29 Sept 2011

100 uses for a landrover. Use number 99.

Allowing junior birders to view Great White Egrets across distant marsh land.

28 Sept 2011

Northern Waterthrush.

News that last weeks Northern Waterthrush that we missed on the Scillys was still on show and had settled into a routine had me itching to go and see it! The opportunity came when Al Orton rang and asked if I wanted to go with him Sunday night with a view to (hopefully!) coming back Monday night.

Driving through the night in torrential rain we arrived to find Lands End airport yet again shrouded in fog. This time there was to be no let up and we opted to transfer to the Scillonian for the sea crossing. News of that the Water Thrush had been seen early morning heightened our anticipation and made us even more frustrated over the delay. Once we'd cleared land all the fog disappeared although there wasn't much to see bird wise with only a juvenile Black Tern being of any note. Two passerines (a Willow Warbler and a Meadow Pipit) briefly joined the ship before departing in a southerly direction. A large pod of Common Dolphins kept the majority of passengers happy - always a delight to see. Dolphins always seem happy.

Arriving at Hugh Town our first priority was to find somewhere to stay. We now realised we weren't going to have time to relocate the Waterthrush and would have to wait until the evening when it came into roost. Knocking on doors produced a room for the night and after dumping our gear and a quick brew we set off for some birding. First stop Lower Moors where a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper showed well from one of the hides.

Noticing some Chiffchaffs in some waterside sallows I started 'pishing' to bring them closer. Next minute an Icterine Warbler appeared above our heads before giving us the eye and disappearing in disgust. Brilliant.

Searching the muddy pools in the woods around Lower Moors we were frustrated to hear the Waterthrush several times but weren't able to locate it. Noticing a few people already standing by Higgo's hide from where the Waterthrush had been being seen at first light and late evening we decided to head that way to ensure we got a good position. It was 3 pm and the bird had been showing from around 4.30 onwards.

As it happened there was plenty of space outside the hide and we stood with a handful of visitors and some resident Scilly's birders and watched the juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs that had decided Higgo's handiwork with a shovel was to its liking.

The expectation was high as the clock crept towards the magic hour. Nothing. As light began to fade last weeks Solitary Sandpiper put in a brief appearance before flying off towards the tip calling as it went an flashing its diagnostic rump pattern for us all to see.

5.30 came and went. Nothing - although we heard the Waterthrush calling several times to our left. Finally just as the light was well and truly fading at 6.50 and after several people had already given up and gone the Northern Waterthrush put in an appearance and performed for the happy crowd for about 30 minutes before flying off to roost. With the ISO on the camera cranked up I managed a few shots with a shutter speed of 1/24th of a second (extremely slow!).

After enduring 4 hours standing in a fetid swamp surrounded by mosquito's we were extremely happy and set off back to the accommodation  for a shower and change before hitting the Scillonian Club bar on curry night! Ouch.

Swampy orton outside Higgo's masterpiece.
Next morning dawned overcast and a hint of fog. After a full English we set off towards the airport to check on our flight status and look for the Woodchat Shrike that had been hanging around the perimeter fence. A good move. Asking at the check in desk we were told all flights to Lands End were being suspended but there was a small window of opportunity and a plane would be leaving for Newquay in 10 minutes! From there we'd be ferried by taxi to Lands End. It was either that or the Scillonian and getting home about 2 in the morning the next day. We took the offer and just had enough time for Spider to point out the Woodchat Shrike from the car park as Al finished his fag.

An uneventful journey saw us at Newquay and in a taxi. Arriving at Lands End we could see the problem. We were very lucky. Ground staff told us there that after we'd left visibility on St Mary's dropped to 30 m and all flights were cancelled.

25 Sept 2011

Short distance twitching.

An easterly bias to the wind over the weekend bode well for a few migrants on Hilbre and so it proved with Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wheatear and Goldcrest all being duly ringed.

Good numbers of Linnets were also seen and there was a small overhead passage of Redpolls at first light.

News that a Great White Egret was showing at Parkgate as we were leaving the Island swayed the Obs members decisions as to what to do next! We headed off and caught up with this big white bird as it occasionally showed its head in the reeds before taking flight and heading south.

Some ringing as part of a longer term project at Barry's place on Thursday resulted in the dubious honour of ringing two late Stock Dove chicks. Only their mother could call them beautiful and their toilet habits leave a lot to be desired. The box stank!

20 Sept 2011

Yankeed Doodle that'll be dandy. Part 2.

Three o'clock in the morning in Hayle. Its pitch black and raining. Groucho can't sleep cos he's got bad guts so for the next two hours he's in the bathroom. Bollocks. So much for some sleep. Eventually deciding we might as well check the estuary at first light we departed and met up with Al & Malc who'd travelled overnight. With the weather pretty miserable and the rumour that Air Bus might be operating earlier flights we head off to Lands End airport only for the weather to close in and all planes to be grounded. Bollocks again. News that the Solitary and the B & W Warbler were both still present fuelled our frustration and the only way to overcome the boredom was settle for a massive fry-up Hilbre style.

A weather window allowed us to take off at 11.45 - nearly 2 1/4 hours later than expected. Hopefully we'd have time to see everything.

Arriving at St Mary's airfield we legged it down to Lower Moors where Dan & Ash were waiting. Within minutes we'd seen the Black and white Warbler doing its best impression of a clockwork humbug above our heads in the canopy. What a little beauty.

Suddenly pandemonium broke as the news spread that the Northern Water Thrush had just been seen and people rushed round like headless chickens crashing through the muddy swamp looking for the bird or at least someone who knew where it had been seen. With the Solitary Sandpiper having made one of its increasingly regularr disappearing acts from Newford Duckpond things were beginning to look a bit gloomy.

With so many people it was unlikely the Water Thrush was going to show so we decided to walk up to Newford Duckpond on the off chance it may return. Despondency - it wasn't there although we did get Beeeater on the way up and the juvenile Blue-winged teal that had turned up as a bonus showed ridiculously well.

Meeting Martin Goodey he told us that the Solitary had been relocated on  the 'Project Pool' a private site behind the dump in the middle of a reed bed. If we wanted access we should ask Higgo. Jumping in a taxi with Andy Vinson we bumped into John clipping a hedge. Screeching to a halt his first words were 'I suppose you want access to my hide to see the Solitary'. Promising free beer tokens next time we saw him we were given the directions - 'look for the glove stuck on a branch then look for the plastic bag wrapped round a tree and follow the path through the reed bed to the hide'. Top man our John.

Impeccable directions but what a hide! Resembling a 1st World War trench it was so low you had to crawl in on hands and knees - complete with biting insects old mattresses and plywood walls heaped up with dank earth.

All thoughts of ticks, lice and fleas were forgotten when Chris Griffin spotted the Solitary Sandpiper within 3 metres of us in the bright sunlight (by now the front had moved through and we were all in T shirts so fickle is the British weather!). My second 'lifer' of the day.

With time ticking away we decided to try once more for the Water Thrush and joined Alistair & Malc who'd remained rooted in the same spot for 3 1/2 hours with not even a sniff. The bird hadn't been seen since the only sighting. The Black & White Warbler showed again really well to an appreciative audience of 4 until it was time to head to the airport and check in. Unfortunately, despite the earlier delays, Lands End airport had caught up with the backlog and our plane out of the Scilly's was on time. Bugger. As we took off the four Buff-breasted Sandpipers present on the airfield flew alongside us

As you might guess the Water Thrush showed after we'd left. But 'c'est la vie' with two lifers  I couldn't really complain.

Yankee Doodle that'll be dandy. Part 1.

last year, whilst on Shetland, a Solitary Sandpiper was found in Devon. Unfortunately for me it didn't hang around long enough and I missed it. Solitary Sandpiper is a real scarcity with less than 40 records in the UK - the majority of these being on the Scilly's! News that one was showing down to 3 -4 metres on Newford duck pond had me toying with the idea of day tripping the islands. A window of opportunity was found and the plans were hatched with Groucho for a quick raid on Cornwall as the weather conditions looked promising for something else to turn up.

Sitting in Hilbre Obs Saturday morning the news that not only had a Black & White Warbler been found but a Northern Water Thrush as well. That was it  - we  were off. Flights were booked from Lands End to give us a good 6 hours on St Mary's. No problem. The Solitary had been present all the time on a muddy little pond and should be easy enough and the rest of the time could be spent searching Lower Moors. With a couple of mates (Ash Powell & Dan Pointon) already on the Islands and promising to give us up to date news  what problems could there be?

Sunday morning saw me picking up afore mentioned Groucho and setting off for Cornwall. First stop Drift Reservoir where we planned to look for a Semi-palmated Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs that had been seen the previous day. Meeting a couple of lads we'd first met on our recent Scilly's pelagic trips we were soon pointed in the right direction to find a ridiculously tame Semi-palmated Sand hanging around with a similar;y unperturbed Dunlin.

 Dunlin - crouching and keeping a wary eye on an overhead Buzzard.

Note the semi - palmations in the above photo!

Next it was time for the Lesser Yellowlegs and we yomped around to the otherside of the resrvoir with Chris Griffin and his mate to find the bird showing equllay as well with the added bonus of a Spotted Redshank and Common Rerdshank alongside for comparison.

 A cracking little bird and very confiding.

With the light fading fast it was time to head back to our accomodation in Hayle. Hayle has a speical place in my memory as my Grandparents had a cottage here and I spent many happy hours birding the famous estuary as a youngster. We drove past the old place and were pleased to see (apart form the now paint and windows) that it hadn't really changed. Even the front wrought iron gate with my Grandparents name welded into it was still there! A quick couple of pints and an early night was in order. With all three target birds still on the Scillys things were looking promising for the morning. Fish and chips and a few pints of cider saw me ready for a good nights kip. That didn't materialise as Groucho inssited in drinking a dodgy pint from the end of a barrel of Tribute..................................................

11 Sept 2011

Small Island. Funny kinda place....

A breezy but sunny start to the weekend saw me completing chores at home before venturing to Hilbre Sunday. The weather over was beautiful - sunny but still blustery. The highlight was close views of a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits feeding in the gutter.

Whilst drinking the first of many cuppa's on the balcony Colin picked up a distant Bonxie and we soon added an Arctic Skua to the day list.

Despite the blustery S W force 3 -4 we still managed to catch three Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap - proof that the urge to migrate sometimes makes birds move despite a head wind!

With the breeze strengthening to a force 5 seawatching was the order of the day and three intrepid Obs members sat in the relative comfort watching good numbers of Arctic Skua's harassing the Terns. The Bonxie also made a reappearance and belligerently decided to have a go a firstly a Gannet and then a Greater Black-backed Gull. Forcing booth of them into the water repeatedly before setting of in hot pursuit of easier prey.

We also had a distant possible Pomarine Skua and Long-tailed Skua but they were just to far to call confidently. Other good birds included several summer plumaged Red-throated Divers, Guillemots, Razorbills, Common Scoter and a shed load of Gannets - not bad for a S Westerly.

With ravenous appetites it was time to head back to the Obs for the traditional 'brunch' of a cooked breakfast followed, this time, by Pats delicious homemade Ginger Cake. Brunch was finished off with homemade bread and Clive's homemade marmalade! Mind you we'd earnt it.

Following the tide off I then headed back with Kenny Mac and added Wheatear and Curlew Sandpiper to the list of birds seen.

Closer to home a quick check of the South Lane pools showed wildfowl are also on the move with at least 20 Teal, a few Mallard and a couple of Gadwall present. Midweek shopping for essentials on the local retail park was enlivened by at least 20 Pied / White Wagtails dropping into an isolated tree in the middle of a car park to roost.Proof, if needed, that birds can turn up anywhere. And they do.......