25 Sept 2008

What a week!

Off to Shetland tomorrow for 5 days birding - what a week they've had so far with Brown Flycatcher, Siberian Thrush, Syke's Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous and possible Thick-billed Warbler. Bleedin hell! All that on top of Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler & Lanceolated Warbler. F*ck me - I hope some of them stick!!!
It's not only Shetland thats getting the birds. Flamborough proved it's credentials as one of the top UK rarity hotspots by throwing up a stunning male Brown Shrike that proved to be to much of a temptation so I jumped at the chance of a lift first thing with Fred Fearn. The journey over was a bit fraught when news came out the bird had been lost. News then came out it had been refound but then came the news that the refound bird was a Red-backed Shrike. Oh sh*t. The mood in the car changed by the minute. Only when Groucho Payne rang to say it the bird had been refound on the golf course when we were only 20 minutes away did the mood lighten again. All we had to do was get there before Talidan the Flusher Man.
What a cracking bird and all credit to the local birders for arranging parking and stopping people getting to close. As well as the star turn there was a supporting cast of Red-backed Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Yellow-browed Warblers by the bucket full. Bleedin hell!

Such was the draw of this bird even Mr Conlin left the Wirral to twitch it along with his personal chauffer Frank! Many other familiar faces put in an appearance during the time we were there and everyone went away supremely happy. This bird was a first for mainland Britain.

Events in Yorkshire overshadowed another extremely good bird - a Stilt Sandpiper at RSPB Campfield in Cumbria.

On top of all this exitement I finally caught up with an elusive Firecrest in Stanney Woods. Probably the same 'probable' that I'd heard and seen briefly flying through the garden early morning on both the 19th & 23rd September.
What a week and it's not over yet!

21 Sept 2008

Empty nest.

Well that us finished with the child rearing. With Amy married and safely back in Australia it was Joe's turn to leave today and we took him to York University! The same York that the lads caught the charter from to North Ronaldsay for the cracking male Cretzschmars Bunting thats taken up temporary residence. Fun and games were had by all with a certain well known twitcher throwing his weight around and trying to claim priority over any charter flight available. Unfortunately I was unable to join the fun and will have to wait for the next one to turn up!

Whatever time was available this weekend was spent birding locally in search of the elusive rare migrant. Visible migration is well underway with early morning watches, cup of tea in hand, producing good numbers of alba Wagtails and Meadow Pipits with smaller numbers of Yellowhammer, Grey Wagtail and Lesser Redpoll over the garden.

The LBO was very quiet with a solitary Wheatear and a Stonechat around the car park. A brief sea watch resulted in nothing but an unidentifiable and very distant auk.

Parkgates long staying Cuckoo finally seems to have disappeared and the bushes along the side of the golf course held nothing more than a few Chiffchaffs. Plenty of 'crests seem to be moving through and I had a possible Firecrest on call and seen in flight only as it shot though the garden early one morning.

17 Sept 2008

Great Snipe & Ortolans.

A happy coincidence today saw me leaving a meeting in Hull just as news broke of a Great Snipe a few miles north near Bempton. Plenty of time for me to get there in time for the organised flush at 14.oo! The bird wasn't in the original area of set-aside but was soon relocated and all 150 birders present had excellent and prolonged flight views of this enigmatic species. 2008 has been an exceptional year for them in the UK!! Well done to the finder, Keith, who's local patch it was. Arrangements were made with a local farmer to park on his stubble field at a cost of £2.00 /car and all money went to the local nursery. For once everyone was well behaved and obeyed on site instructions..............................

Nearer home an Ortolan Bunting has been showing its proverbials off at Soldiers Point, Anglesey. Feeding on the strand line with Meadow & Rock Pipits it proved very confiding and photogenic -an oppurtunity not to be missed. I arrived just as the rain stopped and sat patiently by myself on the beach waiting for it to come closer.

Much better than chasing dodgy Flycatchers in Scotland & Norflok. With a few Wrynecks & Red-backed Shrikes turning up in Lancashire and the Great Orme & Anglesey also getting in on the act I predict a goodie in Cheshire within the next few days.

14 Sept 2008

Given away - one daughter!

With my daughter safely married and on her honeymoon its time to turn my attention to some birding again! The wedding was fantastic with the weather finally breaking and letting us enjoy this emotional occasion in brilliant sunshine - the grooms Father was sent on his way from Australia by his Mum with a 'pocket full of Australian sunshine' and it certainly did the trick.
We'd just waved goodbye to our final guests at Fridays post wedding party when Frank rang to say he'd got a possible Semi-palmated Sandpiper at Frodsham No. 6 tank. Quickly finishing the soup I left my long suffering wife to clear up whilst I drove to Frodsham. The light was already going when I got there to find Frank, Bill Moreton and another birder watching a distant small wader. It had been showing much closer before I got there and the general feeling was of an 'interesting' bird. It certainly didn't have the 'jizz' of a Little Stint. Having black legs ruled out other small 'peeps' such as Temminck's Stint and Least Sandpiper whilst size alone ruled out Baird's and White-rumped Sandpiper. Hmm. Steve Williams arrived just before the bird flew with the Dunlin it was associating back to the Mersey Estuary.
Birds were passing through all the time and Frank had already had 4 juvenile Black Terns through before I located this Spoonbill that appeared from nowhere and looked stunning in the setting sun.

Saturday saw a small throng of local birders gather at Frodsham but despite a continuous watch from 09.00 until 19.00 there was no furhter sign of the 'peep'. There was a juvenile Little Stint with a gammy leg and this provided a good comparison with the previous days bird. The conclusion being it definitely wasn't a Little Stint............................
Other birds that entertained us during the long watch where a single Greenshank, a flock of 7 Golden Plover, Lesser & Common Whitethroats and a Peregrine! In total 10 species of wader were seen on No. 6 tank but numbers were generally low with only Lapwing making it into double figures!
It's all happening on Shetland at the moment with Jase Atkinson finding a Yellow-breasted Bunting near his house on Whalsay - a great find and on his local patch as well! - and Lanceolated Warblers at Sumburgh and Fair Isle. I hope theres still stuff moving when we go on the 26th! The mega alert went off 3 times Saturday. Each time I exhaled a big sigh of relief.

7 Sept 2008

The return of summer and a Grey Phalarope in Cheshire.

At last summer returned if only for one day. The 2008 definition of summer is that the windscreen wipers are only on intermittent rather than maximum. So it was today - the only thing that got wet was my foot as I trod in an unseen rut whilst pushing through the undergrowth engulfing the path down to the Weaver at Frodsham.

An crap seawatching session on the N Wirral coast Saturday with Allan, from one of the bus shelters that double up as a hide and Frank at the nearby Gunsites filled us with gloom and despondency. A brisk northerly was blowing but only a handful of Gannets and Common Scoters were seen. The gloom depended when news came out when it was dark that a juvenile Grey Phalarope had been seen at Frodsham 'between the Weaver bend and No. 5 tank. Now, to those that know Frodsham, that makes it in the middle of a flooded field! With so many Grey Phalaropes in the Country we'd been expecting to see one during our seawatch.

Frank got up early today and searched the area to no avail. Then news came out that the bird was still present. Cue frantic phonecalls. No one knew anything! Luckily Wirral birder David King refound the bird on the River Weaver between the Weaver bend and No.1 tank.......................the mystery was solved and a grateful handful of Cheshire birders converged to form a mini twitch.

Walking Stanney Woods with Molly Saturday morning was productive when a Wood Warbler betrayed its presence in the canopy by giving its distinctive trill. It was hard to pick out but a good autumn record and only my second here -the first being a singing male several years ago.

Other local birds included two Grey Wagtails that dropped onto the pond alongside the house to feed on the rapidly disappearing muddy margin.

A quick hello to Allan's mate Ken who spent sometime seawatching wih us yesterday and left with the parting words: 'I don't want to read my name on your @@&8$£ng blog'. Cheers Ken -glad you enjoy reading it and as promised I didn't write anything rude!

Finally, it's a big week in the Woollen household this week. My daughters getting married Thursday (to an Aussie) and they're emigrating on the 18th. So, no birding for me this week I'm afraid.....................................

6 Sept 2008

Lamarckism in progress.

Lamarck was right! I've just seen his theory of evolution in progress. With a Semi-palmated Sandpiper showing well all week at Dawlish Warren (see Gary Thorburns photographs on Surfbirds) I decided to jump in with Al Orton yesterday in the hope of getting my own photographs.

We left Cheshire at 06.15 in rain but with the promise that the weather would improve around 10.00 at Dawlish. It didn't and we arrived in torrential rain and high winds. Not really the kind of weather to belooking for a small Calidrid on an exposed beach. We searched the areas where the bird had been habitating but no sign - it didn't help much that the storm surge had reduced the area of beach to the size of a postage stamp. Up and down we wandered whilst being blasted by sand and salt spray. Eventually Al had to go back and get some dry clothes from the car. The sun miraculously appeared and the rain eased and I decided to check the beach further along towards the point as Al rejoined me. By now several other birders had appeared. Spotting a small group of Dunlin right up against the marram grass we checked it out and Al found our quarry straight away but it disappeared into the marram. Setting the 'scope up I confirmed the I.D and we called the others over. We watched it for about 10 -15 minutes beofre all the waders flew. Half the flock settled near us and the other half flew towards the Bight.
I've never been so wet (the camera never came out of the bag but was still soaked and spent the night in the airing cupboard). We picked the wettest day of the year to stand on an exposed beach looking for a small displaced wader with semi -palmated feet. I swear its palmations were growing as we watched it. It'll soon be a fully palmated sandpiper so perhaps Lamarck was right after all! Poor little sod will need them if this weather continues.

We left Dawlish at 13.45, after refuelling with chips and having to bump start the car due to a dead battery, expecting a leisurely journey home arriving in Cheshire in plenty of time for Al to get showered, changed and fed ready for work at 20.45. Wrong! The heavy rain had caused complete chaos with accident after accident delaying our progress. Eventually we turned off the M5 and headed cross country through Shropshire - a county under water! We arrived home after a gruelling 6hr journey.

3 Sept 2008

Knock knock?

Who's there?
Yeta who?
Yet another White-winged Black Tern.

Bleedin hell. They're like buses. You wait for ages then three turn up. Not together but within the space of a month. Todays bird was found by Barry Barnacal at Shotwick Boating Lake in Flintshire. Stu Taylor of the RSPB rang me to say it was viewable from Puddington which is in CHESHIRE & I shot from the office like the proverbial moggy dipped in hot water. The bird showed well but distantly and made occasional forays into Cheshire as it soared and swooped over the surrounding fence.

Birding North West editors Steve Williams & Allan Conlin were watching the bird from the Welsh side of the lake as they both needed WWBT for their Wirral lists (Shotwick is on the Wirral penninsula and included as part of the old Wirral 100 square miles) before Steve joined me to get it on his Cheshire list!

1 Sept 2008

Yet another White-winged Black Tern at Crosby.

Following on from the earlier adult a juveniles now turned up! Are they breeding here supressed amongst the tern rafts? When I got there the bird was feeding actively out in the middle of the marine lake and had spent most of the day there. Good views but not really close enough to get really good pics.

What is it about Seaforth that attracts these marsh terns?

More fun on the high seas.

With Mackerel running off Hilbre it was decided to set sail in the good ship 'Miss Molly' Sunday morning to catch a few to eat as well as checking for any passing seabirds that may have been attracted by the shoals. Local birder John Tubb had found an adult Pomarine Skua, complete with spoons, off the N Wirral coast Saturday whilst we were checking the wader flocks at Kings Gap. Hopes were high that we may pick it up whilst out on the sea.

The birds weren't very forthcoming with only a couple of Gannets and a number of terns being been seen. The Mackerel were positively suicidal as the following photo shows. Skipper Conlin is seen cleaning a bag full for Chief Mechanic Bob who's a bit squeamish. As with the proverbial Chinese pig nothing was wasted - the guts etc have been frozen for a future pelagic.

Saturday morning was spent sifting through the hundreds of waders along the foreshore at Kings Gap checking for any N Ameican vagrants that might have overflown Ireland and found themselves on the Dee estuary. No such luck but Mr Conlin found a sub-adult Yellow-legged & an adult Med Gull. I hope the fat git in the shiny yellow shorts who thought it was fun to chase all the gulls and waders from their roost reads this and realises what a total w*nker he is. A colour ringed Redshank picked out amongst the hordes turned out to have been rung on Hilbre the night before! I don't thing they expected such a rapid 'recovery' and the bird has moved about 2 -3 km N East from where it was rung.

A butty and brew at the incomparable Lighthouse cafe set us up for a walk around the paddocks. Just in case a Yellow Warbler or Northern Waterthrush appeared! Disappointingly only migrant found was the first autumn Northern Wheatear.

Closer to home my walk with Molly in Stanney Woods was enlivened by a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker found amongst a roving tit flock not far from where a bird was drumming and calling for a week earlier in the year. Still no marsh Tits though..............

For a while I've been trying to photograph our local Buzzards and Friday afternoon provided the ideal oppurtunity as they were congregating on a recently ploughed field looking for invertebrates.

Finally, what is the birding World coming to? Someone 'nicked' Lee Evans' 'scope and midland birder Archie Archer has been banned for life from Bird Forum. Are the two realted or has Archie been made a scapegoat for his no compromise, no prisoner approach to posting?