26 Oct 2008

On the trail of a Little blue Heron.

When my phone went Friday evening the last thing I expected was a heads up warning of a possible Little Blue Heron in S Wales. Cheers to Jono & Fred for their messages - it enabled me to make plans before the mega alert sounded on the pager. With A 50th birthday to attend Saturday evening it was decided I'd drive myself cross country from Cheshire to Kidwelly as I couldn't stay all day and would have to leave by 14.00 at the lastest!

Leaving at just after 4 am I met up with Jase, Malc & Mark about 30 minutes from the site and Mark jumped cars to keep me company for the rest of the journey. We arrived at Kidwelly to find the grass verge already crowded with cars and parked to join the throng lining both sides of the salt marsh. By midmorning hunger pangs started setting in and we went in search of a 'full English' before returning to find the number of birders substantionally diminished. With time pressing I had to leave and drove off dreading the call to say the bird had been seen!
Hopefully the bird will get refound and everyone will get a second chance!

With poor weather in Cheshire the options were limited today. Stanney Woods was virtually birdless but a spell in the garden resulted in two flyover Tree Sparrows and several Redpolls. A phone call from the Lighthouse Bird Observatory's premier lister, Mr Conlin, persuaded me to make the short trip between showers to Leasowe as he'd found a Water Pipit in the flooded meadows off Park Lane. A good local bird and a grip back on 'my' bird he missed out on in the spring. Unfortunately there was no sign when I arrived but as the sun appeared things started getting a bit better and I managed a few shots of an Oystercatcher bathing and generally hamming it up for the camera.

Sharing the same bathwater was this stunning male Pied Wagtail feeding around the scummy margins. I spent 40 minutes waiting for it to work its way towards me whilst Molly sat patiently nearby.

Final port of call was the nearby cafe where a cuppa and a bacon buttie was just the thing for a hungry birder and his faithful hound.

23 Oct 2008

STOP PRESS. Evolutionary progress?

As a former student of Paleontology I was taught that Archaeopteryx was the 'missing link' in the evolution of birds from reptiles.

It now appears we were wrong all along and those scientists from China who keep astounding us all with their discoveries have announced a new ancestoral 'missing link' with the discovery of a wierd looking creature they've called Epidexipteryx hui.

This extremely camp looking creature dates from the Jurassic period and slightly predates Archaeopteryx. There is no truth behind the claims that it is actually not an avian ancestor but a distant relative of well known Mr Humphries from 'Are you being served'. Claims have also been made that it didn't die out due to evolutionary pressures but in fact was made extinct through being at No. 42 on the Chinese menu! A fact that, as a trained Scientist, I can also disprove. Epidexipteryx hui didn't become extinct in the true sense of the word but evolved in to the folllowing:

You read it here before reading it on any pseudo scientific bird groups newsletter! Epidexipteryx is an ancestor of Sonic the Hedgehog and as such has no avian characteristics (apart from feathers and my wife had those for our daughters wedding) and as such can't be ticked or split.

22 Oct 2008

Seasons to be fearful. Part deux.

CB radios! As used on the Scilly's in Autumn. See below. A brilliant idea but dangerous in the wrong hands.

Available for hire or to buy they can allow instant alerts to be broadcast when rare birds are found. Conversely when things are quiet they can cause endless amusement to childish individuals pretending to be Kris Kristofferson: 'come in rubber duck' or 'I think we've got ourselve's a convoy'. (You really do have to be beyond a certain age to get those references).

This year one was used by a certain birder of my acquaintance, allegedly (according to Paddy Pointon) originating from the forests of Borneo, who unfortunately left it on transmit whilst sat outside the pub with his mate and discussing his sex life (his mate not our mate). Not only this but he was also imparting his thoughtfully constructed views on the possibility that someone had (as they allegedly stated at the evening log) possibly heard a Least Grebe!!!!!! Don't they sound a bit like Little Grebes?

Those who know the person concerned will instantly know who it is but to spare his embarased blushes he shall not be named................................................................

19 Oct 2008

Ho hum, tis the Scilly Season. Seasons to be fearful part one.

One of the great things about modern birding is that modern information technology has made news available almost immediately. Relatively inexperienced birders now have all the latest equipment, pagers and access to the internet and little knowledge in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing. Many birders go to places like the Scilly's expecting to see rare birds and, convinced of what they've found, put the news out. In the last two weeks we've had Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged Teal and American Golden Plover being re-identified as Tufted Duck, Garganey and Golden Plover respectively! Today Mark tells me he's met a 'birder' on Penninis Head who's claimed a Booted Warbler - 'bigger than a Garden Warbler'. Sure it wasn't a Barred Warbler hints our hero but the birder is adamant.......................Ho hum. The Scilly Season is upon us.

But the marvels of technology have also allowed some previously misidentified birds to be correctly identified. Olive Tree Warbler anyone? A good number of excellent birders saw this bird but it was identified rectrospectively from photo's. What chance then of identifiying a moulting Red-footed Falcon correctly as an Amur Falcon? Certain forums are awash with self proclaimed arm chair experts asking why the bird wasn't identified weeks ago. The bird in question was present at Tophill Low, Yorks, for 32 days before its progressive moult finally allowed its identification to be nailed from photographs. Unfortunately retrospectively as it (seemingly) buggered off last week. Arse. Even my extensive library only mentions Amur Falcon once and Malc had to tell me where to find that. For those wondering its in the SASOL (South African) guide. So what chance has your average birder got whose expecting to go and tick a Red-footed Falcon.

Anyway, back to the birds. My phone went balistic last night on news that a 'probable' N American Snowy Egret had been seen on the Wirral coast with Little Egrets. Oh shit. Another early Sunday morning start then.

Taking Molly with me I searched all the flooded fields between Leasowe Lighthouse and Carr Lane and then walked the seafront from Meols back to New Brighton. No sign. It turns out (from photographic evidence) the bird was a Little Egret with well marked legs. To quote BWP:

Occasional occurrence of Little Egrets with mainly yellowish legs bedevils the separation of this species. Beware also possibility of juvenile Little Blue Heron, also with white plumage.

Double shit - the Little Blues gone from Ireland. That means an Egret is no longer just a Little Egret and I'll have to check every bloody one I see just in case its one of these:

Or a juvenile one of these:I live in hope! Nice to catch up with John Tubb and Jeremy Bradshaw on the Wirral today before I succumbed to the temptation of a bacon butty at the Lighthouse cafe. From there it was downhill and I returned home via the Bunbury Arms before going back out in to the birding fray after Sunday dinner. At least I saw nothing having the satisfaction of a full belly!

17 Oct 2008

All quiet on the Wirral

I wasn't going mad or hallucinating last weekend. The Ruddy Shelduck was confirmed as an adult female despite the news being relayed it was a hybrid. After seeing the bird and studying the photo's I just couldn't see it being anything other than a Ruddy Shelduck. The lads at RBA also agreed and changed their pager message to reflect this.

Nothing much happening this week and not much oppurtunity to get out as the evenings closing in. A half hearted sea watch in a NW force 5 produced zero birds of any interest. Highlight of the week has been the 40+ Pied Wagtails feeding on a stubble field sprayed with manure. Night time movement of Redwings has begun and most days I've heard small parties flying overhead.

With the N Wirral team mostly on the Scilly's joined by most of the Sandbach crew, Groucho & Big Al I've been getting regular news about whats going on. Numbers of birders are definitely down and it wasn't really a suprise to receive an email from British International Helicopters offering a one day special return from Penzance to see the Sociable Plover that appeared earlier this week. Feedback from the Islands is that the message is finally getting through and prices may drop. You can't cook the golden goose!

Marks phonescoped shot of the Sociable Plover, St Marys.

Wader numbers roosting on the jetty at New Brighton Marine lake are increasing but no Purple Sandpipers yet. I called in briefly on the way back from Liverpool yesterday and found a tight jammed mass of Turnstone, Knot and Redshank with some birds opting to roost on the railings.

Finally a momentuous occasion this week for Podster aka 'Clousta' or Pete Antrobus who, after nailing Philladelphia Vireo in Ireland, reached the giddy heights of the A* team with 500 Birds on his British & Irish List.

12 Oct 2008

Just Desserts.

Good news from Cornwall today when Malc finally banished his shame and ticked Red-eyed Vireo joined by Jase & Groucho. Well done lads.
So, whats been happening in Cheshire today? Umm..............another dodgy Ruddy Shelduck although this one is doing a pretty good impression of an adult female. I went to look just to be sure.

Whilst returning home from this bird news came through of a 1st winter male Desert Wheatear on the beach at Crosby. Should I or shouldn't I? It didn't take long to make my mind up and I continued up the M6 and turned off on the M62 towards Liverpool..........just as the news came that the bird had flown so I turned off intending to go home though Widnes followed by Paul Hackett who thought I knew a short cut! Nice to speak with you again Paul! Sods law dictated the bird would return so I carried on past home and through the Mersey Tunnel to join the dozen or so birders and hundreds of families on Crosby beach. The bird certainly caused a lot of interest and didn't seem worried by all the attention as it fed on the strand line. The fourth N W record in two years following on from last springs adult male at Irlam, a bird in N Wales and the suppressed bird at Crewe!

What a cracking little bird and a brilliant find by one of the Crosby regulars. Surely we'll get one on the N Wirral coast soon. Pleassseeeeeeee.

10 Oct 2008

Autumn magic

With 'Ulrika' Curtin & 'Statto' Williams, the weather guru's, predicting great things on the birding front the next couple of weeks were looking good. With several fast moving wave depressions hitting us and already depositing American vagrants on Ireland a good bird in the BOU only recording region was a distinct possibility. No one realised how good it would be. Certainly not me when I finished my business meeting in Belfast Wednesday afternoon and looked at my silenced phone to see a dozen missed calls from the lads. That could only mean one thing. Twitch on! A big bird had broken somewhere in the UK.....................................

An Alder Flycatcher had turned up in Nanjizal Valley near Lands End! A first for Britain no less and the birding grapevine was in meltdown. The fast movers were already on their way and by the time I'd returned his call Malc was at Cheltenham with Jason & Pod. A few phonecalls and some pleading with the missus saw me jumping in with Al Orton, Mark Powell and Ash Powell at 11.30 pm after arriving home from Liverpool airport and then dashing straight to the office until 10.00 pm to clear a backlog of work!

Picking Ash up at Plymouth at 03.00 we arrived at the field designated for parking around 5.30 am after a brief obligatory stop at the all night tesco's in Penzance for cold bacon, sausage and egg sandwich Thursday morning. Quite a few other cars already there but not as many as I'd expected! Even 'Paddy' Pointon had made the trip fresh from padding out his list with Irish birds.

As dawn broke the dark mass of birders shuffled their way across the fields to the designated spot and waited. For once there was little talking and with limited mobile reception even the mobiles were quiet! A couple of nail biting moments when someone claimed to have seen it and no one else had and then nothing. As the sun rose and started warming the bracken we watched and waited......................................

Suddenly the shout went up that the bird had been found caused a surge of adrenalin and soon everyone got onto this little 'empid' flycatcher as it charged around the bracken covered hillside. For the next two hours we enjoyed watching it as it flitted around and gave great, although distant, views as it showed off its eyering and double wing bars. Not to mention those pale fringed tertials!

One of my bogey birds has been Red-eyed Vireo. They're a Scilly's speciality. Note the emphasis on the 'has been'. I've missed them on so many ocasions over the last few years that it was becoming a personal crusade. Malc rang me to say a Red-eyed Vireo was still on the Garrison at St Mary's and were we going? Were we ever. A phonecall to Skybus got us booked on the 11.15 flight from Lands End leaving St Marys again at 15.40. 4 hours. Plenty of time. Next call was to Spider to his taxi fro mthe airport to the Garrison. With time to kill we decided to try a bit of proper birding but the need for a morning constitutional meant I had to get to the airport - quickly! Lucky we did as when we got there we found there was an earlier unscheduled flight and we got on it. We now had 5 hours on the Scilly's but we decided to leave the camera and all the 'scopes except one in the car.
Piling into Spiders taxi we headed for the Garrison. With Mark, Al & I all needing Red-eyed Vireo as lifers hopes were high but the bird hadn't been seen for a couple of hours. Imagine our relief when we arrived to see birders running. It could only mean one thing. The vireo was showing. Leaving Ash to pay the taxi we legged it and at last Red-eyed Vireo was added to my British list. What a stunning little bird - much better than the flycatcher we'd just left. With full 'scope views we were able to admire all the details from its blue legs to its beautifully marked head. I wished I'd bought the camera!

Two happy birders with Red-eyed Vireo firmly on their lists.

Hungry we headed down into Hugh Town for a pasty just as Spider reappeared. Jumping in the taxi again we headed off to Porth Hellick Down where an American Golden Plover had been showing well. A lifer for Ash!

Next stop Holy Vale where we found a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Firecrest in the blazing sunshine. This was turning into a 'red letter' day and it got better when we managed to see Lapland & Snow Bunting with juvenile Dotterel altogehter on the airfield. It was a very tired but happy group who returend to Cornwall and started the long drive home.
It was sad to hear and witness first hand that the Scilly's is no longer the birding hot spot it used to be. Numbers of visiting birders are way down on previous years. Even the Porthcressa has closed and is boarded up. No more Scilly's disco's to entertain the birders looking for that last pint! Perhaps now the local businesses will stop fleecing people and adjusting their prices accordingly. The presence of hundreds of birders in the autumn has extended the Scilly's tourist season by several months. Prices have risen dramatically and many birders will no longer going. Compare the price of going as foot passenger to Shetland with going to the Scilly's. Manchester to Shetland by air £160 ish. Penzance to Scilly's by helicopter (20 minutes) £118. Go figure people.

7 Oct 2008

Stanney Woods

Someone has accused me of being over reactionary about the mess in Stanney Woods left by the minority of oiks who congregate there under cover of darkenss. I forgot to mention the smoking of illegal substances, torching of trees and sniffing of aerosols.

Point made I think.
Plenty of visible migration early morning over the house over the last few days. The first 'winter' Redwings flew over early Monday morning followed by a single Skylark. A single Yellowhammer headed S E this morning.

5 Oct 2008

Leach's season

Its that time of year again when strong N W winds blow Leach's Petrels into the mouth of the Mersey and everyone with a pair of binouclars lines the coast from the bus shelter at New Brighton to the bus shelter at Meols hoping to glimpse one of the storm driven waifs.

A text whilst on Shetland informed me of the first bird - the same N W gales that prevented us getting to either Fair Ilse or Foula signalled the arrival of the first Leach's past Red Rocks.

Luckily birds were still appearing when we arrived back and I set off for New Brghton before first light Thursday morning managing to see two exiting the mouth of the Mersey as dawn broke. The winds had dropped considerably by Friday afternoon and a two hour sea watch with Als' Conlin & Orton resulted in only one bird zig zagging up close to the sea wall at the Gunsites. The only other birds seen were a distant Little Gull and a Red-throated Diver.
A Saturday seawatch in a brisk S S Westerly resulted in absolutely zilch apart from a couple of Great-crested Grebes. The rocks below Wallasey Coast Guards held a good flock of Turnstone and a single Sanderling. Next stop the marine lake where, although no Med Gulls were present, plenty of Redshanks and Turnstone roosted on the pier. Before returning home there was just time to check through the large Starling flock just in case...........................

More locally I spent time at both Rivacre Valley and Stanney Woods. Both were equally as quiet bird wise but the local inbreds have been vandalising the signs, dog poo bins (Yes really!) and smashing bottles everywhere. The rangers do a good job but they can't keep up with the mindless morons who think the epitomy of being hard is setting a match to a poo bin or smashing a bottle to impress their mates and equally retarded girlfriends. The carrier bags littered around the sites indicate BARGAIN BOOZE as the main source of their illicit alcohol. Perhaps there is a case for forcilble sterilisation to prevent them spawning more social inadequates. Rant over.

2 Oct 2008

Shetland 2008. The invasion of the modern Vikings.

The return of the Comberbach Vikings to Shetland:

Our long awaited trip to Shetland finally arrived and Friday morning I collected the lads before heading towards Manchester airport. As usual British Airways did us no favours and changed our flights meaning we had a three hour wait at Aberdeen before we could get on to Shetland. Rather than arriivng at 13.30 we eventually arrived at 16.30. They did the same coming home meaning we lost half a day each side of our trip. Prats. They're losing their franchise between Aberdeen & Sumburgh to Flybe who'll hopefully be a bit more customer orientated.
Our hosts for the trip were Jane & Lee Mott who took over the renamed Orca Country Inn, at Hoswick,two years ago and have transformed the place. Never have we lived in such luxury and the prices were half you'd pay on the Scilly's. The Orca has the added benefit that Lee is a birder!
Hoswick village.
Their website can be viewed here: . Where else could you wake up in the morning and hear Yellow-browed Warblers calling in the trees around the car park

Lee also put seed down in his garden to attract any passing finches or buntings. Nothing spectacular but it did attract some newly arrived Siskins.

Unfortunately most of the birds present the day before we arrived had cleared out overnight! Arriving as late as we did didn't give us much oppurtunity to do much birding before nightfall so we headed straight to Sumburgh Farm & the headland to check for any new arrivals.

After a good night in the bar with copious amounts of ale drunk expectations were high when we awoke the next morning for a quick walk around the local hot spots in Hoswick before a cooked breakfast. With Big Al & Groucho needing Arctic Warbler as 'lifers' they decided to go with Malc & Mike Stokes to the Skerries whilst the rest of us concentrated on trying to find our own stuff. The Skeries team managed to kick out a possible Blyth's Reed Warbler from an Iris bed but couldn't get definitive views. It looked and sounded right and sat up long enough to show it disitinctive 'banana' posture. Mind you so did the local seals:

However, news of a Western Bonelli's Warbler showing well at Lunna had us scurrying that way as Jase needed it as a 'lifer'. As it turned out it was well worth the visit as the bird was extremely showy but hard to photograph as the light was so poor.

With strong westerly winds and heavy rain showers it felt good for a 'Yank' vagrant and sure enough, as predicted by Jase, a Bobolink turned up on Foula. Totally inacessible for us due to the weather conditions. The bird had disappeared by next morning much to our relief. Knowing it was there and we couldn't get to it would have been rough.

Kergord Plantation threw up a typically elusive Barred Warbler whilst later in the trip we aslo found two very showy Common Crossbills at the same site. Everywhere we went we found Yellow-browed Warblers and plenty of commoner migrants such as Pied Flycatchers, Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat and Blackcap.

In full waterproof gear complete with wellies we searched for the elusive rare vagrant. Groucho managed to twist his ankle whilst wearing Pods wellies (they were to big for him) on the Skerries and his foot soon balloned up causing much hilarity and little sympathy - despite Jane being convinced he may have broken it!

Meanwhile the quest continued. Walking in wellies all day isn't easy and the older member of the party soon found the need for a late afternoon nap before the evenings festivities. Stokesey, being ill, retired to bed early for the first couple of days end even when on the road to recovery was always the last to breakfast. In fact bets were had as to which moved the fastest Mike or the invertebrate found on the doorstep one morning.

This Leopard Slug is interesting in that it's carniverous. Maybe it smelt the sausages and bacon. It also has a very curious mating ritual as shown here:
A trip to Sand Ness to search for birds in that area meant the obligatory photo oppurtunity at the most unfortunatley named village in the British Isles. Enough said. Pod can be a right clousta.
A calling Common Rosefinch in a potato field at Spiggie meant the two cars converged on the site to allow Al to tick it for his year listing attempt and Mark & Mike to add it to their life list. I don't know why some people insist on calling them grot finches as they're actually smart little birds. I think this was the fastest Mike moved all trip!

Mammals were few and far between with only Rabbits being common. The occasional squashed Hedgehog was seen on the road and we saw a couple of Otters. Seals were every where and we saw both Common & Atlantic Grey. Malc managed to find a dead Polecat. It smelt pretty rancid and we assumed it must have been following us around given the horrific smells occasionally blasting our nostrils in the car. Rumour that a certain party member had passed it in a bowel movement were proven false when he denied all knowledge of ever eating it!

In fact bowel movements became a regular (no pun) intended feature of our trip and it was pleasing to see the Shetlands Tourist Board had provided up to date information on the position of all conveniences on the Island. I reckon there are more public toilets per head of population on Shetland than anywhere else on the mainland.
Twite are common on Shetland and it was great to see such good numbers of these small finches everywhere we went. Sumburgh head is a good location as they congregate around the lighthouse but we saw small parties all over the Islands.

Our final day was spent in the stunning area of Esha Ness. One of the remotest areas on mainland Shetland. I was given the run around by a bird I'm convinced was an American Golden Plover but I couldn't relocate it. It called several times before I finally saw it briefly in flight. Despite searching all the Golden Plover flocks we could find we never saw it again.

Next stop Greenland.
A great trip. Even though we didn't get the hoped for Lanceolated Warbler or other Siberian vagrant we saw some good birds, enjoyed some good beers and food together and spent 5 days in some fantastic scenery. Mike, Jase, Al & Mark all got lifers whilst Pod, Malc & myself contented ourselves with the 100 species seen in total on the trip!