Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Desert Wheatear - Titterstone Clee Hill - 30th November 2011

Today was possibly the most unenjoyable and the most enjoyable twitches I've ever been one! It started off by waking up an hour and a half after my alarm was supposed to go off, then followed by a very long and busy train journey to Ludlow, Shropshire. The night before was also very cold and clear, which is never good!
I had several people who were lined up to text me when news of the Desert Wheatear turned up and until I received the text, I literally felt sick with worry! It was horrible and seemed to take forever until I got the text off Sam Viles saying it was still there! (Massive thanks to Sam by the way, as news didn't come onto the 'pager' until after 11!)
I got the taxi from Ludlow and arrived on site at 12.15 where a small selection of birders were braving the cold weather.

Just about showing the clean bar on the tip of the tail.
The bird was very obliging and I have to say that it is probably one of the best birds I have ever seen! It was such a beautiful, photogenic bird and a joy to photograph, even in the harsh conditions.
Desert Wheatear has been very very high up on my must-see list and I can't actually believe I have finally seen one as I have been 'lusting' after this species ever since I watch the 'Gosney in Morocco' video back in 2004!

The best twitch ever and the worst! I'm now on 297...3 to go!!!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Sharpie AND Spotsand - Chew Valley Lake - 28th November 2011

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (left) image 'borrowed' of Mark J. Palmer
Kane was heading down to Slimbridge early this morning (05.00) to head back to work from Atherton, so I decided that I would join him on the journey south. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper has been really high up on my 'must-see' list so I was eager to twitch the stunning juvenile at Chew Valley Lake. After watching the Bewick's Swan feed at Slim, I headed down on my own and arrived onsite meeting 10 other birders who were watching a group of Dunlin on the edge of the mud at Chew. It took a while, bit I picked up a slightly different wader with a shorter bill, a browner head with reasonably distinct eye stripe bordered by pale supercillium and pale cheeks; strongly patterened back (reminiscent of a juvenile Ruff), a general chestnut tone to the whole bird and a faster running style in the shallow muddy water. This was the bird! Fantastic! What a stunning little bird and a joy to watch!
A huge bonus was that on the other side of the 'bridge' that I was watching from, there was a long-staying Spotted Sandpiper that proved to be very elusive indeed, but allowed me to get breif views of my 2nd lifer of the day, and one that has helped to slightly heal the wounds of the summer adult I missed at Brockholes!
A cracking twitch and although it was almost a 6 hour train journey home, was nice to get out on a proper twitch for once...not one of these poncy 20 minute trips onto Anglesey!

Huge thanks to Kane for transporting me around all weekend. You have saved me £60.00 on Taxi fares and Train tickets this weekend!!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Black-head to the rescue! - 25th November 2011

Kane and Gillian came to stay at mine in Bangor for the weekends SCAN session in Bangor. Friday night saw Kane catch a single Black-headed Gull in Bangor Harbour, which was Brucey's first ever gull.
Arriving in Bangor harbour at 06.20 this morning, we met up with the SCAN ringing group with the aim to catch Shelduck in the sheltered bay of Bangor Town Beach. We set two nets and then were ready for the tide to come up at around 10/11am. Birds appeared in front of the net regularly but the tide line was still out of catching range. A Peregrine flew through the bay catching an adult Black-head and flushed everything! By the time the tide had essentially reached the net, no birds returned meaning that we had to call it a day and quickly rescue the net before it became rather damp!
Having to return to Preston, I joined Kane and Gillian in the car home via the beach at Arbergele. Here we read two metal-ringed Black-heads and I was able to get my hands on a lovely adult (photographed above) which was my first hand caught bird since the Killington trips back at the beginning of summer! They really are my favourite birds to catch, especially by hand!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Not so Rosy Starling - 22nd November 2011

Rose-coloured Starling (Phil Coombs)
I spent the morning in Holyhead looking for a Rose-coloured Starling reported by a non-birder that didn't know what it was. Phil Coombs posted the picture onto BirdGuides which caused me to contact him and ask about the bird. Phil was very helpful indeed and I thank him greatly for providing the information he did.

I was joined on site by Ken Croft who lives only a few hundred feet away from the garden. We viewed the gardens leading onto the north end of the playing field off Llanfawr Road. The bird proved to be incredibly elusive and it took at least 2 hours before Ken and I started to lose hope. Ken headed off home, but because I had never seen Rosy starling before, I stuck at it and 15 minutes after Ken had left me, a very pale starling flew into the garden (pictured above) where it was initially seen. It sat in the open for about 2 seconds and then promptly disappeared.

A very nice bird, but I think it would be much nicer to see a more showy adult...

I am now 6 away from 300 on my British List...can I make 300 before I turn 20 on 12th February?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Parus city - 20th November 2011

69 Birds caught on a morning at Arthur's farm with Steve, Rachel, Brucey and David Jones. We were aiming to catch Chaffinch as there was a rather impressive flock in the area. Sadly, we didn't catch a great number but species caught included: Blackcap, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Chaffinch.

This was my first adult Nuthatch in the hand, and they are truly stunning birds. Even more so up close! The undertail coverts and rufous flanks (proving this to be a male) were all stunning. A cracking bird and a real treat.

It's excellent to get out mist netting again as it seems like an age since the last time I was out. It's just a shame that I had forgotten about the joys of extracting/handling/processing Blue Tits.......

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Local birding: dawn til dusk - 19th November 2011

With a trip planned to the Orme with Brucey for saturday morning, we met at Bangor station for 06.00 and by 07.00 we were at Llandudno. Sadly, the Orme was very quiet indeed with very little moving except a very light Meadow Pipit passage and a couple of Lesser Redpoll moving over.
Luckily, Chris Jones saved the day by texting me seeing if I wanted to spend a day on Anglesey 'mopping' up on all the current scarcities. This was just what we needed to make the 05.15 wake-up call worthwhile! We met Chris at Llandudno station and headed off to the island.

Lesser Yellowlegs
First stop was the Alaw Estuary at low tide to look for the long-staying Lesser Yellowlegs. It took a bit of searching, but we picked up the bird and enjoyed decent scope-views. This was a lifer for Brucey.

Red-necked Grebe
Next stop was Llyn Penrhyn at Valley RSPB. Here we quickly picked up the Red-necked Grebe. There has been discussion over the week it has been present expressing the idea that this bird could in fact be of the North American holboelli race which, if confirmed, would be only the 2nd record for Britain! The bird showed a MASSIVE bill which appeared longer than the head and showed a very yellow lower mandible. Dusky cheeks also appeared evident which is another good credential. Lets hope that more can be done to try and prove this individuals identity
Please see the photos and the discussion on We Bird North Wales
Also at this site was a bird that I probably shouldn't mention on here in case someone from DEFRA is reading and finds out... Oops! Too late!
It was also nice to catch up with Alex Jones at this site.
Llyn Coron
This site showed that today really was a day for local birders as here we met up with Steve Culley, Alex Jones among others and observed 12 European White-fronted Geese and a Pink-footed Goose with the Greylag and Canadas. Sadly, the 3 Tundra Bean Geese didn't play ball.
Whilst watching these birds, I picked up a warbler right in front of us that landed in a tree to our right. It was obviously a Chiffchaff ssp but was very very cold grey in colour with a hint of 'tobacco brown' on the mantle. There was the slightest hint of a wing bar and a reasonably prominent supercillium. Steve and I heard a very weak piping call that was reminiscent of a Bullfinch. A VERY good candidate for Siberian (tristis). Steve got some record shots into the sun, that should hopefully help our case...
Photos of the bird available here -

Malltraeth Marsh
Steve Culley and Alex Jones seemed to be very complimentary of the Glossy Ibis that was showing very well at Malltraeth, so we decided to pay here a visit after Coron. We quickly picked up the bird, but it was at the other side of the field rather distantly. After about 10 minutes of watching a very unsettled ibis, the bird flew really close to us and we were able to get fantastic photos and I was really pleased with the photos I got. A nice 1cy bird and my 2nd Anglesey bird!
The day ended at the Cefni estuary watching the marsh on the south side for raptors. We managed to get a Merlin, Sparrowhawk and a superb male Hen Harrier which hunted actively...stunning!

I really enjoyed the day and it just shows what's out there if you put in the time. It was almost like a day on Scilly with everything being really close to each other and a plethora of great birds to see at reasonably close quarters! Massive thanks must go to Chris Jones for inviting us and also doing all the driving. Hope to repeat a similar day soon!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Dawn on the Orme - 12th November 2011

Up at 05.30 this morning, I got the first train to Llandudno where I enjoyed watching the sun rise over the Liverpool bay.

Highlights of the mornings birding were: Richard's Pipit (*), Short-eared Owl being mobbed by corvids, Woodcock flushed from the path on the way up to the pavement, fem/imm Black Redstart on the eastern side of the Limestone Pavement and a very late imm Northern Wheatear that certainly raised my heartrate for a short time!

The Richard's Pipit was a lifer for me and was seen flying reasonably low over the headland heading SW and calling. This is the second time I have heard this species call but this is the first time I have had 'visual contact'. It was reminiscent of a lark with a long tail and a long bill. It is a shame I couldn't view the species on the ground to really appreciate it.

Other sightings: 8 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Skylark, 3 Chough, 2 Siskin, 5 Brambling, Robin, 30 Blackbird (large birds with dark bills suggested continental origin), 4 Redwing, 4 Song Thrush, 3 Mistle Thrush, 50+ Greenfinch, 100+ Chaffinch, 27 Meadow Pipit, 5 Blue Tit, 8 Magpie, 42 Starling

Saturday, 5 November 2011

No time for a break in this hobby! - 5th November 2011

American Golden Plover - Plover Scar, Cockersands (Stuart Piner)

Just a few hours after getting off the plane from New York, I was out in my dad's car heading north towards Cockersands. I heard, whilst in NYC, about a juvenile American Golden Plover present from Plover Scar. I was eager to see it as this is a bird that I should really have seen by now... I thought I had missed the window for 2011 so was really excited to go and see it.
Upon arrival, a group of 5 birders or so were scoping towards the light house. I picked up a group of 9 Knot and 1 very slightly larger wader with a spangled back facing away. This was the bird! Over the next 25 minutes, the bird fed, bathed and flapped its wings. At the distance the bird was, the diagnostic features I could pick up were the large eye, pale silvery wash to the spangled plumage, reasonably broad supercillium, small size and I could just make out the primary tips projecting beyond the tail. All in all, a lovely wader and a nice bird to have finally seen!

So good they named it twice - part 1

October 29th - November 4th
I have only ever been outside of Europe once, on a short family holiday to Morocco back in 2005, so I have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to World Birding. My October reading week at Uni saw me venture across the pond to New York City! I have come away from this 7 day trip with 46 lifers without leaving Manhattan! Over the next two blog posts below, I will try to explain my trip without going on and on about the awesomness that is North American birding and Central Park alone!
Day 1 - Arriving at lunchtime to heavy snowfall, we dumped our bags in the apartment on 53rd and 9th and went for a short 15 minute walk in Central Park producing 6 lifers!
Day 2 - The morning was spent in south Central Park from first light in the sun producing 18 lifers. I ventured as far north at The Lake.
Day 3 - The morning spent alone in the park exploring The Ramble and then getting a taxi to Bryant Park on 42nd street 'twitching' a Yellow-breasted Chat and Lincoln's Sparrow
Day 4 - After two days of pure birding in the park, I went in with my family but still managed some birding
Day 5 - Went on the Staton Island ferry to see the statue of Liberty and then spent the afternoon in Battery Park.
Day 6 - I ventured to the north of Central Park above the reservoir and then walked to the Harlem River by East 91st street looking for a Belted Kingfisher seen the day before...unsuccessfully!
Day 7 - Friday didn't see much birding as we had a flight to catch, but I went to say goodbye to the ever present Yellow-breasted Chat in Bryant Park!
Northern Cardinal - reasonably common in more overgrown areas of Central Park. More obvious in the colder snowy conditions
Hermit Thrush - One of the commonest new birds of the trip with good numbers present in most areas of greenery in Manhattan. Stunning birds and I am so pleased to have had such an educational trip with this species!
Red-tailed Hawk - I don't think you can go to New York and not see this species! It's almost an iconic species of Central Park with at least 3 seen on multiple occasions
Downy Woodpecker - one of the commonest species of Woodpecker seen in most areas of the park reasonably close to denser woodland.
Red-bellied Woodpecker - The commonest woodpecker sp seen with probably 20 seen in the park.
American Robin - not a lifer, but stunning birds and it was nice to see several different plumages and very good numbers in most areas of greenery. Lovely birds.

Ovenbird - one of 4 species of New World Warblers seen on the trip. This was by far the most obliging bird seen in Bryant Park and incredibly, it actually stood on my shoe at one point whilst I was photographing the Yellow-breasted Chat! One of the best moments of my life, I'm not going to lie! I've wanted to see one of these for years!
Chipping Sparrow - One of my biggest target birds of the trip as these are truly delightful little birds, and I think I would probably twitch Shetland if one were to turn up! Several small groups of these were present in the open areas of Central Park.
Golden-crowned Kinglet - Very educational little birds that reminded me of a hybrid between a Goldcrest and a Firecrest (I'd love to see how similar this hybrid would actually be!). A lot of this species were moving through the park in small flocks on occasion with estimated 120 birds seen.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - This species was slightly less common than the Golden-crowned but equally as obliging and educational. Without getting good views of the small crest, it was reminiscent of a juvenile Goldcrest. (I tried my best to get a top quality picture, but they are even more mobile than European crests and a real terror to photograph well!)
Eastern Phoebe - 4 seen on the trip with 2 in Battery Park and 2 in Central Park (one on the west side of Bethesda fountain and one on the north west side of The Great Lawn)
House Finch - 2 pairs seen in Central Park. Females look remarkably similar to Common Rosefinch!
Lincoln's Sparrow - this immature was 'twitched' in Bryant Park and showed on + off on the north side of the Ice rink with the other sparrows. It proved quite elusive however!
Song Sparrow - probably the 3rd commonest sparrow species seen on the trip and one of my favourite! I can only imagine what it must have been like finding the Seaforth bird back in the day!
Blue Jay - a constant chorus of screeching was ever-present in Central Park and these lovely birds were a real joy to watch for the first time, no matter how annoying the screeching became!
Dark-eyed Junco - These are just in for the winter and several large flocks were present in the park. A rather educational bird and another one of those species you look at in the back of your collins and imagine what it would be like seeing one hop up into your bins view...
Fox Sparrow - One of the prettiest sparrows seen but also one of the least common with only 3 seen on the whole trip. All of these were seen in Central Park, one by the Hallett Nature Sanctuary and 2 by the Ramble bird feeders.
Double-crested Cormorant - 2 were seen on the Turtle Pond and as with most birds seen, they were very educational. I wouldn't however, feel capable of claiming one in Britain however!

Part 2 below!

So good they named it twice - Part 2

Yellow-breasted Chat - One of two birds I twitched in Bryant Park. This was a particularly showy bird and was a joy to watch and photograph. A truly stunning bird and I am really happy with the photos I have got!
Red-winged Blackbird - A few small flocks were seen migrating south but only two grounded birds with this male in Bryant Park and a female in Central Park by the Hallett sanctuary with Common Grackle
Grey Catbird - 2 birds were present in Bryant park feeding actively and proving to be remarkably obliging. Superb birds and almost mythical in terms of European birding!
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - several were seen in Central park and Bryant park. 2 birds were in front of the entrance to the public library. Lovely birds!
Tufted Titmouse - one of the main target birds of the trip that I really wanted to see. Luckily I timed the trip with their arrival and they were reasonably common and stunning to see, but a bit of a challenge to photograph.
Black-and-white Warbler - Probably one of the biggest surprises of the trip was this single bird that was seen deep in the Ramble whilst I was taking a short rest on a bench. It was feeding actively but looking up at the bird, it was a real bugger to photograph, so I can only apologise for not doing this stunning bird justice!
White-throated Sparrow - Without a doubt, the commonest lifer of the trip with lots present almost everywhere and almost abundant in certain areas with flocks of upto 200! Stunning birds, but I am afraid to say, I began to come a little blasé about this bird due to its status.
Mourning Dove - I wasn't expecting such regular views of this species and several were very obliging and probably even more so than Collared Dove back on this side of the Atlantic! Stunning little birds!
Cooper's Hawk - Like a big Sharp-shinned Hawk (also seen), I saw 2 of these within the Ramble and I was impressed by the size of these birds.
Yellow-rumped Warbler - by far the commonest warbler with 15 seen in Central Park. I really wanted to see at least one of the American warblers and I banked on this being the most likely. I was really impressed with this species and I must say, make it a little bigger, elongate the tail and take away the yellow, and you have a good dead ringer for a Buff-bellied Pipit!
Ring-billed Gull - Since finding out that the Alston Res Ring-bill of 2010 was actually a hybrid, this trip saw me tick this species for my world list! Very common around Battery park and on the crossing to Staton Island
Eastern Towhee - Stunning birds! 2 were seen: This female (?) was present around the feeders in the ramble and an even more stunning adult male was seen by the Hallett nature sanctuary but my camera was playing up at this point
Swamp Sparrow - 2 of these were seen, one of which by The Pond with White-throated, Song and House Sparrows, and another bird near to The Loch in the north end of the park.
Red-headed Woodpecker - This immature bird was another semi-twitch as it was present before my arrival in the Hallett nature sanctuary. It took several trips to the park before I got views of this rather Pied bird and it was one of the nicest birds of the trip!
Common Grackle - Common by name, Common by nature! Potentially just one nomadic flock in the park of about 300 birds were seen on several occasions showing off their glossy plumage. Lovely birds with a peculiar call sounding like a juvenile Tawny Owl!
Northern Mockingbird - Whilst on Central Park's East Drive near the MET, this bird hopped down right in front of me feeding on a beetle of some kind, then sat in the sun about 10 feet away! A really stunning bird and again, one of my targets of the trip, except this is one I didn't think I would actually get!
I thought I would end this report with a photo of my highlight of the trip as well as a list of the other lifers of the trip totalling 46 lifers!
American Black Duck, Wood Duck, American Herring Gull, Northern Flicker, Turkey Vulture, House Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hooded Merganser, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Common Yellowthroat, Brown Creeper, American Crow, American Kestrel, Buff-bellied Pipit.

One of the best weeks of my life...I'm surprised to say it, but I think I've fallen in love with America!