one of the previous runs.

World Series of Birding 2018 - Summary:
A full trip report from this 2 week birding trip to come in the summer months. Please keep an eye on my birding blog. Here's a summary of some of the stops.

  • Great Swamp and North West Marshes - very quiet in cold conditions where rain threatened throughout. No Rails or Bitterns heard. Highlights were Great Horned and Barred Owls plus Swamp Sparrow, Brown Thrasher and American Woodcock.
  • Dawn at Vesper Hill in increasing rain. Grasshopper Sparrow and the dawn chorus greeted us.
  • A blast through High Point State Park and Stokes Forest taking in the beautiful Culver's Lake. The weather improving. The list ticked over with specialities including Cerulean Warbler and at the 6th? site a Louisiana Waterthrush noted (never knowingly underscouted). Not forgetting all of the Swallows, all of the expected Vireos and of course Black-capped Chickadee.
  • Brigantine, Brig or Forsythe - One loop is never enough at this amazing place. Nice to get Bonaparte's Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Black Skimmers and White-rumped Sandpiper amongst others. No stopping for lunch!
  • Atlantic Marshes and coast. A great variety with Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons behaving this year, Purple Sandpiper, Black Scoter and then inland to the Cape May airport for Horned Larks before...
  • Cape Island. Swainson's Warbler, Carolina Chickadee and Ruby-throated Hummingbird spring to mind.
  • Delaware Bayshore and Belleplain yielded more for the list. Knot, Summer Tanager, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black Rail and after dark 'Whips' and 'Chucks'.
  • Ended the day at Cape Island without adding to the totals as a spectacular thunderstorm brought proceedings to a close. We almost had to swim the 10 yds from the car to the finish line venue!


Shall we give it another go?

Saturday, 16 June 2018

From Magical Moorlands to the Rhine Rift Valley - late Spring birding

Spring Bank Holiday and back home on the magical South Yorkshire moorlands. One of the many highlights being an Osprey moving NW along the moorland edge on the Monday having been seen off by a small Falcon and then a Buzzard. With thanks to the small Falcon whose id we (my dad, SG and myself) were trying to confirm got me on to the Osprey. The Falcon was in the process of mobbing a Buzzard and after several passes it made another swoop. I was now zoomed in on the scope and this time it's target was something different, a raptor with long primaries that had appeared low over the ridge. It had shocking white underparts contrasting with uniform brown upperwings and a white (masked) head. Not another one :) my 3rd of the year in these parts!

I pulled away from the scope and was surprised no one had shouted it out, but SG and my dad were looking at the Buzzard. By this time another Buzzard flying low over the hill added to the momentarily confusion. I shouted Osprey going right and they quickly got onto it as it glided along a ridge, and then one of the Buzzards decided to chase it off. Poor thing, it was only looking for a thermal to drift off north! In the melee the small Falcon remained labeled as such. Back on Terra Firma a pair of Ring Ouzels showed well during the visit.

Away from the moorlands twitched the Temminck's Stint at Old Moor RSPB on the Saturday (a most welcome Wath Tick - number 192) where a smart Black-necked Grebe played hide-and-seek on Wath Ings. Near the visitor's centre Dingy Skipper butterflies were showing well, a lifer!

An extended weekend visiting friends in Germany followed. Bad weather was forecast but this turned out to be way off the mark, although the first night yielded a cracking thunderstorm in the early hours. The rest of the time it was warm with in the main, sunny skies during the day, although a rogue shower struck northern Karlsruhe Friday tea time!

Onto birding where the wonderful Waghรคusel wetlands yielded several pairs of breeding Purple Herons and a couple each of (passage?) Spoonbills and Great White Egrets. Garganey present were quickly adopting eclipse plumage by this, the first weekend in June! White Storks dominated the skies where both Kites and Buzzards flew and from where a lone Hobby investigated the first pool. By the sides of which a family party of Wild Boar minded their own business, but a Fox in the undergrowth piqued the attention of the ducks sleeping on the muddy shore. Dragonflies over the pools were dominated by the presence of Black-tailed Skimmers, but we managed to see singles of Scarlet Chaser and Lesser Emperor and a new species of Damselfly for me, Red-eyed Damselfly. The Bluethroats were silent and didn't show this time, but a Savi's Warbler buzzed for a few minutes from somewhere deep within the far reedbed.

Highlight of the trip was being able to study several Lesser Purple Emperor butterflies, with most found along the hedgerows bordering the small holdings and woodland edge several kms further south within the Stutensee area. Also present here were several Red-backed Shrikes (4 or 5 territorial males), a Golden Oriole was seen to disappear into the Poplars and both Common and Black Redstarts were present and in song. The latter also a common sight singing from roof top aerials in the town. Of note and much further afield to the north Bee-eaters showed well at a disused sand quarry in the rift valley, giving stunning views from a hide.

With warm thanks to friends Chris and Sue for their kind hospitality over the weekend.

More photos from this latest trip at the Germany pdf file (2000 - date) located at 'Birding Trip Reports - Other'. Just click on the tab at the top of the page.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

World Series of Birding Urner Stone Cup winners plus post WSB birding

Well, the World Series of Birding was a good day as it always is, but this time it was a bit special, as it turned out that we (Team 1000birds) won the adult statewide category, taking first place and with it the coveted Urner Stone Cup.

Huge thanks to all my teammates - Marc Chelemer, Ken Walsh and especially to team captain Nick Kontonicolas who since 2006 has brought together a team in various guises competing in the different categories of the World Series of Birding. There has been an emphasis on the full state run, but it has not taken the team 22 years to win as being reported on t'internet.

It was good to have coverage from the National Audubon Society - Andrew Del-Colle with us throughout the day and photographer Camilla Cerea for the first half. More on the World Series in due course...

Some birding highlights post World Series at Cape May Point include:

Blackpoll Warblers everywhere alongside American Redstarts and Magnolia Warblers, with the Swainson's Warbler still in situ.

A good selection of other Warblers including sightings of Cape May, Blackburnian and Bay-breasted varieties.

A Glaucous Gull by the shore, a few Rose-breasted Grosbeaks popping up out of nowhere and a couple of Mississippi Kites overhead.

A couple of smart Royal Terns flying by Coral Avenue particularly noteworthy.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

World Series of Birding - Scouting Week

Selected highlights of scouting for the World Series of Birding in Cape May County, New Jersey, USA.

Belleplain State Forest - Louisiana Waterthrush, Summer Tanagers, Acadian Flycatchers, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Pine, Kentucky, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated and Hooded Warblers. Veery and Swainson's Thrush and evening Whip-poor-will and calling Great Horned Owl.

Cape Island - Swainson's Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, (Kumlien's) Iceland Gull, White-throated Sparrow, Arctic Skuas, Surf and Black Scoters plus Red-throated and Great Northern Divers and flybys from Peregrine, Broad-winged, Red-tailed and Cooper's Hawks.

Jakes Landing Road - Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Peregrine and an unexpected flyby of a pair of Gull-billed Terns.

Atlantic Marshes and Shore - Yellow-crowned Night Herons as well as Tricoloured, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons, shorebirds and a flyby Peregrine. Single Piping Plover and 10 Purple Sandpipers at Stone Harbour and Avalon respectively.

Miscellaneous - Eastern Bluebird (Cook's Beach Rd by Rte 47) and evening Chuck-will's Widow (nr Dias Creek). Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (CMBO Goshen).