Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Cyprus midweek update

Lovely weather continues in Cyprus and it's comfortable for birding. Migration continues but a bit of work is needed digging out the gems. Highlights from Tuesday and Wednesday include:

Tuesday 20 March - a Red-throated Pipit on the deck, Ruppell's Warbler and Bonelli's Eagle.

Wednesday 21 March - a couple of Desert Wheatears (Timi Beach and Cape Drepanum), GS Cuckoo, E Bonelli's Warblers and Cyprus Warblers.

Latest boc record photos below

Monday, 19 March 2018

Cyprus first few days

Back on Cyprus and enjoying the migration with the temp in the mid to high 20s. Selected highlights so far include:

Saturday 17 March - 250+ Slender-billed Gulls at Larnaca Airport Pools North.

Sunday 18 March - Isabelline Wheatears Mandria.

Monday 19 March - Bimaculated Lark Akrotiri GP and 2 or 3 SE Owls in off, Squacco Heron and BE Wheatear Phassouri Reedbeds. Hen Harrier Anarita Park where 5 Crane sp quickly lost to view flying north pm.

Nice to catch up with local and visiting birders. Some cropped boc photos below

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Early Year Birding - including the Horned Lark and continuing Parrot Crossbills

Visited Rainham Marshes RSPB, London on the first two Saturdays of the year where wintering waders were the highlight. Sightings included a group of up to 28 Avocets noted in Aveley Bay, a handful of Black-tailed Godwits, less than a hundred Golden Plovers and more than a hundred Dunlin gracing the Thames shoreline. Later in the month connected with over a hundred Black-tailed Godwits up at and beyond the Stone Barges, many more Dunlin in the same area (500) and a couple of wintering Common Sandpipers were noteworthy from walking down the Thames shore between the Stone Barges and the RSPB centre. A pair of Peregrines sighted on the first Saturday over the marshes, and Marsh Harriers were a regular sight on all visits as were Kestrels. Sparrowhawk and Buzzard present but less showy. Several Stonechats delighted visitors, Cetti's Warblers blasted their song from reedbed cover and Song Thrushes tested their singing skills.

A couple of visits to Thames Barrier Park, London in January and early February produced the sub-adult Yellow-legged Gull shown below.

Red Kite within the M25 no longer an unexpected sight with one bird patrolling the skies in suburbia on a couple of Sundays.

Back home late January and moorland birding focussed on the Parrot Crossbills just over into Derbyshire above Howden Reservoir in the Derwent Valley. The long staying group of 12 were elusive, flying into the plantation tree tops after an hour's wait (Sat 27). Picked up on call - lower pitched than their commoner cousins and more drawn out 'jeep' as opposed to a sharp 'jip'. They gave a brief look before melting into the trees as they did at Xmas time. A flock of 17 Common Crossbills moved between here and the King's Tree area. Close to double figures of Ravens seen over the Yorkshire Moors to the east whilst Crossbill waiting, with at least two birds pairing up. The following day was windy not yielding much over Midhope Moors but a couple of Buzzards showed, and at the Low Moor feeders lots of Goldfinches and Long-tailed Tits tucked into the generous offerings.

Early February and the Staines Reservoir, London 'Shorelark' reappeared, a good candidate for one of the American Horned Lark subspecies. Connected with this rare visitor (Sat 03) but it took a while to perform for the birders, and coupled with being drenched in the fine rain this put paid to further birding elsewhere that day. Walking along the causeway about 0800 it suddenly appeared in flight on the S basin half way along the causeway giving its distinctive 'tee-dee' flight call. It moved W and went to ground in the mossy side of the basin. A calling Water Pipit went in the opposite direction. Back to the 'Horned Lark' which then took off again this time with a group of Meadow Pipits that appeared out of nowhere from the grassy edges, and they all appeared to drop down at the eastern end of the causeway. Could not relocate it but tried to let as many other birders know about it as they arrived on site from that end. It's always good fun trying to convince others of a single observer sighting. Glad that it was relocated back at the eastern end to allay fears of it doing a bunk and also to grab a few photos and video of this very rare taxon to this side of the Pond. However, this was about 90 minutes later and the bird had settled down feeding along the mossy verges of the S basin as the rain increased. Despite the damp conditions the views of this distinctive rich-toned bird were a lot better than before Xmas when it was way way way over in the NW corner of the N basin. Also of note was a Black-necked Grebe with partial sum plum ears gracing the S basin and several Goldeneyes were present on both sides of the causeway. The N basin held many Great Crested Grebes, looking huge on the relatively calm water.

More photos from early 2018 at the top of the 'Latest UK Bird Photos' section. Please enjoy.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Late December Birding, negative news on Garganey but a Barnsley Sooty Shearwater

"Negative news on the Garganey but there's been a Barnsley Sooty Shearwater!" As Kirsty Wark (or Jan Ravens) might say, "More on that story later!"

Back home for Xmas and New Year. Birding was 'steady', success heavily influenced by the weather. Birding concentrated on the moorlands where it started off foggy just before Xmas, then rainy before progressing to grey leaden skies during most of the Xmas week with occasional short lived bright spots. A morning of snow before New Year swiftly gave way to a return to the grey. One constant contributing to the difficult birding was the wind, it was bloomin' relentless. No calm days noted, days when Pink-footed Geese can often be seen moving cross country in their skeins as can be typical in South Yorkshire area at this time. Thanks to the Polar Vortex pumelling North America and fueling the jet stream, this yielded an essentially mild, windy and green festive period in the UK, Yorkshire being no exception!

Birding highlights included the splendid Hawfinch spending time at Broomhill Flash (Barnsley) car park munching away before taking in a circuit of the village, Wath Tick #191. Up on the moorlands the Parrot Crossbills played hide and seek at the plantation above the true Windy Corner of Howden Reservoir, on the Derbyshire side of the valley. Not only did the Crossbill's id test the biders, so did the terrain. The steep track leading through the plantation was either muddy, frozen, snowy or a ranging torrent of melt water depending on the day of the visit. If you've seen the Bradley Wiggins Skoda advert on telly of late, the track leads its way from the road bordering the reservoir through the dense tree cover up to the left in the last shot of the advert. Connected with the party of 12 Parrot Crossbills on 2 visits, they were keeping themselves to themselves even though up to 20 Common Crossbills were seen on occasion. The subtly different 'jeep' call of the Parrots could be picked out after decent study, compared with the 'jip' call of their commoner cousins. Hope they stay to Easter for further study. Not all of them had large bills probably due to varying maturity. Whilst waiting for the rare finches Ravens could be seen pairing up over the Yorkshire moorlands to the east and some raptors were glimpsed. Elsewhere on the moorlands Red Grouse showed well, Buzzards were commonplace and a couple of Stonechats were a nice sight at Low Moor.

Hawfinch, Broomhill Flash, Barnsley, South Yorkshire (Dec. 2017)

Parrot Crossbill, Howden Res., Derbyshire (Dec. 2017)

Moorland scenes between Xmas and New Year (December 2017)

Start of the new year and birders think more of their lists and year ticks to come. Whilst I've not kept a year list for many a year an added interest this time around concerns changes to the British List. Not just a few ticks to add here or there, if like me you prefer the amchair tick approach, but this time ther have been wholesale changes. This is due to the British Ornithologists' Union (BOC) adopting the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) World Bird List for the British list, effective 01 January 2018.

So what's in and what's out?

From a personal perspective it's bye bye to Fea's Petrel, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Isabelline Shrike, with a big 'How Do' to Least Tern and Tundra Bean Goose.

Was lucky to see the Scillonian Fea's Petrel (Aug 2001) as it clung to the wake for about 90 minutes as the pelagic sailing started its journey back to Penzance. A late in the day fly by Fea's/Zino's following a line of Manxies off Flamborough (Aug 2003) was a cracker as I was glad to stay an extra 15 mins to help with a decent Manxie count. Not got a clue now as to what I have now seen off Madeira (2010). Can Desertas and Fea's Petrels be ideed in the field?

Can no longer joke with American friends not being able to tick Hudsonian Whimbrel. This side of the pond saw the bird in south Wales on Cup Final Day (May 2002).

(Hudsonian) Whimbrel, Brigantine, New Jersey, USA (May 2015)

Will the Spurn Isabelline Shrike of October 1991 or the Horsey, Norfolk individual of October 2006 get identified to type? I read somewhere that it's a brave birder who identifies them to what was sub-specific level, even with birds in the hand.


In the old days they used to be referred to by their scientific name 'fabalis' and 'rossicus', but nowadays Taiga and Tundra seem to be the preferred prefix for our Bean Geese pair. This one probably gets more attention for the birder's local list(s). From a Barnsley perspective my first Bean Geese were the Whitley Common flock (early 1988) - I'm sure they were Taiga's. The one accompanying a Pink-foot at Broomhill Flash, Barnsley in March 1992 being one of the wandering Tundra variety.

Tundra Bean Goose, Broomhill Flash, Barnsley, South Yorkshire (March 1992)

Remember hearing a squeak from behind the shingle bank of Rye Harbour, Sussex one morning in June 1992 soon after dawn. The perpetrator flying over from its out of sight roost revealing it's grey rump as well as the unusual call. That was a typical view of the (presumed) transatlantic visitor, Britain's first Least Tern.

Least Tern, Cape May, New Jersey, USA (May 2014)

Armchair ticks and tidy up. Been busy this time. GB and Yorkshire Siberian Accentor, GB Western Swamphen, World List - Cabot's Tern, Monk Parakeet, Ruddy Shelduck and Audubon's Warbler. The latter's interesting. Seen them in Washington State, USA, so they're on my world List but if I kept an American list, it would be missing as this split is not currently recognised having been turned down in the American Ornithological Society 2017 update.

Ruddy Shelduck, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany (Spring 2015)

Cabot's Tern, Cape May, New Jersey, USA (Autumn 2005)

Have fun sorting your lists.

  • WORLD - 853 and GB - 465
  • NORFOLK - 354 and YORKSHIRE - 337
  • BARNSLEY 229 and WATH AREA -191

Hope I've not bored you with the stats. If you're still with me you may be wondering what on earth the line, "Negative news on the Garganey but there's been a Barnsley Sooty Shearwater!" is all about.

When changing lists there's always one missing, or one extra present when comparing new and old lists. Realised Garganey was missing from all, and had given myself a Barnsley and Wath Area Sooty Shearwater... which would be nice!

Garganey (definitely!), Old Moor RSPB, Barnsley, South Yorkshire (Autumn 2016)

Sooty Shearwater, Old Moor RSPB, Barnsley, South Yorkshire (Sep. 2012),
California, USA (Sep. 2012)

Sunday, 3 December 2017

November Birding - stop Larking about, it's all about listing!

A bit of rough weather at Rainham Marshes RSPB (4th), Thrushes and Chaffinches dropping out of the sky in a squally shower, taking cover between the centre and the woodland. A small party of southbound 'dweezing' Bramblings were particularly noteworthy, as was a Firecrest that kept to cover along the edge of the Cordite.

Back home in Yorkshire at Remembrance Weekend (11th/12th), weather a bit parky, sunny with a short and sharp Arctic blast. On the Saturday connected with the 'Wath Area's' first ever Marsh Tit as it zoomed over the top path of Warbler Way calling non-stop. The local Willow Tits playing second fiddle today. Marsh Tit is a rare visitor to the Barnsley Area so was it a one-off? If they are spreading, would there be an impact on the fragile local Willow Tit population? Fantastic from a somewhat selfish listing perspective though, my 190th species for the 'Wath Area' and 228th for my Barnsley Area list.

Soon up onto the South Yorkshire moorlands where Buzzards mastered the cold northerly wind to hang over the shallow valley edges. Two skeins of over 100 Pink-footed Geese each were probably bound for the north west. Sparrowhawks caused havoc amongst the passerines at Low Moor. The feeder bush at Low Moor played host to a nice variety of birds, where a Willow Tit was the star attraction this time.

 The welcoming party - looking for a snack

 What next for the Low Moor Bush feeding station - Great Grey Shrike?

Back at Rainham Marshes RSPB on Sunday 19th with a good bit of wader activity along the riverside walk from near to the Stone Barges down to the RSPB centre. Sightings included many Redshanks, 120 Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the bay to the west of the barges, a (wintering?) Common Sandpiper flew by and a Turnstone called as it joined Black-headed and Common Gulls on the Stone Barges jetty. An adult dark-belied Brent Goose looked lost here as it flew up and then downriver, repeating this action a couple of hours later downriver in Aveley Bay. On the reserve at least one Firecrest continued on the edge of the Cordite and another highlight was of a fem/imm Black Redstart present late afternoon on the grey building out towards the middle of the reserve. Water Pipit back for the winter were pretty showy on site and a handful of Avocet noted as was a lone Ruff.

Rainham Marshes RSPB was quieter on Saturday 25th, 6 Avocets graced the Thames shore and a couple of Grey Plovers were seen in flight as a Peregrine zoomed by, one of the Plovers dropping onto the mud of Aveley Bay. A couple of 'cream crown' Marsh Harriers hunted over the reserve, a Buzzard was seen off by a Carrion Crow, Kestrels hovered high over the reserve margins and a Sparrowhawk scared all and sundry on the feeders by the centre. A different focus with a bit of a twitch on Sunday (26th) in London. Off to Staines Reservoir, train from Waterloo and a 45 mins walk from Staines railway station to the causeway (should have took the slow train to nearby Ashford instead!) The focus was the candidate (North American) Horned Lark sighted on the side of the north basin. Still present on that cold morning but the bird was very distant as it loosely associated with a flock of Linnets. This Lark did look different to the (European) Shorelarks I've seen wintering in the UK in the past, even at such incredible distance (x60 zoom needed). It would have looked really impressive had it been close as it had been the previous day. I've seen a few in the USA mainly on the eastern seaboard, but views have also been distant and hazy when seen along the sides of the runway of Cape May County Airport prior to and during several World Series of Birding attempts. Will pay them more attention next time, subject to the distraction caused by the cracking breakfast at the Flight Deck Diner at Cape May Airport! Interesting taxonomy with many subspecies but when and where where do you slice the Horned Lark cake?

Staines Reservoir - Horned Lark - it's between the smoking chimney and the pylon to the right. See the bush to the left of the pylon and the red life-jacket on the fence. Ok, now go 5 o'clock from that to the set of paved slabs forming the side of the reservoir and the Lark is in the 3rd set of slabs up from the bottom of the reservoir hanging out with Linnets in the grassy edges to the slabs.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Birding Trip Report - Cyprus 14 - 21 October 2017

Cyprus offers great birding with the focus on spring and autumn migration. This visit was late in the autumn, so I knew most of the summering birds would have gone south and I was on the cusp of the arrival of its wintering birds. Nevertheless, birding was far from dull and it was good throughout.

Highlights included the Falcons, the graceful Eleonora's Falcon and the busy Red-footed Falcon stole the show. I was lucky to see the latter, to be honest they were off my radar as I thought they could have moved off south by the time of this visit. It was instructive to study the Falcons in flight especially at distance. Birding Asprokremmos Dam a few kms east of Paphos tested this out.
  • How easy is it to identify an Eleonora's Falcon flying over a Dam at distance? Is it the structure that gives it away, how long is the tail, is it the dark underwing coverts to look for on the majority of them, or should you concentrate on the languid glide that quickly turns into a very fast pursuit of prey within seconds? 
What's the significance? Well, trying to put myself in the very unlikely situation (and you may say daft proposition) of watching a funny Hobby type Falcon flying in-off say at Spurn, Flamborough or out along the wind farm backdrop to Titchwell. The view that makes you think that doesn't look right for Hobby but it's not a Peregrine. Could you call out an Eleonora's on such a fly by?

Back to 'Aspro. Dam' which also held a feeding flock of Red-foots one evening, whizzing around like clockwork toys, but what about the not so whizzy Falcon amongst them in the glow of the low evening sunlight. It was a bit broader in the wings, dull underneath and easy to follow when videoing, was that significant? It was a Hobby.
  • Whilst the situation may be reversed back home, trying to find a silhouetted Red-foot amongst a feeding Hobby flock over an inland marsh one May, will the size give it away or the flight style instead?
Anyhow, moving on from Falcons, the birding was varied, mostly coastal or just inland. Whilst the sea was quiet, it did offer Scopoli's and Yelkouan Shearwaters, although the views were not as good as in October 2016.

Enjoy the trip report (pdf), please click on 'Birding Trip Reports - Other' tab at the top of the blog and it's the first one at the top of the Europe section.

Trip report makes reference to the excellent Gosney Guide - Finding Birds in Southern Cyprus (2010) which still offers a good baseline for planning your birding, as does Stagg and Hearl's 'A Birdwatching Guide to Cyprus'.

Video compilation to follow, especially of those whizzing and not so whizzing Falcons.

Finally, thanks not only to birders online and in the field who helped me throughout, but to all of those involved with preventing bird slaughter in this area, and promoting conservation - CABS and Birdlife Cyprus immediately come to mind. Their unrelenting dedication needs to be acknowledged and promoted.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

September Birding Video Highlights

Nice to twitch a rarity and added bonus was being able to twitch the mega Scops Owl as soon as the news broke. Always good birding up in the NE.

Please click on the link for the Scops Owl YouTube video.

A compilation of birding videos from back home in Yorkshire in September. Good inland birding with nice views of Red-throated Diver and Grey Phalarope being a couple of the local highlights. The east coast wasn't too shabby either but the Easington Rose-coloured Starling played hide and seek.

Please click on the link for the Yorkshire September Birding YouTube compilation video.