Thursday, 12 May 2022

Early May Bank Holiday 2022 - Regal Birding

Back home for May Day Bank Holiday weekend and a Saturday afternoon up on the South Yorkshire moorlands where a Ring Ouzel sang alongside Stonechats and the afternoon sun brought out a basking Common Lizard.

Common Lizard

Willow Warblers in full song in a moorland Beck and the heather packed with Meadow Pipits. Up high a Red Kite tangled with Buzzards, one of which was a pale form. After 4pm a raptor low over the moor flying away flashed white underside, thought it was the pale Buzzard, but it didn't look right. I kept on it and it soon started to gain height and circled in the valley drifting north, revealing itself to be the equal top raptor in the World, an Osprey, sharing top position with Goshawk and Eleonora's Falcon. The latter not (yet) on the Barnsley list. The Osprey had probably flown W up the Beck and then drifted out over a Clough. A local Buzzard had seen the migrant raptor, flew in to investigate and after a bit of a tangle they drifted apart. The Osprey didn't seem to know where it was going, headed NW then it came back S and then more determined it flew strongly to the SW towards the reservoirs over in Upper Derwent Valley. 


A bit of twitching on Sunday, connected with the immature drake King Eider on the coast at Marske-by-the-Sea, a Yorkshire tick. It showed well in calm conditions but whilst fairly close in it was a challenge for a phone scoped record photo. A scan to the left and a group of 3 Red-throated Divers had a Black-throated Diver alongside with a Great Northern Diver just a scope's width to the left. Are Great Northern Divers getting more commonplace wintering on the North Sea coast?

King Eider

Late morning and decided to chance the bird of the year/decade/century Yorkshire's Black-browed Albatross, driving the scenic route along the coast past Whitby and Scarborough to Bempton Cliffs RSPB where 'Albie' had been seen around the cliffs on a couple of occasions that morning. Arrived to uncertain news, it had been in the area but was on the sea and had probably drifted out of view. After about 30 minutes whilst at Bartlett Nab viewpoint news came over a RSPB radio that it was flying past the next viewpoint to the south, Grandstand. A bit of a panic and a scan to the right towards Staple Newk, and there it was circling around the cliff edge with Gannets. A wander down the coast path to beyond the Staple Newk viewpoint and was lucky to enjoy 'Albie' arcing around Staple Newk for about 30 to 40 minutes, occasionally landing out of sight on the cliffs. It then did a final loop and glided out to sea on bowed wings where it landed not too far out, and drifted slowly south. Apart from the rare visitor 'Seabird City'  looked impressive and the Tree Sparrows by the centre can be, but shouldn't be, taken for granted. A Corn Bunting jangled from the fields/hedgerows.

Black-browed Albatross

Back on the moors on Monday and similar birding to Saturday, Osprey aside, and with a Redstart singing from a wooded valley. Mountain Hare now in 'sum-plum'.

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Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Summary - Cyprus March/April 2022 - Charadrius carlsbergensis

Nice to spend a week birding in Cyprus at the end of March (26th) into April (2nd), first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic. Focussed on the Paphos area and Cape Drepanum in the west and a bit of birding in the south centre and south east at Akrotiri and Larnaca/Cape Greco respectively. 

A brief summary for the moment, 120 species seen without too much chasing around, concentrating on seeing day to day changes at several sites. Arrived as the weather had become more Spring like and started to kick off bird migration, I got the impression it was behind schedule. This was apparent as I did not connect with any Flycatchers or Shrikes throughout and only saw Cyprus Wheatears at the end of the week. Weather, dry throughout and mild to warm at the end as the winds switched from a northerly or western bias to a more southerly one. In other words one or two fleeces became should I wear one?

Paphos Area

Slow birding on the Headland but a nice variety of species seen, birding inside and outside the archaeological complex equally as rewarding. Always good to study the 'Flava' Wagtails along the perimeter fence, most Black-headed or Black-headed x, but several smart Grey-headed and Blue-headed examples picked out. Red-throated Pipits starting to get their summer garb and Northern and Isabelline Wheatears seemed ever present.   Always a diverse collection of species at this site, be it a flock of Purple Herons overhead, an adult Mediterranean Gull loafing on what appeased to be a bird-less sea, to Hoopoes flushing from dirt tracks and a Short-eared Owl arriving 'in off'. A humble Tree Sparrow with its gregarious 'domestic' cousins was unusual, a bit of a rare, glad I got a second look!

Red-throated Pipit

Tree and House Sparrows

A few miles east of Paphos checking Mandria's Lark Corner and vicinity added to the trip list, no two visits were the same, a candidate Siberian? Stonechat got my attention, always welcome guidance on id. A few miles inland Asprokremmos Dam was lacking in flycatchers but not in its beauty, and a few miles more, Anarita Park hosted a fine Finsch's Wheatear at the start of the period.

Finsch's Wheatear

Siberian Stonechat?


One visit made, slow for passerine migration at the church, but made up for with a Short-toed Eagle hunting the area that held a fly by Pallid Harrier. Akrotiri Marsh was impressive, more variety and numbers of species at the Lower Hide than the Tower Hide, including the obligatory Spur-winged Plovers, Heron/Egret bonanza with all 3 Egrets present, Bittern, Purple Heron, Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis noted.

Purple Heron

Short-toed Eagle

Larnaca/Cape Greco

More birding done at the latter, but the star of the show at the former.

Cape Greco birdy on 2 visits made only, the penultimate evening and most of the last day. Highlights included fly over (European) Bee-eaters, 'at last they finally arrived' Cyprus Wheatears, Spectacled, Cyprus and Rüppell's Warblers and an in off Pallid Harrier. Tawny Pipits, Short-toed Larks, Wryneck and Nightingale noted, but did the Laughing Dove arrive in off or one of the rapidly increasing local birds having a wander?

Cyprus Wheatear

Larnaca Sewage Works Pools held wild Ruddy Shelducks, large gulls shimmering in the heat haze, a Little Gull that looked like it would be eaten by one of the big ones at any moment, plenty of Teal, Shovelers and a few waders. But, nearby the following day and only a few hours before leaving the island probably the best wader in the world, Caspian Plover, i.e. Charadrius asiaticus carlsbergensis was chilling out with a group of Kentish Plovers. The adult male Pallid Harrier flying in front of, and then hanging over the car around the corner barely got a second glance, surely a birding faux pas!

Caspian Plover

A nice trip and with thanks to birders who helped me both online and in the field, sorry not to catch up with you all, a full trip report to follow.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Easter Birding 2022

Back home at Easter and the moorlands coming alive. Buzzards patrolled the ridges and nearby tree clad reservoirs, some had more trees than others following felling last year. Merlin are back, a Short-eared Owl tangled with a Buzzard at distance, more likely a wanderer than summer resident, and Ring Ouzels were back on territory and in song, although Stonechats tried to out sing them. More returning summer visitors included Swallows to upland farm buildings and Willow Warblers that turned up the volume as the week progressed from the valley bottom, but a returning Pied Flycatcher at one location was focussed on getting its bearings as it remained silent. Redstarts appeared to have declined in recent years so a singing male "whirring" from a Beck was nice to note, and a Tree Pipit "buzzed" by one morning, will it stay to nest, or is this species to be just seen on passage, only time will tell if it hasn't done so already. Roding Woodcock noted at dusk.

Ring Ouzel


Mountain Hares showed their varied Spring collection, snow boots still in fashion.

Mountain Hares

Elsewhere, Old Moor RSPB looked impressive with a booming Bittern barely audible over the din of Black-headed Gulls that went silent when Marsh Harriers took flight. Buzzards were up high and Sparrowhawks displayed.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

Capital Birding - January 2022

Back at Rainham Marshes RSPB, London in January 2022 where an unseasonable Spoonbill took up residence, the presence of 5 wary Barnacle Geese that arrived in December may suggest Category A origin, and the reserve was crowded with wintering Ducks and Waders. Pintail looked very smart feeding in the sunshine lighting up Purfleet Scrape where Shovelers, Wigeon and Teal also fed, and a handful of Curlews roosted at high tide. Nearby over the river wall about 40 Avocets combed Aveley Bay for food and 95 Black-tailed Godwits huddled together further to the west. A nice variety of birds on and near the reserve also included the wintering Dartford Warbler, many Stonechats, confiding Kestrels and patrolling Marsh Harriers. A Raven took a serious dislike to other Corvids (not forgetting to add the 'r' here) one Sunday morning and the following Saturday 2 Ravens flew low over the reserve. An adult Peregrine tormented allcomers along the shore late January before heading off over the landfill. All 5 expected Gull species present throughout with yellow colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls noted later in the month, the yellow and "2" first digit indicating they were ringed locally, details tbc. But, not to forget the star of the show a fantastic 3rd winter Caspian Gull present on the Target Pools during the afternoon of the 15th. At the same pool a lone Ruff was active amongst resting Lapwings and a couple of Water Pipits were airborne, calling in flight. They seem to give the 'Wist' call quickly as if embarrassed to call, wanting it over. This is in contrast to the wintering (Scandinavian) Rock Pipits present on the Thames shore who appear to want to be heard as they call a stronger 'Weest'. All subjective of course. Of note, a visitor from a collection in the form of a Black Swan looked great on the reserve and on landing on a misty Thames during one visit mid month. The local Mute Swans weren't happy!

Away from Rainham Marshes RSPB I twitched the Little Bunting present in South East London, it was very confiding and nice to see.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

A Belter of a Kingfisher, a Scoter with attitude and a scarce Sentinel

More than sixteen years after dipping the Belted Kingfisher in Scotland, the third for GB, like others I had the chance to twitch the next one, an elusive Belted Kingfisher present for several weeks in Lancashire. Arrived on site near Preston on a frosty December morning and it gave itself up after 30 minutes, this wait felt like 16 years! Before it showed it teased the early morning birders giving the distinctive rattle from an out of sight perch. A belter of a Kingfisher it showed well for half an hour. Too distant for photos, and I wanted to take in the sighting, so here's a photo of one from Cape May, New Jersey, USA.

Continuing the Nearctic theme, how about a Scoter with attitude, namely the adult drake Black Scoter present in the Common Scoter flock off Bamburgh, Northumberland. Having caught up with this returning drake further up the coast off Goswick in December 2019 I wanted another look, especially as Black Scoters aren't just Common Scoters with an orange bill. Arrived at Stag Rocks one late December mid morning to the north of the stunning Bamburgh Castle where the light was good but the sea was a bit choppy as the never ending windy theme of the period persisted. On arrival a skein of about 70 Pink-footed Geese flew low north battling the breeze. 

Taking shelter by the small lighthouse the main Scoter flock was to the north of the Farne Islands, about but just inside the line of a a green buoy. Not great, but they were soon on the move flying and drifting closer to shore, ending up no closer than mid distance and heading slowly north over the next couple of hours. The good light meant the Common Scoter flock looked like a mainly brown mass, not just a silhouetted mass, on the surface of the sea. This being indicative of the flock (ca. 400) being dominated by female/immatures. Several adult drake Common Scoter present making it easier to look for the drake Black Scoter. All of a sudden about half of the flock took flight and there it was, the one with the bulbous orange bill which served as a beacon in flight. On seeing it land could then study it further and when drifting alongside drake Common Scoters it looked thick necked, the head looked a bit box-shaped and then there was the bill with the orange blob dominating even at mid distance. The light was good to allow the slight orange to the bill of drake Common Scoters to be seen in profile and head-on as well. The behaviour of the Black Scoter was interesting, it had a bit of attitude, it would power through the flock moving from one end to the other in quick time, almost with a periscope neck appearance, as if always on alert. Also seen driving forward on the surface of the sea with its head down as if chasing others, much like a Coot running on the water in a tantrum. The Common Scoter instead seemed to be calm, minding their own business and interested in feeding through synchronised diving. The Black Scoter was not always in view as the sea remained choppy and at times the flock fragmented but it could be found after a few minutes scanning. Then just about 13:30 as the sun was getting fairly low in the sky and a bit of cloud cover came in, it was as if the lights had been switched off, the sea had become grey and the Scoters were now silhouetted. During this visit the sea was punctuated with a group of about a dozen Long-tailed Ducks, which deserved more attention, Red-throated Divers, a few Red-breasted Mergansers and groups of Eider cloaked the rocky shores that played home to Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones. No chance of a photo of the drake Black Scoter, here's a photo I took earlier and again over in Cape May County, New Jersey, USA.

I don't know if Chris Rea is a birder but does Chris have Pink-footed Geese flying over the M1/M18 junction on the driving home for Christmas birding list? It's been a good autumn and early winter for 'Pink-feet' crossing South Yorkshire as they move between wintering grounds in Lancashire and Norfolk. This skein (ca. 100) were heading out west.

Elsewhere, a first ever visit to the gull roost at Blackmoorfoot Reservoir, north of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire where the recently present adult Caspian Gull and a dainty 2nd winter Iceland Gull joined a roost dominated by Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls. Back to the south and the winds spoiled birding the South Yorkshire moors during the festive break, and when it wasn't windy there was thick fog in its place. Crossbills still noticeably absent at one typical site.

Ending with a trip over to the York area in the New Year where a recently found Great Grey Shrike posed at distance atop a farmland tree. It seems as if this sentinel is getting scarce both on passage and in winter in Great Britain, so this twitchable Shrike was nice to study. The photo below is of this bird present nr Wistow to the south of York, not from New Jersey.

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