Sunday, 14 October 2018

Twitching Dutch Football early October

Twitching European Football on a near annual European footy trip with fellow Owls friends. An early start on the Eurostar from London St Pancras (Friday 5th October 2018), destination the Netherlands. I bet the train is too fast to spot anything at Rainham Marshes RSPB. Yep and moreover, a bit foggy!

Time for a spot of raptor football on the outward leg from London to our base in Rotterdam. The fog soon cleared when crossing into Kent but the raptors were not playing ball, only a single Common Buzzard seen somewhere in NE France.

It could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Utrecht or Eindhoven!

Rotterdam's top team, Feyenoord, were out of town and the fixtures gave us a trip to watch FC Utrecht on the Friday night and then over to watch PSV Eindhoven the following day.

So, first match up FC Utrecht vs NAC Breda, 8pm kick off. A short train ride NE from Rotterdam to Utrecht through characteristic flat lowland landscape, mainly farmland
separated by water channels and small villages. Always do a bit of birding and the journey produced the occasional Common Buzzard loitering on a fence post with 2 or 3 Great White Egrets studying the channels. A small flock of a dozen Barnacle Geese, and possibly the more numerous Greylag Geese, had the Dutch equivalent of 'Category C' feel to them. Earlier on after checking into the hotel in Rotterdam a very pale Common Buzzard flew over this phase, a more common sight than back home when it can lead to confusion.

FC Utrecht 2 - 1 NAC Breda
A few beers in Utrecht, a nice University city with more cycles than ever you could imagine! In the low 20's on arrival mid afternoon. A 30 minutes walk to the stadium along a canal, and a bag of chips before the match then joined the locals in the stadium. The first half and FC Utrecht were all over their opponents and took the lead on the stroke of half time from the penalty spot, only after the ref had checked VAR pitch side. Early on in the second half FC Utrecht extended their lead with an Adam Reach-esque curler from outside of the box and the game looked won. NAC Breda finally had other ideas and pulled one back, leaving not quite a frenetic finish but an exciting one. FC Utrect weren't exactly hanging on and a third goal wouldn't have been unjust. A nice atmosphere and passion from the home end, and the win moved FC Utrecht out of the bottom three but NAC Breda remained rooted at the foot of the table. Late train back to Rotterdam.

PSV Eindhoven 4 - 0 VVV-Venlo
Whilst birding was patchy about a dozen Meadow Pipits SW over the hotel on the Saturday morning in Rotterdam proved some 'Mipits' were still on the continent. Saturday afternoon we took the train from Rotterdam to Eindhoven, just over one hour away having got a good deal online, worked out at 10 Euros each off peak with a group return. Again several Great White Egrets sighted in the fields en route, some giving a nice fly by. Soon we were taking in Eindhoven and a few nice beers. In the early evening we took the short walk from the city centre to Philips Stadium to watch the Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven host VVV-Venlo. PSV have had a flying start in the league this season, being unbeaten in their opening seven Eredivisie matches. This was soon to become eight. Got to our seats just before the 1945 kick off and the light show before the teams took to the pitch was spectacular. PSV's start to the game was more measured, working the ball nicely around the pich. The opposition VVV-Venlo were no pushovers but I felt that PSV could step up to another gear at anytime. They did manage to take a 1 - 0 lead before the break following a move with a few neat passes that proved to be clinical.

After half time PSV moved through the gears. Our view was from high up, but was good because it allowed a study of the formation and movement employed by PSV. The final score of 4 - 0 perhaps flattered the hosts, there were several good goals and one came from a penalty following a VAR review at the end of second half injury time. The review was quick but an issue was the seemingly lengthy wait for a break in play for the ref to run off the pitch to view the monitor. A nice Stadium, decent atmosphere and easy access to the ground from the city centre made it a pleasant experience. Back to Rotterdam.

A flyby Egyptian Goose on the Sunday morning was probably one of two seen at the pond near the hotel on leaving. Left Rotterdam just before noon back to London on train, with a quick change in Brussels.

A cracking trip, good football and good company with many thanks all round to the friends who went out of their way in helping to get nice accommodation, arranging match tickets and travel - top quality! Even if they didn't laugh at my jokes!

Monday, 8 October 2018

Mid September Birding - inland Yorkshire Birding highlights with a visit across the Pennines

Lancashire Hot Spots

Twitched an agile Pallid Harrier that had a brief sojourn over farmland skirting the saltmarsh on the East side of the The Fylde, Cockerham, Lancashire (17th). Nice to watch it quarter the fields after a Meadow Pipit snack or two, more on them later, as well as turning the tables on a mobbing Crow. A scan over the saltmarsh saw the now staple British Little Egret forage in the channels and Curlew and Lapwing were represented but outnumbered by noisy Redshanks. Panic set in when a Peregrine decided to put on the after-burners in search of a spot of wader lunch. Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier also noted here.

A couple of hours later I was across the marsh over at Skippool Creek racing against the incoming tide to spot the Semipalmated Sandpiper that had been present for a few days. A bit of a slog around one side of the Creek to where most of the smaller waders were feeding or roosting. No sign of the Nearctic peep over several scans of roosting Dunlin (20). One final scan and out of nowhere there it was. I managed the following record photo and helped a few others who had now made their way over from the Pallid Harrier twitch to see the bird, before the rising tide pushed it out of sight against the near bank. Ok, it can be easy twitching other's finds as I was doing today, and the pressure can be off. From my recent experience of this species on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, and without seeing the palmations or taking detailed notes of this individual, it did look to be a 'Semi-P' on size, shape and impression alone. Much credit goes out to those with the task in hand of writing or collating notes for submission of this individual.

Owt darn Wath?

Old Moor RSPB the wetland reserve in the Dearne Valley, east of Barnsley, South Yorkshire. A brilliant place but it should not be taken in isolation, it's one of three main bodies of water in 'The Wath Area' collectively forming one of the best inland birding areas in Great Britain - Broomhill Flash, Wombwell Ings and Wath Ings (now a major part of Old Moor RSPB). With apologies for excluding Bolton Ings. Will always keep a 'Wath List' and this week back home saw me drop on 2 Wath ticks (Dipper and Grey Phalarope) and a 2nd for me at this site in the form of Spotted Crake. Now on # 194 for the area.

  • The Dipper was only the 2nd ever seen here in the Barnsley Area lowlands and first twitchable record.

  • Less than 10 Grey Phalaropes have been seen in 'The Wath Area', this latest one arriving on a day that saw many appear storm driven inland (21st).

  • The Spotted Crake gave many a birder the runaround during this period, but showed well in the open from The Reedbed Hide during a torrential late afternoon downpour (20th). I also connected when it finally gave itself up to the masses in drier conditions as it was being booted by a Moorhen the weekend before, on the evening of the 15th. 

Is it a Manic Monday, a Terrible Tuesday or perhaps a fantastic Sheffield Wednesday? No, it's Mipit Saturday !!!

You can't beat a bit of visible migration, vis- or is it viz-migging. Saturday 22nd September proved to be a good day for this birding art form, when every Meadow Pipit ('Mipit') in the Western Palearctic appeared to be making there way West across Great Britain. Way up on the South Yorkshire moorland edge provided a good vantage point, looking north scanning across the heather clad vista. The sky was full of dots to the horizon, literally hundreds of Meadow Pipits moving on a broad front and when in earshot giving their varied flight calls. Seeing the sky full of Pipits reminded me of Cape May's (fall) morning flight over in New Jersey, USA when the Warblers zoom by overhead, only for a look to the East out across the pond at the Higbees Morning Flight watchpoint revealing more passerines reverse migrating over the entire Point. Only then can the shear scale of such a movement taking place be truly appreciated.

Back to South Yorkshire where with my dad we tallied over 700 'Mipits' in the morning and continued counts (Upland Tyke and Simmo) throughout the day logging a total of over 1,600 by close of play. The 700 of the morning was perhaps an underestimate on my part, the birds moving on a broad front making counting very difficult, it could easily have been twice that number. Not just Meadow Pipits, caught up in the movement were finches including a flock of 20 Redpolls and several Siskins, and up 70 of the latter moved north west along the chain of moorland reservoirs late in the afternoon. Not too far away as the Anthus flies, an incredible 11,000+ Mipits were noted on this day moving over Anglers CP, West Yorkshire. This weekend also saw Pink-footed Geese returning to their wintering grounds with several small skeins noted moving NW in the Barnsley and Sheffield recording areas. Bringing proceedings to an end on the Sunday (23rd) a pair of Merlins tormenting a group of Ravens above a moorland peak was a special sight. It was instructive to study the feisty moorland wizards interacting with the magnificent King of the corvids.

With thanks to Simmo, Upland Tyke and Ivan et al for help with birding information throughout the week.

More photos from the week back home at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Cape May Birding - Episode 20 - The Return of the Swainsonii

It is a period of bird race war. Rebel birders, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic List Keepers. They also managed to escape the north by 10am.

During the battle, Rebel birders located secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the NORTH SOUTH WORLD SERIES ROUTE.

Evading the dreaded Imperial Turnpike, a group of freedom birders led by Admiral N.K. Skywalker has established a new birding route on the remote pine barren world of Jer Sey.

Pursued by the Empire's agents, the 1000birds squadron races south aboard their SUV starship with an Audubon Falcon in support, custodians of the plans that can save the birders and restore freedom to the birdathon. Not making the Kessel run along the I-80 from the north in less than 12 parsecs their route planning skills were tested.

WITHOUT STOPPING FOR LUNCH the great Brig system soon came into view. Their thoughts turned to shorebirds, overwinterers and then beyond where the singing Swainson's Warbler, quantum tunnelling Cattle Egrets, and the Herons of the Atlantic Back Bay Marshes await.

The story continues...

Please click on the weblink above the Swainson's Warbler or the following weblink to view the trip report from Cape May - May 2018.

Friday, 31 August 2018

August - autumn birding moves into second gear

The Honey Buzzard of my previous post seen moving south along the South Yorkshire moorland edge at the beginning of the month was a little unexpected so early into the birding autumn season. Raptor migration takes shape later in the month in the UK and into September. August is a time when birders focus upon the arrival of passage waders, a time to take in seabird movement as it develops on the east coast, and with thoughts of adding continental passerine drift migrants to a year list as the month progresses.

Of passage waders - throughout August around 50 beautiful Black-tailed Godwits moved between the Thames shore and their high tide roost of Aveley Pools at Rainham Marshes RSPB on the eastern edge of London. One visit saw 2 Avocets and also 2 Greenshanks to be found on the same pools sharing the space with many eclipse ducks as well as 11 Dunlin, several Common Sandpipers, 3 Ruff and a lone Little Ringed Plover. Not to forget probing Snipe and roosting Lapwings. A Whimbrel remained faithful to the riverside at one stage giving an excellent flyby comparison alongside a Curlew.

Back up north at Old Moor RSPB, Barnsley, South Yorkshire the legendary Wath Ings held several waders towards the month's end, namely 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Ruff and 3 Golden Plovers amongst a small gathering of Lapwings. There were 2 each of Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Dunlin and not to forget its signature Green Sandpipers.

Of drift migrants - nothing rare crossed my path, but inland the sound of the 'hoeet' of the 'Willow/Chiff' became a common sound were perhaps local breeders and not continental visitors.

Of seabirds - so what does the following bring to mind in August? 2 layers of trousers, a fleece and wax jacket, spare fleece with extra waterproofs and hat and gloves on standby...

Typical dress code for an August Bank Holiday seawatch at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire! Whilst the wind had a favourable NW component throughout most of Saturday 25th, perhaps a few days of this wind was required for a big movement of seabirds. Nevertheless from 1000 to 1900 perched on the grassy side below the foghorn station a nice and varied seawatch was recorded. Full details available at the Flamborough - Trektellen site, but my own counts included over 50 Manx and 6 Sooty Shearwaters, with double figures of Arctic Skua and half a dozen Great Skuas. An adult Pomarine Skua close inshore flying north late afternoon was nice to see. A couple of summer plumage Red-throated Divers flew by and waders moving 'in off' included a lone Greenshank as well as a small group of Knot and some Golden Plovers. A Snipe flying over the sea looked a little out of place, with Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Turnstones more familiar with the rocky coastline.

Of any other business - the Godwits played second fiddle to the crowds on the 11th, but offered a beautiful backdrop as they glowed in the warm sunshine on flying past a group of over 200 folk gathered near to the Marshland Discovery Zone at Rainham Marshes RSPB. The gathering were listening to passionate, well delivered, and in one example, an impromptu speech all with one simple message, at this one of the many Hen Harrier Day 2018 events. I'll let the photos do the talking.

Scarcities or rarities. Yellow-legged Gulls may be scattered in some parts of the UK but along the Thames in July and August they are a dead cert, usually in double digit numbers. Some cracking views on the ebbing tide at Rainham Marshes RSPB.

Cattle Egret, always nice to see and several can be seen in the UK throughout the year, memories of twitching one during the 1992 influx are distant. A Cattle Egret in the SW may not raise a few eyebrows (where there are over 50 present), but it is still rare in Yorkshire. The lure of one at Fairburn Ings RSPB near Leeds was tempting at August Bank Holiday. When it finally moved away from its perch at the base of a favoured bush, it shared a pool with Little Egret and an adult and an immature Spoonbill. A sign of the birding times, and the same could be said of the two juvenile Red Kites tangling with Common Buzzards over nearby farmland.

Old Moor RSPB has had a cracking year for breeding Bitterns, one bird was seen in flight along the edge of Wath Ings on the Sunday (washout) day of the Bank Holiday weekend.

The South Yorkshire moorlands played host to a passage Marsh Harrier on Bank Holiday Monday, where Ravens argued with Common Buzzards. Away from the moorland ridge 5 Yellow Wagtails dropped in to inspect the insects around grazing cattle in upland pasture. A pair of Crossbills flitting between moorland plantations were nice, hopefully more to come when the birding autumn turns to winter.

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.