Thursday, 30 April 2015

Meare Heath Nature Reserve

Sometimes there are birds that just seek to torture you. The hudwit that arrived in Somerset on Saturday was one of those. I could not go then and it seemed to disappear. But then, it came back on the Wednesday. Given its previous performance I decided not go on the Thursday but to wait on news, and having been out the night before I had mixed feelings when news came through that it was not present on Thursday morning.
Then, plot twist, at half 9 during my lecture the news dropped that it was back. Ensue panic! I made it for the first train I could, that was at 11.00. I arrived in Bridgwater at 2.45 knowing the bus was supposed to have left at 2.40. I legged it to the stop anyway, and after some wandering, to my delight saw the bus coming towards me, so waited at the stop. Of course, the bus driver decided to drive straight past me and then refused to let me on despite my pleading. Needless to say, I was livid. I now had an hour til the next one, and given the times of the buses, I would, at best, have 15 mins with the bird.
I caught the bus an hour later and the ran from the village where I was dropped to the site, a distance of some 2 miles, to ensure I did not miss it going to roost. There were still birders around and they told me it was still there, all the more reason to run. At last, I arrived on site at 17.00, 6 hours after setting off...
The Hudsonian Godwit was feeding on the far side of the lake. It was noticeably bigger. I would have loved to scan the Black-Tailed Godwits (Year-tick) and pick it out myself but I did not have time. I knew I would just have to watch and photograph it for the duration of my time there. Sadly it did not fly or lift its wings while I was there and so did not see those beautiful underwing feathers that are so distinctive of the species. That was the biggest bummer for me, but I was just glad to have seen it. I would rather see it for half an hour than not see it at all.
Compared to the blackwits it was much bigger and had a noticeably longer more upturned bill. The chest was more brick red than any of the blackwits present. The barring on the chest and scaling on the back also made it stand out significantly for the others present. It was a little distant for good photos but I got some acceptable record shots and I am please with what I got.
-Hudsonian Godwit
Sadly I could not stay longer and so missed out on seeing those axillaries (though I am considering going again now, better planned having seen it once). I decided to try and blag a lift off a twitcher. The first one I spoke to mentioned he was from near the area so jumped in with the question and asked for a lift. He said he would, so that saved me a lot of stress and worry, allowing me to enjoy the bird all the more.
It was also nice to bump in Sarah Harris again who I met at an NGB weekend at Spurn and have not seen since, so that was nice. Despite having the lift we left at half 5 as he needed to get to Taunton for a family event, and I could not risk not finding a lift. It saved me a lot of work and meant I could get some food in Bridgwater. The bird was reported as still present at dusk and I am optimistic that it might stay a little longer so I can try again. 
In the end I made the train back and arrived back in Sheffield at an absurd time, 2.00 in the morning. All in all though it did not matter as I was thrilled to have seen the bird at long last so I can finally stop worrying about it. A stunning looking creature and only the 3rd for Britain, the first for 35 years!! What an exhausting day!

Species List:
Meare Heath NR: Black-Tailed Godwit, Hudsonian Godwit, Common Buzzard, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Dunlin, Robin, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Black-Headed Gull,

Monday, 27 April 2015

Attenborough Nature Reserve - Finally reaching BOU 250!!!!!

Having had a calamity on Saturday and with no sign of the Hudwit re-appearing I was left at something of a loss with my birding. The heron on Scilly was tempting but it decided to set off on another island hop again, and as a result I considered not worth the risk.
However, another heron, not a mega but certainly a stunning bird had turned up near Nottingham on Sunday, though I was busy then. When it was re-found today I decided to head off after lectures to try and get a look, since it was not going to cost the earth (Less than a trip to Swilly) and would mean checking out another site and hopefully seeing some smashing species. 
The train was right next to the reserve, so I was on the site within 90 mins of setting. As is usual for a twitch, I powered on to where the heron would be. However, I was distracted as soon as I entered the reserve by a couple of ducks on the water as I marched past. I checked myself and went through the bushes for a closer look. They were indeed what I thought they were, Red Crested Pochard males. As is customary with this species, its difficult to know if the individuals you are looking at are tickable or not. However, there was not an excess of toilet ducks, as you would maybe expect. They never showed their legs for rings, but they were very tame. However, they seem pretty legit so I have them down on my yearlist as my 149th species of the year. I also saw them again on the way back when I was able to get some shots of them preening. It was an ideal start to the afternoon.
-Red Crested Pochards
Through the woods there were ample Blackcaps singing as well as a host of other, commoner species. Walking along the path directly to where the heron was I heard a bizarre call, almost like a squawking response to a predator. I was shocked when I found a male blackcap with its feathers all splayed out, it all became clear when a female appeared from the foliage a few seconds later. Its the first time I have seen blackcaps displaying and it was certainly something to behold. I was directly below them, and could have stayed to get some photos, but did not want to disturb them so took a couple of quick shots and left them to it.
And just round the corner from them was the bird of the moment. The heron in question? Black Crowned Night. I remember seeing them in zoos and being surprised by how small they were. Now, in the field I was surprised by how big it was compared to how I remembered it.
It was badly obscured by the leaves but it was not inactive and moved its head enough so you could see all its features. Its eye was captivating through the scope, so deep and orange. The small crest behind its head was also a pretty funky feature, especially as it was being constantly buffered by the wind. Despite the cover I did get to see the complete bird, just not all at the same time. It was not close but not distant, sat on an island in the middle of the lakes. I got some good shots of it through the scope, showing all the features and what a superb bird it is.
-Black-Crowned Night Heron
After 15 mins of watching and enjoying the bird it suddenly took off and flew round out of sight. I was a bit gutted it had gone, but more that I had not got any photos of it in flight. Either way, it had gone, possibly due to there being more cloud cover making it think it was closer to evening than it was? I dunno.
I mentioned to a couple of guys there that I needed gropper and they gave me some directions to where they knew of some. It was no problem, as around 400 meters further down the path I heard one reeling away. Possibility of my second lifer and biggest bogey bird. I could see a few guys further down the path looking for it but I could tell they were as frustrated as me by the fact it was remaining very skulky.
Then I noticed a heron flying towards me. I dunno why I did not call it immediately as it was clearly too small to be a Grey or a Bittern but needed to check through the bins first and as a result wasted time checking that I could have been using to take photos. It was, of course, the bird of the hour, the Night Heron. I called the guys down the path, as it was going over their heads, before it flew over the trees. We raced round but it had gone over the next line as well, as the hide we needed had been conveniently locked just when it was most required. I did get one shot away, and its not bad.
-Black-Crowned Night Heron
We then returned to the gropper as it started reeling again. We saw its movement but nothing of it, and my quite clearly exceptional record with this species continues...
With the afternoon drawing on there had been an outburst of flying insects. I am not talking about a few midges or anything, these were swarms of bugs all down the paths. It was a little unpleasant so headed to an area of open space nearer the visitor center. On the way I checked the lakes and picked out a couple of Little Ringed Plover and plenty of Common Terns.
At the visitor center there was little resbite from the flies that had got much worse as I had moved. Despite the heron, I think here was where my favourite part of the afternoon occured. There had been Cetti's Warblers singing all day at the reserve but as per I could not get close. However, just off from the center, one was singing adjacent to the path, and I decided to try and track it down. It did not take long, as I soon picked up the bird skulking through the brambles. It was the clearest view of this species I have ever had.
And then, it decided to stop skulking and start to go up a tree feeding all the way. I could not believe it and was trying desperatly to get shots of this bird that was showing itself so well. Then, out in the open off on a branch, I got to see it sing. Its the first time I have ever been able to see the species clearly and singing. The way it chest bubbles as the song explodes out was probably the best thing I saw all day. I did manage some shots, though not of the song, but clearly of the bird, a real beauty.
-Cetti's Warbler
The bird then dropped again. I had decided, before the bird started showing properly, that the flies had reach an unbearable point and that I would go for the next train, which was not long until. As a result I decided to leave the cetti's and head off to the station.
So thats how the afternoon concluded, as fantastically as it had started, putting my on 151 for the year and 250 life list with the addition of Night Heron. A superb bird, with a fantastic supporting cast and a great day out. Pretty sweet all in all.

Species List:
Attenborough NR: Mallard, Canada Goose, Graylag Goose, Gadwall, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Dunnock, Black-Headed Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Blackcap, Cetti's Warbler, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Common Tern, Coot, Moorhen, Blue Tit, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, Great Crested Grebe, Lapwing, Cormorant, Reed Bunting,

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Radford Meadows

So close to 250 I was in a very twitchy mood and as such I decided to go for the Green Winged Teal at Radford Meadows just outside Stafford. Sadly, in the 3 hours I waited, I failed to see the bird and it has not been seen since my visit, so I guess the 250th will have to wait.
There were a few nice birds around; there were at least 5 Little Ringed Plovers on the distant scrape, as well as 2 Dunlin. On the near scrape there were a pair of Shelduck and there was a Common Buzzard roosted in a tree. Behind me and over the canal there were a few spring migrants singing, though the only one I saw was a Whitethroat, which was a yeartick for me. As the afternoon wore on there also dropped in a couple Yellow Wagtails. One dropped very close to the viewing area but only briefly and then flew off onto the far scrape. It was then joined by another and a few Pieds.
-Yellow Wagtail
As the afternoon wore on the weather got poorer and poorer until it was full on pelting it down. It was at that point that I decided I'd had enough and left for the train. I was a little early for the train so went for a walk round the park nearby, as I had seen they had something of a little aviary.
The aviary was mainly gamebirds but there was a superb male Lady Amherst Pheasant, of all things. If only the Lidlington bird had shown like this...
-Lady Amherst's Pheasant
Species List:
Radford Meadows: Mallard, Gadwall, Shelduck, Canada Goose, Graylag Goose, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover,

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Orgreave Lakes

Pretty standard affair really, just a nip down late morning/early afternoon for a boot around the patch to see if there was anything about. It was fairly quiet as is to be expected at this time of day when the weather is fairly warm but there were still a few bits and pieces knocking around worthy of note.
I took the alternative route round this time, going along the eastern side of the lakes before walking round the other way. This area was very quiet, the highlight being a nice Sparrowhawk that flew over my head offering me great views of it.
The highlight of the walk was, of course, the Wheatears. There was a superb female flitting around on the rocks near the shoreline and I probably spent a good 20 mins photographing her through the scope. The light was less than ideal but I am reasonably happy with the shots I got. Not bad going at all.
-Northern Wheatear
The warm weather had brought out the Buzzards in force, as today there were 5 circling over the southern area of the site. It was pretty fantastic to see, especially considering my previous site record was 3, and yet today I could manage 4 in one frame of the camera. They came circling really low over the small lake and I tried to get a few photos.
-Common Buzzard
So it was a quiet down on the patch but there was stuff around and it did not feel overly tedious like patch birding sometimes can (Soil Hill)

Species List:
Orgreave Lakes: Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Graylag Goose, Canada Goose, Cormorant, Little Ringed Plover, Blackcap, Redshank, Wheatear, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

RSPB Middleton Lakes

As mentioned previously, whilst at Orgreave it had come to my attention that a couple of Black-Winged Stilts had turned up at RSPB Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire. This was a realistic twitch for the afternoon as it would only take an hour to get there by train, and then another hour walking. On the bus back I exploited the free WiFi and concluded it was possible, but could not decide if I was really going to pull it off. Both trains meant I had time to go home first, and whilst at home I continued my research and found, to my joy, that it would only cost £20 by train, not the £40 that I had seen on the app. With that in mind I bought the ticket and set off...
I arrived at the site 2 and a half hours later. The trains had been very organised and true to the schedule. I had then power walked the 2 and a half miles from the station to the reserve. My face must have been one of fierce determination. I heard a cettis warbler as I entered the reserve, but marched on, a small crowd were watching something (Garganey as it happened) but I kept going and made it to the Stilts in fine time.
As I approached the stilts I came round from the trees obscuring the path so I could see the small mob of twitchers. At the back of the pack I could see one of the twitchers checking me out with his bins, but even without bins I could see who it was; Matt Bruce, the now ex-chairman of the NGBs. Its crazy that of my 4 major twitches this year we have met up at half of them completely by chance. Haha, what were the odds.
Anyway, back to the stilts. I set up the scope and picked them out straight away with Matt's help. They were rather distant unfortunately but I did manage some record shots both with the SLR and with digiscoping. None of them are exceptional but they are clear enough and show exactly what you want them to. Despite their distance, the two stilts were fantastic. They were feeding regularly, as well as preening and even washing, as well as sleeping. But since there were two, when one was sleeping the other was usually doing something. They were so leggy, the way they strutted round. At one point one was even chased by a black-headed gull which allowed me to see it in flight. Sadly we were looking straight into the sun, and as the afternoon drew on the glare became very strong, until the stilts could not be made out in it, and hence many of my photos have been tortured by photoshop to try and bring the stilts out more. At one point they were joined by a pair of avocets, which were a yeartick, so I also got some photos of these two closely related birds together.
-Black-Winged Stilts
-Black-Winged Stilt and Avocet
After watching the stilts for about 2 and a half hours, with a brief intermission to the hide for a look, I decided to head off to pick up some of the other things on the reserve, Matt had already left with his girlfriend, and my train was not until 8.00 so I had about an hour to run round and see some of the other stuff.
On the yeartick front I got a bumper crop. Whilst watching the Stilts a distant Marsh Harrier had flown over, and a Common Tern dropped in briefly onto the marsh before flying off to the scrape overlooked by the hide. The yeartick of the moment from this spot was a Green Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the scrape, but it was very distant. Once I left though I stumbled across 2 more which were a little closer and allowed me to get a record shot for the year. They were an unexpected addition to the yearlist make no mistake. Also notice the Little Ringed Plover photobombing the record shot in the bottom right corner!
-Green Sandpipers
I mentioned the Garganey earlier and that's where I headed. It did not take me long to pick it out but it was distant and was keeping very close to the reeds, often drifting in and remaining hidden for long periods of time. But when it was showing it showed well, dabbling along the edge of the reeds before getting out and having a preen. I tried to take a few shots but they were no more than record standard so I only included one. 
Thats how I finished off the day. I got a very enjoyable and relaxed walk back to the train station along the canal in lovely evening sunshine whilst being assaulted by midges. Along the way I had views of Blackcap and Chiffchaff as well as a host of commoner species.
In the end I made it back to Sheffield for just after 9.00, so what had started as a fairly relaxed day out at Orgreave had turned into a mad one and ended up with a lovely rarity, my first lifer since Lady A and my 249th species. And the fact that they were such lovely birds.
BOOM! What a days birding!!

Species List:
RSPB Middleton Lakes: Black-Winged Stilt, Avocet, Green Sandpiper, Shoveler, Little Ringed Plover, Shelduck, Marsh Harrier, Common Tern, Gargany, Lapwing, Long-Tailed Tit, Oystercatcher, Black-Headed Gull, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Graylag Goose, Common Teal, Woodpigeon, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Kestrel, Dunnock, Robin, Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Feral Pigeon, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Grey Heron, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Gadwall, Common Buzzard,

Orgreave Lakes

With nothing feasibly twitchable that wanted to stick around I headed down to the patch once again to see what, if anything, had changed. The answer is, not a lot, and there seemed to be fewer birds in total than there had been on previous visits. Granted, I was not there for first light due to being a lazy student but I was there for half 9, when the effects of dog walkers would not have been felt yet.
The Maned Duck and Egyptian Geese were all still present and correct, as were the other usual suspects dotted around the edge of the lakes. Once more the Wheatears put on a fine display including a couple of females. I got a few digiscoped shots of some of the males hanging around, as they were willing to perch reasonably close.
As I was watching the Wheatears another birder/photographer wandered the opposite way along the path and mentioned that he had seen 3 Yellow Wagtails behind the large mound. This would be a year-tick so I hurried off to have a look. Behind the mound there were none but I did pick them up further along looking lovely as they ran around the field.
They were not easy to digiscope as they were mobile and kept well down in the grass, but one of them eventually decided to cross the path and it allowed me a chance to get some shots for the trip/year. These are possibly the most yellow Yellow Wagtails I have ever seen, they were remarkably bright, which may not come across in the photos.
-Yellow Wagtail
I had a quick check on the birdguides app on the way back, and found that something twitchable had dropped in: 2 Black-Winged Stilts in Staffordshire. I entertained the possibility of twitching these and so headed off to get some bus wifi and work it all out. Not that I would have stayed on site any later having not known this, but an hour after my departure at midday an arctic tern was reported on site, and 20 mins after than an osprey flew through...
you can't have them all!!

Species List:
Orgreave Lakes: Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Egyptian Goose, Graylag Goose, Canada Goose, Cormorant, Little Ringed Plover, Blackcap, Redshank, Wheatear, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Orgreave Lakes

Another free afternoon and another trip to Orgreave Lakes in all its glory. In fairness I should have gone in the morning before my solitary lecture but when the alarm went off at 6.00 I just could not face it and missed a whinchat for my lie in.
But never mind, hindsight is a wonderful thing! I arrived on site to a sunnier afternoon than yesterday but it was a very similar cast of birds on show. The Maned Duck was still present and still sleeping as seems to be its favourite pastime. Also on show were the waders from yesterday, featuring Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Dunlin but the Common Sandpipers remained frustratingly distant. 2 of the original 4 Egyptian Geese were still present almost a week after they first dropped in, but they remained on the island so I could only digiscope them.
-Egyptian Geese
There were no hirundines in the sky, until I reached the main lake when the all seemed to descend at once out of nowhere. There were all 3 species though, in flocks which seemed much bigger than yesterday.
There was also a bumper landing of Wheatears, with at least 7 birds there today, including 2 females, which were my first of the year. Sadly they were all spread out so it was difficult to accurately judge just how many there were. Either way, the more the merrier so far as I am concerned as British birds just simply do not get any better.
Having said that, the highlight of today's trip was a superb White Wagtail along the northern edge of the main lake. I had checked for them all along the walk but had only got 2 Pied Wagtails (which are deffo the smarter of the subspecies!). But then I spotted this one feeding along the water edge. The contrast from the hood to the pale back clearly show this is a spring male White Wag, and is my first one of the year. What a super bird, and I set myself up so I got a couple of decent record shots through the scope to go with it!
-White Wagtail
That remained it for the lakes. Along the river there were multiple more male Blackcaps singing, as well as a few Willow Warblers. I managed to get eyes on both species but Willow Warbler was only fleeting as I tried to set myself up for a digiscoped shot. There were a few Chiffchaffs in the scrub as I come in as well, so we had a nice bunch of summer warblers.

Species List:
Orgreave Lakes: Mute Swan, Graylag Goose, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Common Redshank, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, White Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldfinch, Kestrel, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Wheatear, Sand Martin, Swallow, Great Crested Grebe, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Black-Headed Gull, Linnet, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Orgreave Lakes

Now lectures are a thing again the number of trips to the patch has dropped off. However, with a free afternoon I decided to head down to see how things had changed within the past week. It was a cloudy afternoon but not too cold and with the amount of stuff that had been moving through the country there was a good chance I would be able to get some year-ticks.
2 of the Egyptian Geese were still present on the island on the small lake. There was also an impressive number of Ringed Plovers. I counted 6 in one flock but there were easily more. There were also the usual Little Ringed Plovers but the number of these was harder to judge as they were not all together in the same location. There were also 3 Redshanks along with the usual cast of wildfowl and cormorants.
I did get two yearticks from the small pool, both of them being the ones I expected to get. The first were the Sand Martins which were hunting over the small lake. Initially most of the hirundines were Swallows with a couple of House Martins, but a few Sand Martins came in to join them, and over by the large lake there were ample more hunting over the water. The second year-tick was Common Sandpiper, but I failed to get a photo of one of these as they were too far away on both occasions that I spotted them.
-Sand Martin
I continued on my way round. On the rocks there were 2 male Wheatears, both looking as fantastic as Wheatears usually do. I tried a few photos but all my efforts were blurry unfortunately. Much more obliging on the photo front was a Skylark that was scurrying round no more than 2 meters away from me. As a result I set up the scope and got myself a few Skylark photos like I had long been trying to get.
That was about it with the exception of a couple of lovely black-bellied Dunlin with the Ringed Plovers on the far side of the main lake that I eventually made my way round to. They looked pretty dapper in their summer finery. But sadly they were quite far away so I was resorted to record shots in ever sense of the word
So it was a lovely return to the patch and with there being more migrants coming through now hopefully there will be a few more things for the weekend wherever I end up going. Two more year-ticks puts me on 141 for the year now, and its only April!

Species List:
Orgreave Lakes: Dunlin, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Grey Heron, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, Reed Bunting, Great Tit, Goosander, Mallard, Gadwall, Cormorant, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose,