Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Red-eyed Vireo - Walney Island, Cumbria - 4th November 2014

After the Eastern Crowned Warbler and Rough-legged Buzzards, I was wondering how many more lifers I would get in 2014. I certainly wasn't expecting an American Passerine or indeed 3 days later!
That is what happened though as I visited Walney Island bird obs for the first time thanks to a lift off Bill Aspin to see the Red-eyed Vireo found this morning.

We arrived mid-afternoon with golden afternoon sun. It hadn't been seen half an hour prior to our arrival but, it came out and showed really well just after we arrived, feeding and even fly catching! It showed pretty well on and off showing its surprisingly large size, blueish cap and wonderful supercillium. What a bird! Also on site, we managed to see three flocks of Whooper Swans - a flock of 22 on the sand, 35 south and another 5 south too. Magic.

This is a bird I've wanted to see for years and one I didn't think I'd get in the north west ever! Good to see Andy Kinghorn, Scott Reid, Paul Brewster, Tony Disley, Stu Piner, Andy Holden, Ian Fleming and Mike Ainscough onsite too.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike - Lytham Moss - 2nd November 2014

I woke up this morning to news of the Fylde Great Grey Shrike still present on Lytham Moss. As I still needed this for the Fylde, yearlist and also only ever seeing two previously, I felt it was rude not to! I set off from Preston and was parked at the Animal Sanctuary in 25 minutes. I hopped across the road and set my scope up, seeing the bird in less than ten seconds of arriving. Wonderful!
It showed surprisingly well, surprisingly close and just saw on top of brambles performing very well to the assembled crowd of c20 people. A stunning bird that I had embarrassingly, previously written it off as 'uninteresting' because of having previously seeing a couple. When I locked onto it with the scope, I instantly was reminded just how wonderful these northern birds actually are!

Spurn - 1st November 2014

After having a two-lifer day, we headed to Spurn, because when in doubt...Spurn! We knew there had been a Black Brant around, so we were eager to find the Brent Goose flock. It was off Beacon Lane between Westmere Farm and Crown and Anchor, so we set up scopes and tried to find it. It took maybe four minutes before I spotted a brent sp sat down with a seemingly enormous neck collar. It suddenly stood up and revealed a black belly with really white flanks. It was so obvious, especially when it was walking around causing trouble with the locals!
Once happy, we moved onto the Warren and had a mini seawatch, but little was moving. We walked round the triangle and then back along the beach. Once almost back at the Warren, we came across a 'long-staying' Snow Bunting which showed incredibly down to 10 feet! Wonderful! A lovely way to end a great day!

Rough-legged Buzzards - Sleddale, Cleveland - 1st November 2014

It's been an almost lifelong ambition to see a Rough-legged Buzzard. As the Autumn starts every year, I always say 'Right! This Autumn/Winter, I will see a Rough-legged Buzzard!'. Having seen species like Amur Falcon, Scarlet Tanager and Short-billed Dowitcher, it might seem odd to some that I've never seen Rough-legged Buzzard, but they're really hard to get on the West Coast!
We turned up at Sleddale in Cleveland after a report of three showing well on the moor! When we turned up, there were three birds in the air. The first one I got on to....Common Buzzard. The second...Common Buzzard. I got a little worried, but as I got on to the third, it was skinnier, with longer wings and a pale base to the uppertail...ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD! Finally! We had super views of at least two hunting in the wind as they hung motionless on the wind.
When we decided to move on, I asked Matt to move along down the road just a little to have a chance of getting closer views and before long, we saw a Rough-leg right close to the road. It put on a real show as it played with a piece of turf/soil. Incredible views of a wonderful bird! Second lifer of the day.

Eastern-crowned Warbler - Cleveland - 1st November 2014

When I missed the opportunity to twitch the South Shields Eastern Crowned Warbler, I thought I'd have to wait a long time to get that back. When the bird was caught and ringed in Hertfordshire, I was amazed that a second British record turned up so soon! At no point did I think that would lead onto another record in the next few years. Much to my surprise, on Thursday 30th October, I got a text of Matthew Bruce asking me if I was up for Cleveland this weekend because of an Eastern Crowed Warbler! Blimey!
I got the train to Leeds and I joined a car of Matt and Daniel Branch on the trip north. Onsite, it took about 10 minutes before someone called the bird as being on show. As was a running theme through the bird's stay, it turned out to be a Chiffchaff. After the crowd settled down again, I got chatting with a St. Helens birder, who has seen the bird the day before and on the morning, there was a whistle that it had been refound. Initially I spotted movement and then got decent views of the bird at the top of a sycamore, but right into the sun. I held out for a little bit and tried to learn about the bird in the field whilst I was in a position where I could see it well. It was very long. Much longer than the Arctic Warbler I saw at Donna Nook two weeks prior, and the slight up turned bill with luminous orange lower mandible was very obvious. Despite being subtle, the wing bar stood out quite well against the very dark green upper body. The extensive supercillium was also obvious and in certain angles, the namesake crown stripe was also obvious. Much more so than the crown stripe on the Yellow-browed Warbler also present.
I moved round to where the light was brilliant and was rewarded with the bird sitting right in the open for at least two minutes. A wonderful bird and birding royalty well and truly on my list!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ring-necked Parakeet - Brockholes NR LWT - 20th October 2014

It's been a while! I've now finished my masters and back in Preston searching for a job. Yesterday, Jim Beattie was filling up the feeders at Brockholes when he heard a calling Yellow-browed Warbler which he then saw in flight. This is the first record for Brockholes and potentially well overdue given how many make it into the UK in the Autumn these days! Anyway, I didn't have the highest hopes that it would be seen again because of the vast amount of potential cover in the Brockholes area including 3 ancient woodlands!
I decided to give it a couple of hours late afternoon and joined 6 other pairs of eyes and ears in search for the Siberian Phyllosc. Unsurprisingly, there was no further sign of the warbler, but whilst I was stood at the Bramble patch in the eastern corner of Boilton Wood, I was recording a flock of tits passing by hoping that the warbler was in with them. Whilst I was still recording, a bird flew over making two very loud screeching noises. It was instantly apparent that this was a Ring-necked Parakeet which I soon caught sight of whilst it flew east along the edge of Boilton Wood. Green and skinny with very long tail, narrow wings and extremely erratic flight.

A patch tick for me and only the second record for the site. Talk about killing the wrong bird with one stone (not sure that's a real metaphor...)

Ring-necked Parakeet records Brockholes NR LWT:
30/03/2012, One > NE over main path to Visitor Village, 13:00 (Bill Gregory / Mike Foley).
20/10/2014, One > E over Boilton Wood from brambles, 16:37 (Zac Hinchcliffe)

Monday, 28 July 2014

Aston Rowant and Otmoor RSPB - 27th July 2014

Day 3 of my 'day out' saw us head to Aston Rowant for the 2nd year in a row for the two main targets being Chalkhill Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper. Both were very much evident on the reserve and gave fantastic views. We met up with Sam Viles onsite and he was kind enough to lend me one of his macro extension tubes which allowed for much better photos than I would've otherwise been able to get.
 Chalkhill Blue male
Chalkhill Blue male
 Silver-spotted Skipper underwing
Silver-spotted Skipper upperwing
 Brown Argus upperwing
 Large White underwing
 Meadow Brown underwing
 Chalkhill Blue female underwing
 Chalkhill Blue female upperwing
Chalkhill Blue - showing how pale they look, especially in flight. Very noticeable in the field.
 Essex Skipper. Just about see the black underside to the antennae tips.
Final stop of the trip was Otmoor RSPB to look for Brown Hairstreaks. Here we met back up with Sam Viles and I met Paul Brewster for the first time. We managed to see at least 3 basking on Ash trees. Not quite as showy as you'd wish your first Brown Hairs, but the views through a scope of the hairstreak below walking around on leaves was just brilliant. It was also educational to see one fighting a Purple Hairstreak as the larger size of the brown was evident.
 Brown Hairstreak (Scope views of this wonderful butterfly were much much better!!)
After pleasing views of the hairstreaks, we went to look for the onsite Glossy Ibis which eventually was showing well from the screen.
2 Turtle Doves were seen after going to see the Glossy Ibis including this purring individual. The first time I've EVER heard the purr! So happy I got to see one as I was starting to worry I'd never see another one. My last sighting was 2009 at Spurn! A superb way to end an amazing weekend.

Thanks Steff for driving, Alex for the invite and both for the company!

A two lifer day - 26th July 2014

After an inpromptu night in Preston, Alex and I met up with Steff Leese and headed off due south east with the intention of ending up at the Ouse Washes to see the Pratincole, but en route, we were rudely alerted of the presence of an American Golden Plover in Warkwickshire. Both Alex and Steff needed this, so we popped in on the way down. A short distance away from the reserve, the news changed somewhat and it turned out it was actually a Pacific Golden Plover! I went from saying 'ok, I'm happy to go', to 'GO! GO! GO!'.
The bird showed wonderfully well as it fed and preened and look very settled. The ID was still not 100% confirmed on our arrival, but I was pretty happy from the word go it was a Pacific, but given the extensive black flanks, I could understand why it was put out as an American. The bird showed a hint of white in the flanks and undertail coverts, plus very short primary projection beyond the tertials, so the bird didn't have an elongated rear end like the one American I had previously seen. The legs were also crazy long and the eye was very large, almost like a Grey Plover, which gave it a very Pacific feel. A lovely bird and not one I was expecting to see!

Video of Pacific Golden Plover - Best viewed in HD
The main stop of the day was Ouse Washes RSPB to go and see a Black-winged Pratincole. After a crazy 4km walk from the car park, Steff picked up the bird flying high up with some starlings! This was my first pratincole ever and what a bird it was! I was amazed by how dark it was, and it almost came across like a Green Sandpiper at distance! Obviously with the exception of the Arctic Tern like flight.
Additional species onsite were Temminck's Stint plus self-found Wood Sandpiper and Garganey.

I also managed to pick up two dragonfly lifers in the form of Small Red-eyed Damselfly and Scarce Chaser. A flyby Clouded Yellow and a Painted Lady were also great additions to the weekend list!

Black-winged Pratincole!

After a long day, we decided the drive back up north was a bit too much, so we popped to the town of Sandy and stayed over for the night.

Arnside Knott - 25th July 2014

Alex still needed the Arnside Knott specialities and after a very very long week with fieldwork and my Masters, he invited me along for some respite.
On the way there, I thought Alex might never have seen White-letter Hairstreak, so just before it was too late, I quickly asked as we were about to pass Brockholes. He said no, so I got him to pull off at j31 and before too long, we were at the Bramble Bushes watching a very very very worn White-letter Hair. Great start.
Onto Arnside and as always, Scotch Argus was out in force and once again, I was blown away by their beauty and Alex also felt the same. High Browns have had a poor year, so we only managed to see one, but it was a lovely fresh individual. I was also impressed with a few Brimstones that were obviously freshly emerged as they just didn't want to fly away, allowing wonderful photographing opportunities. I however have already had a great underwing shot, so upperwing was my goal. I got an ok photo, but just a shame it didn't fit in the whole shot. The same story with a Grayling...upperwing photo that has room for improvement!
Scotch Argus
High Brown Fritlliary
Brimstone upperwing...room for improvement
Grayling upperwing...room for improvement!
We popped into my house in Preston on the way back and suddenly found ourselves in the pub and then staying over for the night...again, another nice break from my course! More to follow....

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Twite Update - 25th June 2014

Several juvenile Twite giving crippling views today.
The majority of the readers of this blog might think that I have hung up the binoculars for the summer and focussed on the non-feathered flying animals. This is far from the truth as I've only really been looking at insects and flowers on my few days off from my Masters fieldwork. Most days I am in the Nant Ffrancon valley seeing what the Twite are getting up to. In the last week, I have managed to locate a few family parties of Twite indicating a successful breeding season for at least a few pairs. It is of course still early, so I'm expecting numbers to increase dramatically over the next month, but we shall see.
Today I was rewarded with wonderful views of a party of 14 Twite feeding 15-20ft away in a sheep pen including 10 juveniles. Shortly after this, I located 'another' flock of 10 also featuring 8 juveniles. I am really unsure whether or not this is the same flock as previously seen, which is probably more likely given that this was only 200-300m away from the other flock. Sadly, whilst the entire flock is still unringed, I can't make assumptions. Whether or not I saw 14 birds or 22 birds, I don't know.   
In addition to the Twite, there's still a couple of singing Cuckoo, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler reappeared today. In addition, I've had intermittent sightings of Sedge Warbler, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Kingfisher.
Beautiful Demoiselle female
There's some real nice quality of insects in the Nant Ffrancon too, including Beautiful Demoiselle, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Small Heath, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary and what I think was a Chimney Sweeper moth yesterday.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Southern Damselfly et al. - Cors Erddreiniog and Great Orme - 22nd June 2014

Southern Damselfly
Southern Damselfly
I spent most of the day with Chris Jones on Anglesey focussing on Dragonfly, Butterfly and Orchids. My personal main reason for going was because I wanted to look for Southern Damselfly at Cors Erddreiniog, but given that these were at the back of the reserve, I had to save these til last. Eventually we arrived at the area, and after a decent amount of time searching, I spotted an incredibly small and dainty damsel in flight. A quick binocular view revealed the characteristic 'mercury mark' on the 2nd segment confirming ID of this very rare species in the UK.
As far as I am aware, they only occur in 11 10km squares in the UK as their requirements of shallow, flowing streams with chalky runoff. Anglesey isn't famed for it's chalk, so they are only in an area of about 50m square! A real honour to observe the smallest blue damsel in the UK! 
Keeled Skimmer
Last visit to Cors Erddreiniog saw me see my first UK Keeled Skimmer and today, there were loads of males. It took me a while, but eventually got photos of a perched male.
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly
My third trip to the Anglesey fens and my third time of seeing this really nice damselfly. Similar to Southern Damsel, they're quite specific in where you'll find them (usually over a bit of open marsh). It was great however to see one perched on the same bit of rush as a common Blue-tailed Damselfly. Great to see the size difference and difference in markings side by side.
Hairy Dragonfly
A lot of Hairy Dragons out today. Nice to get an ok photo of one too as I've failed in the past.
Marsh Helleborine
Orchids were the other main focus of the day as Chris is even newer than me, so after a trip to Plas Newydd to get Greater Butterfly Orchid, Cors Erddreiniog proved brilliant with everything from last visit except Narrow-leaved Marsh. This meant that most species were going over, so Fly Orchid were very faded, although the paler stalks made them easier to find this time. Marsh Helleborine were out in flower today which was a first for me! My first helleborine in flower and what a stunner! Lovely plant. We ended the day at the Great Orme seeing Pyramidal Orchid taking the day tally to 9 species.
Eristalis intricarius
A few hoverflies made for further entertainment including this nice bee mimic, plus 2 lifers in the form of Xanthogramma pedissequum and Chrysotoxum festivum. Two real stunners!
male Silver-studded Blue ssp caernensis - thinner black border to the upperwing and noticeably smaller than the nominate race
male Silver-studded Blue ssp caernensis - note the silver studds in the lover orange spots.
female Silver-studded Blue ssp caernensis - bluer centre and daker base, plus smaller size making this pretty striking
Grayling ssp thyone - smaller, paler/duller and less contrasting than the nominate race.

We ended the day on the Great Orme hoping for an early flowering Dark Red Helleborine, but no joy. The main target however was the get some great views of the two endemic butterfly races. thyone Grayling are emerge several weeks before the nominate race and are only present on the western side of the Great Orme. Remarkably constricted! After a release of 90 caernensis Silver-studded Blue in the Dulas Valley in 1942, close by, this race is no longer confined to just the Great Orme. These were really out in force today though and proved really obviously different to the norm.

A superb day and I'm really thankful to Chris for driving as we got a lot done!