29 May 2012

Another mega grip back.

It's 08.26 on a beautiful sunny morning and my head is still reeling with the joys of Cuckoo's and Yellowhammers after last nights foray into the deepest depths of Cheshire when the SMS from RBA breaks the pleasant dream.
Mega. Cleveland ORPHEAN WARBLER Hartlepool Headland trapped + ringed + will be released at bowling green c8.45.

Fc*k. Another mega in a week!

Surely this won't be seen again I thought sipping my coffee as the first of many calls from mates offering / wanting lifts came through. Chill I thought to myself. No chance of this being relocated. Then I remembered.........White-throated Robin. Almost exactly a year ago in the same place and the same circumstances. Trapped, ringed and released in the bowling green. More expletives. I'd better go.

A few calls later & I was on my way to pick up Groucho, Robbo and Ian. News had already come through that the bird was still showing when we left and continued to come through every 40 minutes or so until we arrived  on site to find the rest of our mates already there. The Cheshire A team move quickly. A quick peek through Ash's scope and there it was sitting forlornly in a privet bush fluffed up and not moving much.

After about an hour it perked up and went for a bit of a fly round at which point I struck lucky with the camera and managed a few record shots as it dived from the privet bush into a rose bush.

Not the best pictures in the world but given the views of the bird skulking in the bushes for much of the time this was the best I could do. Another mega unblocked.

27 May 2012

Costa del Hilbre.

Summer is finally living up to its name although its not great for birding! News of a Baillion's Crake on Anglesey raised hopes I might actually get to see one in the UK but the news from site was it was  impossible to see and could be heard only so I decided to give it a miss and go to Hilbre for a couple of days as planned in the hope the end of May might just turn up a scarce migrant or two.

Two days scorching weather and West Kirby beach resembles a scene of extras from Benidorm with numerous lobster red bodies on display showing differing allegiances to their favourite teams by their tattoo's  - and that's just the girls! Some people see a sign that says 'keep clear for vehicle access' and think it doesn't apply to them so decide to picnic on the slipway leading to the beach and then look at you with slack jaws when you have the temerity to drive down it. Still Hilbre looked stunning in the early evening light with blue seas and carpets of sea thrift and bluebells carpeting the island.

A quick tour with Steve and Thomas didn't reveal much although a male Kestrel was busily hunting for voles and carrying them off to a nest somewhere nearby and looked fantastic in the late evening sunshine.

Saturday morning dawned equally as sunny but with a drying and scorching hot force 4 -5 wind. A real desiccating wind. An early morning tour of the traps revealed one Willow Warbler
and a Yellow Wagtail dropped in briefly at the north end. Highlight of the day was a Short -eared Owl picked up high over Middle Eye beating its way over the sand against the wind towards Red Rocks where it pitched down on the salt marsh.

Invertebrates were commoner in the sun shone and several large Cockchafer beetles were found and photographed. With the amount of beetles and flies around surely there's a possibility of a Red-backed Shrike or another spring Red-breasted Flycatcher turning up this week on the continuing easterlies.

The main event though was the incredible number of Swifts coming in over the sea from the west and heading into the wind. First indication of a large passage was at 06.00 when fifty passed low over the Island. Small groups kept passing all morning with fewer Swallows, House martins and the occasional Sand Martin amongst them. The total recorded from Hilbre was over 2000 and this was repeated from both Crosby and Red Rocks. The numbers involved must have been phenomenal.

As the weather grew hotter the interest of the birds and the birders dried up and we just admired the views!

Seals West Hoyle Bank
 Shrimper West Hoyle Bank.

Appropriately named - Red Hot Poker.

21 May 2012

Cream-crackered but up for a Courser

After our hectic trip to Norfolk I was in bed for 21.30 so didn't hear the Vodaphone SMS message from RBA or the call from Stokesy telling me about a Cream-coloured Courser in nearby Herefordshire.

I woke up this morning, showered, dressed, made a cup of tea, put the porridge on and checked the phone. F*CK!!!!! Cream-coloured Courser in Herefordshire at Bradnor Hill. The stuff dreams are made of. I've missed two in the UK through either work commitments or lack of cash (Scilly's 2004 and Essex in 1984). It didn't take long for me to make a decision that I was going. Now. Actually I went to the office first, sorted my emails out and left by 08.20 with the promise I'd be back by lunchtime. With a trip to Sweden looming later this week today was realistically the only day I could go.

On any other day the trip cross country from N Wales to Hereford on a glorious sunny day would make the heart sing with joy. Today it was punctuated by curses as every beaten up farm Landrover belched along in front trailing black smoke at 30 mph or every articulated lorry seemingly waited for me to be almost upon them before pulling out. Knights of the road? Think again. Most of them don't care and think as they're bigger you'll give way. Consequently it was a rather stressful trip fuelled by the nagging thought that when the golfers got out the bird might get flushed and fly off as a trip of Dotterel did in the same location.......................................

As it happened I needn't have worried. The bird showed superbly well, although a bit distant when I got there for really good photo's, and was unconcerned by the golf balls bouncing within feet of it. What a stunning bird and a real candidate for the best looking bird I've ever seen in the UK. What a change to have a mega rarity so close to home as opposed to having to travel hours by plane, boat and car. Another mega grip back.


Fresh back from a Norfolk trip  where we had a brilliant if not cold couple of days. Meeting up with Pod and Mark Payne at 03.00 Saturday morning we set off in rain and generally poor conditions. Starting on the Brecks we got good views of Golden Oriole at Lakenheath Fen. With a supporting cast of Barn Owl, booming Bittern, Garganey, Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Turtle Dove this is a superb reserve. I remember going here to see the Orioles as a kid in the 70's before it was taken over by the RSPB. Who'd have thought then that such a fantastic reserve could have been created from carrot fields!

Brilliant stuff and after brewing up and getting the frying pan on for bacon butties in the car park we headed off to search for Woodlark, Firecrest and Stonecurlew nearby. Success on all fronts!

Reserve manager Dave was so impressed with the smell of baco nhe came over for a natter. He was even more impressed whe nwe offered him one complete with brown sauce. We go prepared us Cheshire lads!
Brewing up in the Brecks whilst watching 70 + Crossbills. The idyllic scene only ruined by dick-heads on dirt bikes roaring up and down.

With time creeping along we decided to forgo the scrum at Strumpshaw for the Savi's Warbler - none of us needed it as a lifer and viewing was difficult. Setting of for our campsite at Stiffkey we got the tents up and set off looking for a Red-backed Shrike that had been reported just a few hundred metres from where we were staying. Brief and unsatisfactory views were had of the Shrike but news that a Red-spotted Bluethroat had been seen in the same area had us searching to no avail. Deciding the crowds were probably putting it off we decided to head back to the tents and get the kettle boiling for a brew with the view of trying again once the crowds had died done.

In the meantime Alan Northern, Mike Stokes and Dave Western had joined us from Shropshire. They headed off for Cley where they jammed in on a Bluethroat from the Swarovski hide. We headed back to the dunes where we missed the Bluethroat by seconds! We did re-find the Red-backed Shrike though much to the delight of the late arrivals as it hadn't been seen for a few hours and had moved from the seaside gorse to an inland hedge. The news was put out that it was a 1st summer male but I'm not sure its not actually an adult female.

Another good bird but with stomachs rumbling and a thirst to quench we headed for the chippy and then the Red Lion for a few beers to celebrate Mr Payne's birthday. Knackered from all the fresh air and walking we hit the tents and all had a good nights sleep despite the cold.

Sunday morning broke with a slight improvement in the weather so we headed down to the marsh before breakfast but it soon became obvious both the Shrike and Bluethroat had done one. Once again we brewed up and got the bacon on the go before heading to the infamous Beach Hotel where we intended trying for the other Bluethroat. News of a Beeeater nearby soon put paid to that plan and we set off just in time to see it fly off!

Digi-binned shot of two of the Temminck's Stints from Dork hide

Plan A came into effect and we set off back to Cley where the Dork hide provided good views of Temminck's Stint (5!) and at least 6 summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers. A try for Nightingale proved unsucessful and we decided to have another look at the Beeeater that had been relocated at Glanford. Wow!

By now we were flagging and decided to head slowly for home in Cheshire and stop at Doxey Marshes in Staffs to have a look at the singing Red-spotted Bluethroat if it was still there. A quick phone call to one of Staffs finest, Phil Locker, and we had all the directions.

Just as we'd set off a phone call from Mike Edgecombe had us heading towards Warham Greens where a first summer male Red-breasted Flycatcher had been located. We were really close and within 10 minutes we were watching this with three others before the rest of Norfolk caught up with us.

By now fatigue was seriously catching up with us and we headed west to pick up the A14 and then the M6, stopping only to refuel booth ourselves and the car.

We arrived at Doxey around 18.00 to find about 20 -30 people viewing a tiny wet patch of ground surrounded by a cycle path and footpath on two sides and fences o nthe others. Sure enough there was a stonking male Red-spotted Bluethroat puffing his chest out and singing, albeit quietly. What an end to a fantastic couple of days.

18 May 2012

Bridge 139

137, 138,

Not steps but bridge numbers on the Shropshire Union canal. Following a tip off from Roger W about a Spotted Flycatcher hanging around by Bridge 139 and it being a nice sunny evening I set off from Stoak and headed along the towpath towards Ellesmere Port. A good selection of summer visitors were seen along the way but not in huge numbers. A couple of Sedge Warblers sang from canal side ditches and a handful of Common Whitethroats sang from the thicker hedgerows.  Sallows, Martins and Swifts hawked for insects over the canal.
Bridge 137

The towpath provides a good view over the Gowy water meadows and on such a still sunny evening I was hoping for a Hobby or flyover Osprey. No luck but it was good to see quite a few pairs of Lapwings displaying over the fields.

A loitering Buzzard was getting grief from a male Blackbird carrying food but resolutely ignored the smaller bird being keener on keeping its eye on me.

.......Bridge 139. The first bird heard was a Lesser Whitethroat rattling away in the hedge but after about 20 minutes a Spotted Flycatcher appeared fly-catching from the top of a dead tree on the opposite side of the canal!

Mission completed I set off back as the sun was setting and the air getting decidedly cooler to be treated by a spectacular fly past from the Buzzard.

A trip down to ring some young birds in nest boxes on Barry's private site in Puddington resulted in great views of at least three pairs of Yellow Wagtails Six of the eighteen boxes put up were occupied and three broods of Great Tit and Blue Tit's were ringed. The Blue Tit broods were impressive with ten and eleven chicks. This seems to buck the general trend that broods are small and survival rates low this year.

14 May 2012


With a day at the races Friday it was always going to be touch and go whether I got up early Saturday morning. I did.................but then promptly went back to sleep until around 7.30 so didn't make Hilbre until Sunday.

Despite the cold blustery wind we caught a few Willow Warblers and it was generally a very nice day made even nicer by some home made Cherry cake!

I spent some time exploring a couple of my local 'patches' with the first stop being Stanney Woods. A Great-spotted Woodpeckers nest was easily enough found by spotting the wood chips beneath the tree trunk and a quick tap on the wood with the knuckles resulted in an inquisitive head being stuck out of the hole. Unfortunately it appears that the encroaching housing all round this wood gas resulted in more and more disturbance and birds are generally thin on the ground. The high Grey Squirrel population can't be helping either. In the whole wood  I recorded two Chiffchaffs and 3 Blackcaps singing. Severe management work over the last couple of years has meant there is very little understorey but the coppiced Hazels will soon recover. Its just a shame it was all done within a couple of years without a chance for some of it to regenerate before the next section was coppiced.

A visit to South Rd pool was rewarded with the sound of at least two singing Reed Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat rattling away in the overgrown hedge. A great little spot hidden amongst the factories.

To cap a fine weekend the Flamborough Flycatcher was positively identified on its DNA as being  a Pied and not an Atlas. Ooops. Egg on a few faces  there then but I'm glad I went to see it.  Even better all those bitter Utd fans have been silenced by the blue side of Manchester whilst old Rudolph Red Nose's team have ended up winning  nothing.

10 May 2012


News of a  strange looking ficudula flycatcher at Flamborough filtered into my consciousness sometime over the weekend. Many thought it to be a good candidate for Atlas Flycatcher. An equal number thought it to be a hybrid Pied x Collared or an Iberian. I must admit to me they all look the same & I wouldn't have given it a second glance if I'd found it locally so a big 'up' to Brett Richards who first spotted it was something different. It was caught and ringed and still the identity wasn't clear so its now down to Doc Collinson to extract the DNA and try and determine its parentage whilst legions of birders wait with bated breath. My attitude was play it cool. If  I can't identify it in the field then what's the point of going to see it? Then it stayed....... and stayed so becoming more intrigued I decided to bunk off from the office early and go and see it. I'm still no closer to knowing what it is but its unusual for a migrant to hang around for over a week. Maybe it thinks its in the Atlas Mountains. Only time and science will tell......

Much more easy to identify were Mondays offerings on the sceptred Isle. The first Tree Pipit of the year was trapped and.doors and several more passed over Hilbre during the day.
Although there weren't many grounded migrants we still caught sixteen birds including 3 Lesser Redpoll. Unbelievably one of these was already ringed - yet another control!

One of two Common Whitethroat caught also turned out to be a control. It will be interesting, as always, to see where these birds have originated from.
A few Wheatears appeared over the tide and we trapped one tempted into a Potter trap by a free meal of meal worms. It was a 2nd calender year male Greenland Wheatear weighing a whopping 45.5 grams - 20 grams heavier than the ones we'd caught last week and covered in a layer of subcutaneous fat. It's obviously been re-fuelling for its non-stop transatlantic flight to the breeding grounds in the Arctic. One BFB Wheatear.

Despite bad weather it was good to be out on Hilbre and lunch made it all the more better! A veritable feast of Pork Pies, Cheese, Pickles, Bread & Ham washed down with a naughty little glass of Bulmers and followed by a whole packet of Jaffa cakes! Thanks Doreen & Pat!

7 May 2012

Two Cheshire rarities in a day.

Can the year get any better birders in Cheshire? Hot on the heels of the winters star birds - White-fronted Geese, Bean Geese, Great White Egret and Spoonbill we've already had Black-winged Pratincole  and Temmincks Stint just prior to the Bank Holiday weekend whilst two Common Cranes graced the Rixton area a couple of weeks ago. With migrants flooding in the expectation of something unusual turning up was high and sure enough a Wryneck was found by Andy Goodwin Saturday afternoon at Sandbach. Actually it was Andy's dog that found it after doing what all dogs love to do and sniffing for rabbits in a gorse bush. Out shot a Wryneck!

With the chores I'd set myself to do Sunday morning over and news that the Wryneck was showing well
I finally buckled - especially with the added bonus of a nearby summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe found by Steve & Jill Barber on their local patch.

Arriving at the designated site for the Wryneck (thanks Mrs Jones!) I found about 20 people waiting there and news that the bird hadn't been seen for an hour. As usual in these situations a few people get bored and start talking to loudly. Suddenly I spotted the bird flying away from us before disappearing behind a more distant clump of grass. Someone else then saw it fly from here further down the track although  I don't think many believed us. It soon became obvious by the higher intensity of the talking that drastic positive needed to be taken and with everyones agreement I back tracked down to the nearby bridge and walked along the edge of the tip security fence (rather than along the path which would have flushed the bird) to try and find the bird further along the railway embankment). Bingo! Only my second Cheshire Wryneck was there feeding unconcernedly about 60 m away. Giving the thumbs up to the waiting crowd I had the bird to myself for a few minutes until others caught up.

As more people turned up the bird suddenly spooked and dashed back into the gorse but after spending nearly three hours on site I decided to leave it and head for nearby Chelford for the Slavonian Grebe. Another scarce Cheshire bird and the first I've seen here in summer plumage.

What a great four days birdng in Cheshire!