Saturday, 3 September 2016

Bank Holiday Birding - Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire... plus a bit of Lincolnshire

Saturday 27 August saw me birding at Spurn, East Yorkshire. Migration highlights included a cream crown Marsh Harrier south over the Humber with the Kilnsea Triangle holding several Whinchat, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and a Redstart. Waders were plentiful with a walk over to Kilnsea Wetlands/Beacon Lane Ponds producing loads of Dunlin with others of note including Greenshank, adult and juv Curlew Sandpipers, Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. Beacon Lane itself was quiet although nice to see Wall Brown butterflies. Prior to a late afternoon seawatch an immature Skua spooked the waters on the Humber shore and headed out to sea at The Warren. Immature Arctic methinks, photo below. It looked big to the observers, but I'm favouring Arctic. It was a question of getting a photo and analysing the photos or studying the bird as it flew over, the former won out. The seawatch produced a slow trickle of Common and Sandwich Terns south and a Black Tern was amongst them, but heavy rain soon set in and ended the show for me.

Sunday 28 August and an afternoon seawatch at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire. A slow session despite NW winds but connected with about 10 Arctic Skuas and a handful of Great Skuas heading south, with no more than a handful of Manx Shearwaters noted as well. Waders on the move included Whimbrel, Curlew and Golden Plover. Nice to catch up with the locals et al. Love seawatching and always learning!

Monday 29 August and birded the Barnsley moorlands with my dad. Spotted an adult Caspian Gull amongst a group of LBB Gulls resting in fields near Ingbirchworth Res., South Yorkshire, and nearby watched for migration along the moorland edge at Ewden Heights and then at Midhope Moor. Simmo and Upland Tyke were watching from the Cabin up the valley and connected with an Osprey which eluded us at Midhope Moor. Other highlights included Marsh Harrier and Hobby plus Buzzards and Ravens.

Tuesday 30 August and a repeat of the above, except birded from Ewden Heights only after visiting the Ingbirchworth area. The Caspian Gull was again near the Res. before flying high east about 10am ish, leaving the area? Simmo again birded from the Cabin. At about 11:30 I picked up what I thought was an immature 'Gull' over the ridge leading East from Ewden Heights and I was about to move off it as it seemed to be going away when something kept my interest in it. A nagging doubt on its id. It soon turned and revealed itself to be an Osprey. It then came towards us (photo below) and I managed to call Simmo who got onto the bird before it bombed south towards Agden. Soon afterwards a 'new' Marsh Harrier appeared and went high south, at least 1 or 2 others lingering here.

A relaxing afternoon at home before driving to London was stopped in its tracks when news of Purple Gallinule (OK let's be fashionable and call it 'Western Swamphen') at Alkborough Flats on the Lincolnshire side of the south Humber shore to the north of Scunthorpe. Connected with this beast just before 17:00, it dwarfed a Moorhen. The scrape held a nice selection of waders with many Avocets and Spotted Redshank noted amongst others.

As always a fantastic stay back at home.

More photos from the long weekend at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Immature 'Large' Gull - Rainham Marshes RSPB, London (13 August 2016)

This large gull was present on Aveley Pools at Rainham Marshes RSPB mid pm on Saturday 13 August 2016.

Help please, can it be identified to species? How old is it? Is it correct to say 2nd calendar year as opposed to advanced juvenile (1st calendar year)?
  • Does profile suggest 'Yellow-legged' as opposed to 'Caspian'?
  • Do the pale grey mantle feathers point away from 'Yellow-legged'?
  • Can 'Herring' be ruled out?

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day - The Cup Final came to Rainham

I go birding at Rainham most Saturday's meeting up with friends on site either after doing the long walk from Rainham station via the Stone Barges or the quicker route from Purfleet station to the RSPB centre. We would either head out onto the reserve or do a walk along the riverwall down into Aveley Bay and on to the 'Serin' mound, taking in the reseve after a much deserved mug of tea.

Saturday 06 August 2016 was slightly different. I set off an hour earlier than usual, taking in the two train journeys into and out of London respectively connected by a walk from Farrindon to Fenchurch Street not forgetting the obligatory McDonalds breakfast en route. It felt different today the analogy being that it felt like 'the morning of Cup Final day', or from a personal (birding) perspective it reminded me of the feeling of anticipation at 23:55 five minutes before the start of the World Series of Birding - offset by praying for the Sora and Virginia Rails to continue singing at kick off! The Cup Final was coming to Rainham!

Arrived on site about 08:15 and the centre was in full swing. Staff, volunteers and visitors were buzzing round the centre, and soon a near full complement of 'Motleys' were ready to bird Aveley Bay and Serin Mound. The sun was blazing down and the birding was slow. Whimbrel, Curlew and Oystercatchers of note from Aveley Bay as were a couple of blogging Yellow Wagtails, whereas a glance across the river soon revealed some Yellow-legged Gulls either in flight or shimmering in the heat haze on the mud on the south side of the Thames. They were also being carefully scrutinized by DM (Birdwatch) whom we congratulated on the acceptance of the Slaty-backed Gull, now it's time to find a 'Black-tailed' example on site. Serin Mound was quiet birding wise and produced a family party of Kestrels over Wennington Marsh, and we soon returned to the centre. I think I was annoying the gang giving time checks along the riverwall so as not to be rushing for the Hen Harrier Day rally. A look into the field near the MDZ and the event was beginning to take shape. After a nice mug of tea we made our way down to the event, it was literally standing room only.

So what is all this about, "Hen Harrier Day".

(Birders Against Wildlife Crime) BAWC launched Hen Harrier Day in 2014 to raise awareness of the serious persecution suffered by these spectacular birds of prey. Despite full legal protection since the early 1950s, hen harriers remain absent from vast swathes of the UK. They are now almost extinct as a breeding species in England, primarily because of illegal persecution on intensively managed areas of upland grouse moor.

Hen Harrier Day has quickly become an annual fixture, growing from a single rally in the Peak District just two years ago to 12 events this year across the UK, including several events in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Four of the events will take place at RSPB reserves.

The event started at around 11:00 with Dr Mark Avery introducing the day and handed over for speeches from Charlie Moores, Chris Packham and Dr Mike Clarke. I found it to be a wonderful event, well attended, with the speeches at the right tone presented in a passionate yet professional manner.

Much respect to the speakers, the organisers, local staff and volunteers for hosting a special event. No doubt there will be analysis of the day on t'internet in days and weeks to come from both sides of the argument.

A good appraisal of the day can currently be found on the Rainham Marshes RSPB blog by clicking here

Please don't forget to sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting before 20 September 2016

Monday, 1 August 2016

Of Owls and Gulls

A flying visit back home at Spring Bank Holiday weekend and despite seeing a Little Owl near South Anston, Worksop on the way home followed by a Tawny Owl flying across the road at Greno Woods, Sheffield and then a silky smooth Barn Owl in flight over the weekend at Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire, it was not to be The Owls weekend. Consolation came in the form of a singing Savi's Warbler from deep within the reedbeds at Blacktoft and the returning female Montagu's Harrier that cut a lonesome figure perched in a reedbed bush. A trip to Spurn proved quiet for migrants apart from the male Red-backed Shrike that showed well in the Kilnsea Triangle. Note to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - Please respect this migrant rest point. The new Spurn Bird Observatory was looking good, hope to take it in at this year's Spurn Migration Festival.

June quiet, no chance! See the blog postings for Little Bittern and Great Knot.

At Rainham RSPB, London, July brought with it the typical appearance of Yellow-legged Gulls on the Thames shore. Connected with a dozen on several visits, 2nd summers and older. Birds were resting across the river on the mud opposite the RSPB centre - not confident in id'ing younger birds at such distance in mostly hazy conditions. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls were seen on consecutive weekends (2nd summer and adult summer). Marsh Harriers performed well throughout and first real movement of waders included a nice flock of 21 Black-tailed Godwits on the 23rd. Butterfly spotting took over with a wide variety of species across the reserve including at least 100 Gatekeepers along the river wall between the RSPB centre and Aveley Bay car park on the 23rd. Dragonflies scarce, Black-tailed Skimmers present earlier in the season were replaced by Ruddy Darters and the first Emperor Dragonfly of the summer.

Another flying visit back home and birded the moorland edge with my dad at the end of July. Buzzards and Kestrels dominated with a cream crown Marsh Harrier (1st summer male?) and a Hobby at Midhope on 31st. A Little Egret at nearby Ingbirchworth Res. would have made dispatches as would a local Little Owl, but the cracking juv. Caspian-type Gull found there by Mick C on 29th stole the headlines. Arrived at Ingbirchworth Res. just after 09:00 on Sunday 31st and my dad picked up a distinctive flat-headed juv. gull with, but slightly adrift from, 4 immature LBB Gulls about 50 yards off the Dam wall. I 'scoped it and it soon took off, managed to switch to camera to get the flight shots below. It looked like the bird Mick C found, noticed it's yellow bling. Phoned Mick C who was nearby and we soon located it down the road in a ploughed field. The twitch was on, spending the next hour looking at this stunner, which was bearing yellow ring X215 on its left leg. First time I've seen this Caspian Gull plumage and in my limited experience of this species, it looks good to me for Caspian Gull.






Sunday, 26 June 2016

Birding in the UK in June... ain't that a bit daft?

Who says birding in June is rubbish/slow. I used to but saying that this year is daft! A couple of twitches put paid to such a negative thought.

Little Bittern Twitch

Back home for the weekend Sat/Sun 18/19 June 2016 to twitch the Little Bittern at Old Moor RSPB. I've seen 3 in the UK so why twitch this one. Old Moor RSPB is part of the legendary 'Wath Area' where I've kept a list since starting birding there with my dad in the late '80s. Can't twitch everything back home and enjoy birding most Saturdays miles away at Rainham RSPB. Decided not to twitch the LB last year and now had a chance of a second bite of the cherry.

Thanks to the RSPB for the 07:30 early opening arranged for the LB's second weekend on site.

Sat 18 June. Arrived at Old Moor for 07:30 remaining on site until 14:00. Not a sight or a 'bark' from a Little Bittern - present daily for the past 2 weeks!!! (In the 6.5 hours could have flown to Madrid drove two hours west to Saucedilla, parked the car by the visitor centre, walk to the channel by the first hide and seen a breeding pair - Spain May 2016 trip report to be posted soonish).

Word got out late am that a Little Bittern was reported from Swillington Ings, 20? miles due north. Hang on a minute, it did this last year vanishing from the best inland site in the UK and did a bunk up to Leeds for a few days before returning to Old Moor. Nice timing!!! All was not lost as the Swillington sighting remained unconfirmed throughout the afternoon. Birdguides then reported Little Bittern at Old Moor flying past the Bittern hide at 7pm. Did the Little Bittern fly overnight Fri/Sat to Swillington and return Sat eve to Old Moor?

Sun 19 June. At Old Moor from 07:30, word got round that it was seen by the warden in a limited access area first thing. Things were looking up.

Repositioned to Bittern Hide at 08:30 ready for a long wait. The theory being it would fly in from the unaccessible reedbeds area past the hide to the ponds and willow trees behind.

At 09:45 when sort of in a standby state, not quite asleep but with one eye open to save energy and the other focused on the reedbed horizon (a sort of in an 'inland' seawatch state of concentration), a birder beside my dad shouted

"Little Bittern flying over Reedbed Hide towards us"

Brilliant directions, soon we locked on to it as it whizzed past into the thicket surrounding the ponds past the Bittern Hide. Didn't see it in the area of the ponds where folk have got brilliant photos of it in the last 2 weeks, but could hear it barking (not very loud).

10 seconds of madness gave a tripple whammy - Wath tick (187), Barnsley tick (226) and Yorkshire tick (330) !!!

Great Knot not Great Dot

Sat 25 June. Awoke just before 05:00, questioned my sanity, got ready, questioned that this is a stupid hobby, got on the train just before 06:00 for the 25 min journey into that there London.

Obligatory McDonalds breakfast purchased at Kings Cross and soon onboard the 06:44 Kings Cross to Kings Lynn. Watched the first episode of the new Top Gear on my tablet - not impressed!

Arrived Kings Lynn 08:20 walked the few minutes to the bus station and caught the coasthopper with another birder present at 08:45. It stopped everywhere such as Dersingham, Snettisham, Heacham, Thurnemouth Hunstanton and then eastbound along the coast road. Where to jump off? Great Knot seen early am at Gore Point, Holme but had flown off towards Titchwell at 08:15.

Got off at Titchwell and walked down to the beach, now 10:00. Walked down to the news that the Great Knot was at Scolt Head Island. Made the mistake of walking along the beach eastwards not realising there was a channel separating Titchwell marsh with Brancaster. Wouldn't be safe to cross even at low tide.

Recognised a birder from UEA days, looking from the dunes, Dave Appleton. Check out Dave's website Had a natter with Dave and others spending a good few hours tide gazing but no flocks of Knot coming this way heading back west. Had fly over Peregrine and Med Gull and and got onto an albino Starling spotted flying inland, it looked liked a giant gravity-defying snowflake.

Repositioned on the beach towards the end of the boardwalk 13:30ish, now loads of birders on site anticipating the Knot flock to fly in when the mussel beds were exposed on the ebbing tide. Also saw Dune Tiger Beetle, they kept birders entertained. I think they're scarce. A flyover Hobby looked stunning and a Spoonbill flew onto the freshmarsh.

Met up with Nick Croft a birder I bump into from time to time at Rainham RSPB who travelled on a later London train/coasthopper combination. He tweeted earlier about twitching the Great Knot so tried to keep Nick updated earlier en route by twitter DM but as soon as I hit the north coast all mobile/internet signal vanished! More on that in a minute.

Hang on a mo, amongst the masses and in front of us were birders I know from back home in Yorkshire (home to the best birding spot IMHO 'The Barnsley Area' - Cape May being a very close 2nd). Despite being Knot-less we had a good laugh for the next hour or so.

Knot from the freshmarsh (not containing GK) did start to come in and onto the shoreline mussel beds. However, we were noticing that the Scolt Head birds that were starting to come our way were going straight through. At 3pm I made a rash/brilliant decision. I said to Nick and the Barnsley gang, I'm going get the bus to Holme and check Gore Point, as it could be doing a repeat of Friday. Nick decided to head that way but on the coastal path via Thornham.

Had/Chose to jog past a stunning Spotted Redshank feet from the path along the side of the freshmarsh to make the 15:32 coasthopper... sacrilegious! Bloomin' twitcher!

Got to the bus stop at 15:31 and a bit. All of a sudden a car pulled out of the entrance road and then pulled over. A birding couple asked if I wanted a lift. I explained my plan and they kindly dropped me off by Holme Golf Course of Rock Thrush fame.

Not knowing exactly where Gore Point was, and no bloomin' internet signal I headed for the beach and in hindsight realised I was doing the long approach going down 2 sides of the triangle as opposed to up the coast path diagonal. Never mind I was at the mussel beds at 16:05 after walking north along this moonscape.

OMG a massive flock of Knot, unsure of how many 1000? but clearly more than Titchwell beach had to offer. No groups of birders around, there were 2 or 3 folk with binoculars but unsure if they were birders or tourists at that stage.

Set up the scope and the line of Knot were grilled. Started from the lhs and within seconds I had the back on view of a 'large' Knot with dark and red/gold-centred wing feathers. Surely not. After what appeared an age it turned side on. Ruddy hell it's here!!!!!

This was about 16:10. The views and plumage of the bird were a million percent better than the Tees-side Great Dot of 20 years ago.

Panic, how to get the news out!

Phone completely useless but as if by magic I turned around and there were birders arriving 'on spec', almost like a horror movie when zombies suddenly appear from out of nowhere. They weren't groaning and didn't appear soul-less, so I i'deed them as birders not zombies. They arrived a little quicker as I indicated in no uncertain terms that it was here.

Fortunately one of the birders had a phone signal so got the news out and kindly let me call one of the Barnsley birders, went to voicemail but message left. Managed to text them as well (don't know how but my phone came to life), so they were on the way. Now, Nick Croft. Didn't have his number so sent a delayed DM tweet and tweet in general about the bird, hoping it would somehow kick into action.

Within 30 mins. Nick arrived having walked all the way around. I explained about the tweet situation. All was well, the bird was still present - many remarking on it looking like a giant Turnstone!

Still no sign of the Barnsley gang as Nick and I left aiming for the 18:00 coasthopper to Kings Lynn. Turns out they had a scenic detour. On walking through Holme village another birding couple driving by asked if we wanted a lift. We explained we were heading for the bus down the road. They would have none of that, said get in we'll drop you off at Kings Lynn railway station and arrived for the 18:32 back to London.  After getting on the train my delayed tweets finally made the airwaves!

Two hours later back in London town, absolutely shattered! A brilliant twitch. Cannot grumble over the cost either ca. £25 return Kings Cross to Kings Lynn + £9.50 day ticket on the coasthopper and the lifts from the birding community were very much appreciated.

Cyprus April 2016 - Trip Report

Finally got my Cyprus (April 2016) birding trip report on the web. Please take a look (pdf) by clicking on 'Birding Trip Reports - Other' and the pdf is available via the first link at the Europe section, or by clicking here.

It was a brilliant trip, 3 possibly 4 lifers, the 'definites' being Hooded Wheatear, Black Francolin and Cretzschmar's Bunting, the other right at the end of the trip - Laughing Dove. At the moment I'm unsure of the origin and 'tickability' of this species.

Enjoy the trip report and any questions drop me a tweet @JohnoGull. A few photos to whet your appetite below.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Birding in Germany - The Fischadler Strikes back - well, it nearly did

Spent a brilliant weekend visiting friends in Germany. Successful birding as well with a good variety of habitats visited and species seen.

First stop (Fri 29 April) the Kaiserstuhl in SW Germany just across the Rhine from Colmar in France, and to the west of Freiburg. This vineyard rich area with its distinctive sandy soil has a Mediterranean feel in looks as well as in its fauna. Hoopoes were showy and called frequently but Bee-eaters were not yet in. A pair of displaying Turtle Doves may have been also-rans in the past but, now, I gave them as much time as the Hoopoes and Black Kites present. A strikingly pale Common Buzzard was in the area.

A couple of visits (Sat 30 April and Sun 21 01 May) to the marshland reserve called Waghausel north of Karlsruhe held its goodies. Purple Herons attended their reedbed 'tower' nests but the Bluethroats were not as showy, only a couple of makes glimpsed from their reedbed song posts. Waders on the move with a dozen Greenshank, a couple of Spotted Redshanks and half a dozen Wood Sandpipers present, the latter down to one on the second visit. Raptors were good, 8 species seen with top billing going to an Osprey heading north mid pm on on the Sunday - flashback to 2003 when we also caught up with a passage bird. This one made three attempts to get lunch but left with empty wet talons. 6 Mediterranean Gulls present in the BH Gull colony comprised pairs at the 3 differing ages (1st summer, 2nd summer and adult summer) and a smart adult Little Gull slept before a Peregrine spooked the roosting gulls on the first pond.

Final day (Mon 02 May) and off to the Black Forest before flying home in the evening. A couple of Red Kites were noted and 1 or 2 Alpine Swifts briefly joined half a dozen or so Common Swifts feeding above an upland valley. A ski slope just off the 'Black Forest High Street' still sporting patches of unmelted snow held feeding Thrushes represented by: Mistle (12+), Blackbird (5+), Ring Ouzel (2) and Song Thrush (1). The Ouzels looked not to be local 'alpestris' birds but birds of more northern climes. A Wheatear added to the variety as did Chafinches. A little disappointing not to catch up with Citril Finch and Nutcracker as in years past, but birding sat outside a cafe eating cake and drinking hot chocolate with 'scopes primed cannot be bad. Perhaps we were just too lucky a couple of years? ago when we fluked an immature Pallid Harrier migrating through this Pass in mid April.

Cheers to Chris and Sue for their kind hospitality, looking forward to the next German pilgrimage. Trip report to be uploaded in the coming weeks.