Monday, 25 October 2010

Great Orme - 25th October 2010

Liverpool Bay before sunrise
1 of 3 Golden Plover
What a superb morning up the Orme! I set out from Bangor Station at 05.40 and arrived at Llandudno at 06.23 (changing at the junction)
I wonder how many time I have to walk up the Orme before my legs look like Lance Armstrong's! It certainly makes your thighs burn until you get onto the flat top. I arrived at St.Tudno's church at 06.45 whilst it was still dark, so I decided to watch the sun rise before I walked the hawthorns in the cemetery and then the pavement.
As it got lighter, I was able to hear Blackbirds angrily chasing off Redwings and Song Thrush, which were obviously fresh in due to their gorging on Hawthorn berries! It wasn't long after sunrise before I heard my first strange call and out popped a stunning Ring Ouzel on a nearby wall within the cemetery. It must have been the bird that was present yesterday afternoon.
I couldn't wait to check the limestone pavement, mainly because dog-walkers were already present and bound to flush anything of interest! I gambled, and set off up towards the pavement. Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Wren were the only obvious birds up there until I spotted movement on shorter grass. Binoculars went up and 'hey presto!' 3 Golden Plover on the deck! They soon got spooked and called once before flying North.
St. Tudno's Church
I thought I may as well go and check the cemetery again in case I missed something, which is when I bumped into Alan Davies, whom alerted me that there were 2 Waxwings in the cemetery as well as 4 Hawfinch which had flown towards the reservoir! I didn't muck about and got to the cemetery as quickly as possible. Sadly, all 6 birds of interest had cleared off, but it wasn't too long before I had a weak call overhead and saw 2 massive Hawfinch right above me, they circled the cem and then double backed on themselves.
It was obvious that the clear night had put a lot of birds on the move and it was apparent that there was a fall of Siskin and Brambling. This assumption is only because I believe I only had 5 minutes throughout my whole visit when I didn't hear Brambling or Siskin above...they were everywhere!
Walking back up the pavement for one last check, I saw 2 Waxwing flying low over the rise from the cemetery. Result!
Bumping into Alan Davies again, he told me that the male Snow Bunting was back on the pavement. This was the only bird on the Orme that would've been a yeartick, so was keen to pin it down....I didn't! I was happy though to continue watching the wonderful spectacle of migration, with a particular highlight being a flock of 12 Coal Tit that I saw drop out of the sky flying in-off the sea and aggressively forage in a lone hawthorn on insects and berries!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

That Bloody Ibis! - Anglesey - 21-23rd October 2010

Glossy Ibis
Ty Croes Station
Rhosneigr Station

In every birdwatchers carreer, they will go through a phase when everything goes right and every bird you go to see is there and performing well! I have recently experienced such a phase in my career where I have had 21 yearticks and 9 lifers since August 18th. Since coming to Bangor University, I have discovered the 'noble art' of train twitching! I have managed to see: Lapland Bunting, Grey Phalarope, Yellow Browed Warbler, Green Heron, Dusky Warbler, Red Breasted Flycatcher and White Winged Black Tern which have all been successful twitches.
Sadly all good things must come to an end and there will be something that changes everything and ruins the streak of luck!
A text saying: 'RBA Anglesey GlOSSY IBIS ESE of RAF Valley +1ml SE of Llyn Traffwll in field south of minor rd SH.388.753', happened to be the fly in my birdwatching ointment!

Chris Bridge and I set off from Bangor at 8.15 on Thursday 21st towards Rhosneigr. We began walking the route we had planned not realising the roads were stupidly confusing and ended up going completely the wrong way! Arriving onsite, we failed to see anything resembling an Ibis which was shocking, considering our recent good luck. Hideously, it was apparent that we were not going to see the bird and had to give up with a static yearlist! The unnecessary detour meant that we walked 12.5 miles to not see the bird! Waste of time! We assumed the bird was gone forever

Friday 22nd - A text off Chris telling me that the ibis was back, certainly caused language of a PG rating filled my bedroom! We decided that we wouldn't let the bird defeat us and set out again around lunchtime. A much quicker route meant that we only needed to walk 7.5 miles round trip this time, but arriving at the same site and there being no sign of any birders or birds made the 6 mile walk seem even more pointless! To throw a slap into our faces again, the weather started to turn and torrential rain and seawatching style winds battered us from every angle! We dipped again! how is that possible with the bird being reported again only 45 minutes before be arrived!

Saturday 23rd - I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't go for the bird again as 20 miles to not see a bird was getting ridiculous! Speaking to Jonathon Scragg on Facebook, he mentioned that it had been reported again! FFS! I checked the grid reference and checked it again and then it suddenly dawned on me that we had been looking in the wrong place by about 200 meters! No wonder we dipped! I set out with a friend from Preston and before too long we were onsite and there it was! Glossy Ibis - 212. It had a huge white ring on its left leg showing that it was the same bird that has been on the Otter Estuary in Devon and also proving that it is a spanish bird ringed in 2008. This ring stood out more than the bird which was in a ditch at the far side of a dull field (hence the rubbish photo!). By the end of these 3 days I had walked 26 miles for a year tick! Sometimes, you have to ask yourself 'why do i bother!'

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Seawatch - Colwyn Bay - 19th October 2010

Finishing lectures at 11am, I decided to head off to Colwyn Bay for a sea watch as the weekend predicted particularly good winds for the Liverpool bay region. Sadly, the winds weren't as perfect as first hoped, so I lost any hope of getting a petrel or 2.

Arriving at c12.35, I set up camp to the east of Colwyn Pier and began scanning the open sea. It was not long before I picked up a gull with an unusual flight with quite stiff wings and determined flight. It was a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull flying west.
The rain began to set in so visibility was down, however I managed to pick up several Razorbill and countless Cormorant aswell as a smattering of Shag.

I was scoping a flock of buoyant scoter at quite a distance, when i picked up a large dark bird flying through them. It was a Great Skua (yeartick) which flew west showing off all it's distinctive characteristics, the brown plumage, pot bellied appearance and striking white wing flash in the base of the primaries.

The seawatch became quite quiet after this with only a Common Tern to keep me interested. I again picked up a dark bird flying west through the scoter flock and quickly was breathtaken by a barrel chest, strong flight, small (but obvious) white wings flash, and unbelievably...spoons! It was a dark morph adult Pomarine Skua (yeartick) which I watched critically until it disappeared behind Rhos Point. With nothing likely to beat this bird, I decided 30 minutes later to call it a day and head off home.

An enjoyable seawatch with 2 yearticks under my belt

Saturday, 16 October 2010

White Winged Black Tern - Inner Marsh Farm RSPB, Wirral - 16th October 2010

Believe it or not, that is actually a juv White Winged Black Tern!

Another very long day appeared out of nowhere when I decided to twitch the WWBTern at Inner Marsh Farm. Originally I had planned to get up at 6.45 and get the 7.12 train to Neston, Wirral and then get either a bus or taxi to the reserve. The line from Wrexham-Wirral was not in use so a replacement bus service would take me to Neston from Shotton. I went out the night before with friends and lets just say I had an incident with a 'quantity' of alcohol. I woke up in time for the 7.12 train, but was in no way able to make the changes needed and the effort to get there. As a result, I went back to sleep and decided that I would wait for it to appear and then casually go for early afternoon.
Getting the 12.02 train from Bangor, I changed at Llandudno jn and got off at Shotton. I annoyingly missed the connection bus by about 5 seconds so I made the silly decision to walk the distance to the town of Burton (closest to Inner Marsh Farm)...this proved very stupid as I had no idea where I was going, so it took approx 3 hours to get to the reserve where the juv White Winged Black Tern showed very nicely flying back and forth in front of the hide. For someone that has not digiscoped in a while, you can see by the photo attached, that I found digiscoping a flying tern rather difficult (and I used to enjoy photographing terns!)
Also present on the reserve were 2 Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Little Stint and 4 Whooper Swans which were lovely to see again!
A nice gentlemen called Chris gave me a lift to Neston where I was able to catch a bus back to Shotton, (even if I had to wait an hour and a half at Neston in fading light.
Originally I planned to be out from 12.00-16.00 when I set out from Bangor Station. This turned into 12.00-20.30!
Overall, it was a very stressful twitch, but the bird itself was worth it even if my visit was brief. I ended the trip on 209 for the year and 269 for life.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Leighton Moss - 9th October 2010

A quick trip home from Uni saw me harbouring the twitching bug in my system, so I cheekily comandeered my parents planned Lie-in and went up to Leighton Moss for a couple of yearticks.
We arrived at c9.30 and Bearded Tits (205) were present on the grit trays straight away.
A trip to the coastal hides proved a little more difficult to connect with a year tick, but after a decent scan, I happened to catch a scurrying Little Stint(206) next to a Common Redshank. There were infact 2 juveniles. The long staying Great White Egret sadly appears to have relocated to the Ribble Estuary, so I didn't catch up with that. There is still time this year though!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Twitching: It's a Disease! - St. Austell, Cornwall - 7th Octover 2010

At the Yellow Browed Warbler twitch, Chris Bridge and I had decided that on Thursday, we would get the train to Hartlepool and see the Woodchat Shrike. This turned into Woodchat Shrike and American Golden Plover (Great Heck) as I needed the plover for my life list, and felt this was the only way that the train ticket would pay for itself. As result, I went round to Chris’s on Wednesday night at 8pm to discuss train times and how to get to specific sites for the birds. We checked Rare Bird Alert and the American Golden Plover had gone from ‘no sign’ to ‘still no further sign’ which is never good!
Woodchat Shrike would only be a year tick, so I began to have to doubts about the trip. We came across Green Heron on RBA which is a bird that I have always wanted to see and Chris’ No3 bird to see in the UK. Jokingly I said, ‘shall we go?’ and some 30 minutes later, we were buying a train ticket on Bangor Station for St. Austell in Cornwall!
1st winter Green Heron - Lost Gardens of Heligan
Leaving Bangor at 21.06, we arrived at Crewe for 22.47 and had a VERY long wait until 05.00 where we would get a train to Birmingham New Street. The plan was to have a few hours sleep in the station waiting room, but this is easier said than done when there are several bright LED lights illuminating the waiting room; a man sleeping 2 feet from my head snoring like a whale, a drunken/hiccuping man making a hell of a lot of noise; cleaning staff mopping and cleaning tables at 02.30 and Sleeper Trains screaming through the station and giving me the fright of my life throughout the night! I therefore had maybe 10 minutes light dosing all night meaning I had been up since 07.45 on the Wednesday morning. (It was an interesting prospect to work out how many hours I would eventually stay awake for without collapsing!)
Passing through Stafford and Wolverhampton, we arrived at Birmingham New Street just as it was about to get light. This started the agonising wait for news from the Bird News networks and local birding friends. We had one more change at Exeter where there was still no news either way from the Heron. It wasn’t until Plymouth at 10am when Chris got a text from Alan Davies (one of North Wales’ finest) saying ‘Heron Still’. This was sufficient information for us to clearly freak out the elderly couple who joined us at the train table. We were over the moon, and literally words cannot describe the sense of relief I got as I had spent the whole night at Crewe thinking over in my head ‘My gosh, what will we do if it’s not there!?!?!?!?!’

It was then an agonising 1hr 47 minutes before we arrived at St. Austell station in lovely Cornwall, where we got a taxi to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. These gardens are amazing, but I have to ask the question, ‘what on earth is a Green Heron doing here???’ Paying the £10 entrance fee, we began the c1 mile walk to the ‘Lost Valley’ where the Heron had been seen. It was a maze in there, but we were confident that the 90 Birdwatchers with Telescopes were in the right place.
How the bird found it to this part of the world, I will never know! It is a narrow strip of muddy pond in the middle of a dense forest, with a small supply of fish to keep it there. There were surely several places for it to land before it found it's way to Heligan, but then again, the bird in Kent last year was content in a ditch for 22 days!
There's a Green Heron in there....
The bird had been showing well in the morning, but it favoured the near bank which was very tricky to look down on so it was proving very elusive, even if it was probably out in the open the whole time! I horribly missed the bird in flight as it relocated and it was a further 20 minutes before I caught sight of movement in the weeds by the bank. It was so frustrating to know that there was a Green Heron about 25ft away, probably sitting perfectly in the sub, but there was just no way of seeing it!A small adjustment to my location allowed to view a dagger like bill and a staring yellow eye. It was the GREEN HERON. I was so relieved that it hadn’t been a waste of time that I wasn’t even excited that I was viewing one of my biggest targets on my British ‘to-do’ list! The Heron proved rather elusive throughout the majority of our stay, as it could be visible from very few spots.

It began to wander into the weeds and then a gasp came from the crowd as it wandered out right into the open and appeared to just sit there for 3 minutes or so before it wandered into the weeds again. It was at this point that it soon became apparent just how small the bird is. It must have only been the size of a coot. It also proved just how beautiful the bird was and how much it stood out as a top class American Mega! The streaking on its breast made it awesome; never mind the green wings and purple head and breast.
The light was sadly quite poor, and as you can imagine, my heart was racing, so I was shaking frantically! The photos therefore are quite grainy and dark, but you can see what it is, and the memory of the bird will never be lost!
After this, the bird appeared to disappear, so Chris and I were contemplating twitching a long staying Spotted Sandpiper at Exminster Marsh, 6 miles from Exeter. As we were discussing what to do, a birder announced the he had it again. Putting my bins up, I could see it out in the open on the far side feeding! My jaw dropped as I got some footage of it fishing and then, I was so shocked when it walked up onto a log (like a classic yank heron) that I didn’t even bother getting any photos of it!

The open patch where the heron pleased the crowds

This bird was a very educational first winter bird and the moult was certainly very obvious in the wings. The adult type colouration was quite washed out, especially on the head, but when the bird was on the log, the streaking on the breast and the purple breast, were very very striking. I would love to have been the person to find it, as you can imagine scanning the edge for a rail or snipe or something and then seeing movement in the weeds that reveal a Green Heron... wow!

We were well and truly finished as it was now 3.30 and I had been up for 31 hours with 10 minutes sleep! We got the bus back to the station and caught the 4.58 train from St Austell, changing at Plymouth and Birmingham New Street. 9 tortuous hours and several power naps later, we arrived at Bangor Station at 01.56. (42 hours since I woke up, and 29 hours since we had set off from Bangor.
Close inspection will reveal two very very tired young train twitchers!

The Green Heron was my first long distance twitch, and despite the fact that I will have to proof read this many times as I am truly beat, I certainly am hooked on twitching and have truly caught the bug!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Yellow Browed ''Warbler'' - Soldiers Point, Holyhead, N.Wales - 4th October 2010

Yellow Browed Warbler
This fantastic bird was found around 12.30 so I was keen to twitch it with Chris Bridge. We got the 13.32 train and arrived onsite by c14.45. No birders onsite and no sign of the warbler didn't give us much hope, so we decided to have a random wander around suitable habitat. We began to give up hope and almost decided to call it a day. Walking past the Breakwater Entrance Gate, I saw a flitting out of my periphery and Binocs went straight up: 'Ello...That's it!!'
Result! It was a stunning bird that performed beautifully for us for at least 10 minutes. Chris even managed to get some digiscoped pictures of it (That's how good it was behaving!)
This was a year tick for both of us, and it was Chris' 250th bird of the year! (my 203rd)
The bird sadly remained silent throughout our visit (hence the speech marks around ''Warbler'', as it wasn't living up to its name!)

Checking the internet, I was sadly not able to turn it into a Hume's Leaf Warbler, but i couldn't care less as Yellow Browed Warbler is my 2nd favourite bird and today proved that. What a bird!

(For more, check out Chris Bridge's blog)