October 27, 2006

What's happening?

... not a lot, at the moment.

Autumn is here, but we still need some British breeders!

So, where have we cocked up and where do we still have a chance? A summary...

Red-necked Grebe. Still possible, but we'll probably have to twitch one somewhere inland.
Storm-petrel, Leach's Petrel. Looking decidedly unlikely...
White-tailed Eagle. Dipping in Scotland in May means we've virtually no chance.
Ptarmigan. Definitely no chance.
Quail. Too late now... but where were they all?
Golden Pheasant. Not beyond the realms of possibility.
Spotted Crake, Corncrake. Left it too late. Doh.
Crane. Still in with a chance. Need to go to the right places.
Stone-curlew. Ballsed that one up. Failure to visit right part of Brecks at the right time.
Dotterel. Spring passage in Cambs went unnoticed this year, and dipped in Cornwall.
Temminck's Stint. Too lazy to go and twitch any (anyway, they don't really breed, do they?).
Purple Sandpiper. Hopefully will still see these...
Roseate Tern. Lack of finance meant trip to the North not possible.
Ring-necked Parakeet. Will have to go to London. Yuck.
Bee-eater. Failed to twitch any, or find any nesting in the quarry at The Lodge...
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Didn't get any in spring; will need some jam.
Savi's, Marsh and Icterine Warblers. Never seriously on the cards.
Willow Tit. Should still be possible.
Serin. Never had much chance.
Twite. Not on Llanfairfechan seafront, so we'll have to head east.
Parrot Crossbill. Always going to be a bit ropey.
Common Rosefinch. Well, you never know...
Snow Bunting. Likely to get this, I think...

There you have it. We're rubbish twitchers, you see.

September 11, 2006

Speck Sand

After the heartbreak of missing the pectoral sandpiper at my old local patch at Willington, I subjected Katie to psychic chinese burns all day today in the hope she would psychologically collapse and go to Grafham Water with me for the 8,147th pectoral sandpiper to appear in the UK this autumn.

She did.

''It's only a f*cking pec sand!'' she said of the last one.

''But a very smart looking individual'' I countered, eyebrows arched knowingly, but secretly thinking ''Yes, but we both need to see it for it to count. Even though it won't because we're only counting UK breeders''

We arrived, I scanned. Katie watched f*cking mallards on the bird table. But i guess thats better than watching mallards f*cking on the bird table.

I got onto the bird. By the time Katie got there it had disappeared behind the most stupidly positioned tree since the death of Marc Bolan.

(If you've ever been to the Valley Creek Hide at Grafham, you'll know what I mean).

I scanned again for another 30 minutes. A small, long-winged wader with pale underwings flew across and alighted at a distance of about four and a half miles.

Thank f*ck for that. Katie gets on to it and concurs with my now somewhat desperate identification. A pec sand alright, but hardly crippling views.

I wonder if I can persuade her to go back tomorrow? ;-)

September 10, 2006

Easy Ticks

We went sea-watching at Weybourne this weekend. God, its bloody hard.

I consider myself to be a careful birder, but the number of birds that went unidentified was staggering. What I can report is that around a thousand terns - mainly Sandwich - flew east in little under two hours. Five skuas were positively identified: two arctic and three great. The bonxies couldn't be arsed with the terns but the arctics put on a superb display of elegant thuggery.

A distant red-throated diver gave itself up along with a few guillemots. I couldn't string a pomarine for the life of me.

It made me think how easy some people have it - they never seem to dip. I wish I had such a god-like prowess in the field.

Bird 'A' seen at location 'B' in bush 'C' means that the first bird that observer 'X' sees flitting about in bush 'C' must be bird 'A'

Well, in my experience, it just doesn't work like that. And if it did, this birding business would be a boring waste of time and you may as well just log on to BirdGuides for your daily fix.

F*ck 'em.

We also saw a very attractive and rather showy barred warbler. Sometimes things don't pan out as you anticipate...

Species added today
188. Great Skua
189. Arctic Skua

August 27, 2006


From my other blog, Bogbumper

It's a bit silly to go to the north Norfolk coast on a Bank Holiday weekend and then moan because there are lots of people about...


Lots of birds at Titchwell, too. Mixed flock of Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers

Curlew Sandpiper with Phragmites in the way...

Bathtime for Ringed Plover


Teal dabbling

Snipe probing

Will Bowell and David Roche had counted 24 species of wader on the lagoons and beach, which I think would have been...
  1. Dunlin
  2. Curlew Sandpiper
  3. Black-tailed Godwit
  4. Bar-tailed Godwit
  5. Lapwing
  6. Golden Plover
  7. Grey Plover
  8. Sanderling
  9. Temminck's Stint
  10. Little Stint
  11. Redshank
  12. Spotted Redshank
  13. Curlew
  14. Snipe
  15. Green Sandpiper
  16. Common Sandpiper
  17. Oystercatcher
  18. Avocet
  19. Ringed Plover
  20. Turnstone
  21. Greenshank
  22. Ruff
  23. Knot?
  24. Wood Sandpiper?
Before hitting Titchwell, we took a walk along the hedgerows at Burnham Overy Staithe, only to find it congested with dog-walkers and a selection of eccentrically-dressed birders, and devoid of birds. Nice Migrant Hawkers, though.

Lunch was had at The Chequers Inn, Binham, and was very good. I can recommend the steak and ale pie. Am I getting middle-aged?

Nearly forgot to mention that I had a Titchwell tick - a small boy having his bum wiped by his mother, on the main path to the beach, fully exposed to the cold north-westerly wind. Poor sod. No wonder he didn't look very happy. Is there anything people won't do on nature reserves? It seems not...

digiscoped photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece

August 04, 2006


Darren's now heard a Firecrest at The Lodge so we're having it for our year list (I saw one there back in April).

That's a relief... thought I'd never hear the end of it...

Species added today:
187. Firecrest

August 02, 2006


Steve Blain, fellow Lodge lister, see here: http://www.birdingthelodge.blogspot.com/ found a juvenile Wood Sandpiper at Broom GP's on Sunday. So for the last three lunchtimes, I've been back and forth to Broom to look at this elegant, smart and spangly beauty.

Nice birdy...

July 22, 2006


This morning, the Spoonbills at Cley were doing what Spoonbills like best - sleeping.

Instead, we enjoyed the close-up Marsh Harriers, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and, especially, the pristine, breeding-plumaged Knot.

Why is rusty red so popular among Arctic-breeding waders?

Species added today:
185. Spoonbill
Yellow-legged Gull

July 21, 2006


The phalarope was miles off but the Avocets looked lovely

Female Red-necked Phalarope reported at Titchwell.
Drive there after work.
See it swimming about distantly.
Have to leave quickly as it's dusk and we have to put the tent up at Stiffkey, 15 miles along the coast.
Get to campsite (the one that had the overwintering Yellow-browed Warbler the other year) in a rush.
Put the tent up.
Go to the Stiffkey Red Lion for dinner.
They've stopped serving food, so eat some nuts and drink some more Aspall's.
Regulars give rousing rendition of first verse of Bohemian Rhapsody with beautiful piano accompaniment.

Species added today:
184. Red-necked Phalarope

July 17, 2006


Black-necked Grebe reported at Grafham Water.
Drove there after work.
It was swimming about just off the car-park.
Watched it for 15 minutes.
Went home.

Species added today:
183. Black-necked Grebe

July 16, 2006

Suffolk cyder and other treats

This weekend we headed to the Suffolk coast and all its delights. En route, we dropped in at a few Breckland sites. RSPB Lakenheath Fen (pictured above) was where we heard a distant Golden Oriole singing. It was horribly hot so we didn't hang around to try to see it - we're setting the rules for this year's list attempt so we don't care if we don't see stuff. Well, I don't, anyway...

Since we bought a tent to take on the Exmoor Dartford Warbler survey weekend, camping has been the name of the game. It's cheap and fun (most of the time). This time we ended up in a farmer's field in the hamlet of Eastbridge.

Though the facilities in the field were limited to two loos and a tap (good, for £3 per night, you could say), the Eel's Foot pub just down the road provided magnificent Aspall's cider and top food.

(The campsite at the back of the pub would have been the ultimate in convenience camping, but they were fully booked.)

We went to Minsmere, where we had our first Bittern of the year (after a bit of a struggle) and the nuclear power station at Sizewell, where we saw Black Redstarts frolicking in the relative safety that the razor wire, high fencing and surveillance cameras offer.

On the rigs just off Sizewell beach, Kittiwakes were breeding at one of only two colonies in Suffolk

Species added this weekend:
180. Golden Oriole
181. Black Redstart
182. Bittern

June 12, 2006

How not to twitch a bird after work

This was an evening of mixed success.

17.15. Leave work accompanied by Messrs Ward and Peters.
17:25. Car windscreen wipers stop working.
17:30. Car starts making slightly odd noise.
17:49. Car indicators stop working.
17:50. Arrive at destination, Millbrook Station, with very odd noises indeed, for a car...
17:52. Decide that car is knackered but go off to see the bird anyway, since we'd got there.
18:00. Watch Red-footed Falcon for a while. It never gets close.
19:45. Get back to car, discover it won't start and ring RAC.
19:50. Walk to Marston Moretaine to obtain sustenance.
21:00. Hear Grasshopper Warblers reeling on the walk back to the wretched car - year tick!
21:15. RAC man arrives.
21:25. RAC man gives us a tow-start and we're away!

Didn't get to bed til late, but at least we saw the Red-foot and the walk to Marston meant we heard the Gropper.

Every breakdown has a silver lining.

Species added today:
[Red-footed Falcon]
178. Grasshopper Warbler

June 03, 2006

Exmoor Dartford Warbler survey

In hindsight, it would have been better to have left Bedfordshire at lunchtime on Friday, and taken a leisurely drive down to Somerset, but we had to do a full day's work. So we arrived at the campsite in Porlock some time after 10pm, when it was dark and we had a tent to put up - a new tent which we'd never used before.

Spent Saturday and Sunday mornings looking for those pesky Dartford Warblers in the wilds of Exmoor.

Saturday afternoon was spent chilling out and reading the papers in the sunshine; Saturday evening was spent in the pub and Sunday afternoon was spent packing the tent back up and getting home.

And yes, we did find some.

Species added today:
177. Dartford Warbler

May 29, 2006

Pernis apivorus

Today was slightly less dramatic and we didn't run into any shady characters.

We began our day's bird-spotting at Great Ryburgh Raptor Watchpoint, which sounds grand but is a roped-off piece of a farmer's field on a hill overlooking some woodland. We weren't the only people there - about 50 others were standing in a row in front of a hedge, too.

To keep us occupied until the stars of the show - Honey Buzzards - arrived for their performance, a variety of Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Egyptian Geese provided a warm-up. A few hours later than predicted, a single Honey Buzzard made its way across the sky, accompanied by a [Common] Buzzard.

It was good to see the key characteristics: funny, sticky-out head, slightly 'pinched-in' wings, long tail. The last time I saw a Honey Buzzard was at Haldon Forest in Devon, in 1993...

Went to Titchwell later on and managed to get another year-tick in the form of a female Reeded Beardling disappearing into the reedbed by the path. After that there was a vile rainstorm and I was glad we'd made it to the hide, from where we could watch the Avocet chicks hiding under the parents.

Titchwell is great.

Species added today:
174. Honey Buzzard
175. Bearded Tit
176. Little Tern

May 28, 2006

Interesting experiences in Norfolk...

Bank holiday weekend + good weather, so we went to Norfolk on Sunday/Monday, staying for B&B at The Ship Inn in Brancaster (which comes highly recommended).

After checking in, we headed out in search of our target bird - Montagu's Harrier. I've seen loads of 'em abroad but never any in the UK (but I've never tried, so I don't really consider it a bogey bird), but the species is already on Darren's UK list.

Found the spot and started scanning. After about an hour, no joy, so we went off for lunch. Came back mid-afternoon and after not too long a wait, all was revealed...

The grey male harrier came in with a tasty morsel of food for his lady-friend. As he approached, she flew up to greet him and, as a mid-air collision began to look likely, she flipped over onto her back (all while flying, of course) to receive the food item. Who says girls can't catch? It was masterful.

After that, the female disappeared into a field to consume the gift, while the male floated about like they do.

The really funny thing was that, two minutes prior to this jawdropping display, a car full of birders had left the site. They drove away down the lane, and for a few seconds, the female Monty's was flying down the lane after them, and would probably have been visible in the rear-view mirror, had they bothered to look. Sweet.

In the evening, we had an appointment with some Nightjars. That was even funnier, in a bizarre way. To start with, we were in the wrong part of the site (though Darren did see and hear his first roding Woodcock). MAW must be thanked (again) for giving us directions to the right place.

As we pulled up, I was suspicious of the occupiers of a clapped-out red van which was already in the car park. The lights were on and it was pretty clear they were up to no good. Paranoia set in and we decided not to leave our car unattended while the unsavoury characters were there. So we got out and listened to the churring (another first for Darren, incidentally) for a few minutes.

After a while, one of the red van geezers got out and approached Darren cautiously.

Geezer: 'scuse me mate, I ain't being funny or nuffink, but is this where the dogging goes on?
Darren: No, we're here to listen for Nightjars.
Geezer: Oh right. Fanks.

It was pretty funny...

They left immediately and we ventured out onto the heath, where we enjoyed good views of at least two 'churring' male Nightjars. D was a bit gobsmacked as he didn't realise how close they fly to you, and you can't help but be stunned by the sound.

Video/audio here on the RSPB website, if you're unfamiliar with the delights of Nightjars.

Species added today:
172. Montagu's Harrier
173. Nightjar

May 25, 2006

Back on home turf

Year-ticked a purring Turtle Dove on the way to work this morning, while waiting for 15 minutes at a level crossing.

This evening we went to see the Ring-necked Duck at Octagon Farm, Willington. Of course, Ring-necked Duck doesn't breed in this country - not in the wild, anyway - so it wasn't year-tickable, but jolly nice to see all the same.

Weirdly, so far this year, we have managed to avoid wetland sites which contain Little Ringed Plovers and Reed Warblers, so fortunately we managed to bag both of those species this evening, too. About bloody time, too.

But the excitement wasn't over; not by a long stretch. Darren took me to a private site in Bedfordshire to tick off this magnificent beast (left): a male Lady Amherst's Pheasant.

And that wasn't all. Red-breasted Goose, Smew, Goldeneye, Bahama Pintail, Ruddy Shelduck and Golden Pheasant were among the gems on display.

It's a bit of a shame they were all behind an electrified chain-link fence.

Species added today:
169. Turtle Dove
[Ring-necked Duck]
170. Little Ringed Plover
171. Reed Warbler
[Lady Amherst's Pheasant]
[Ruddy Shelduck]
[Bahama Pintail]
[Golden Pheasant]
[Red-breasted Goose]

May 20, 2006

Bempton Cliffs

After stopping overnight in Co. Durham, we took a slight diversion down the east coast. I love Bempton Cliffs. I could spend days on end there, watching the seabirds going about their business.

But Darren wanted to get home before dark, so after getting his lifers, he dragged me away.

More photos here.

Species added today:
165. Guillemot
166. Kittiwake
167. Puffin

May 19, 2006

The big day

We needed to have another shot at seeing Ptarmigan, so today we embarked on a long journey. First, though, we finally dragged ourselves out of bed to see the CaperWatch at Loch Garten, which was worthwhile for both the Capers and the Crested Tit we saw. Hurrah!

After that, we departed for Loch Gruinard, a site we'd been told had eagle potential. The journey there was damp, grey and misty but incredibly beautiful.

Set up the scope by the side of the road and started scanning the sea. Great Northern Divers were everywhere. A couple of Black-throateds and at least one Red-throated lingered. A flock of Eiders loafed on the island's rocks (one came close to our shore) and seals lounged on the sand. A few Guillemots flew past and one Black Guillemot was on the water.

It was a fabulous site but there were no eagles of any description. Darren took the rather rash decision that it would be a good idea to drive all the way to Applecross (which was also meant to be good for eagles and Ptarmigan). There seemed little point in arguing, so we did it.

The road to Applecross is possibly the steepest in Britain. It is a crazy road for mad people. There is a sign saying something like: 'This road is impassible during winter and people of a nervous disposition should not attempt to drive it.'

Basically, you drive up the side of a mountain, round hairpin bends, and you feel the urge to learn forward in your seat in case you start rolling backwards.

Needless to say, when we reached the summit of Bealach na Ba, we were literally in the clouds and there was very little to see, other than a duck of unknown species on a tiny lochan! No duck has legitimate business up there...

It was on the descent that we stopped again by the road and caught sight of two Golden Eagles displaying... fabulous. We had scope-filling views as they flew right above us in a clear blue sky (apart from when I was taking photos) and every detail was visible. Quite unexpected.

What was even more unexpected was that a car pulled up on the road and a well-spoken chap asked 'Excuse me. Are those Buzzards?'

It seems that the general public is becoming more conservative when it comes to bird identification. Usually, you'd expect every second person you met in Scotland to inform you they'd seen several Golden Eagles before breakfast that day, including one sitting on a telegraph pole. So that was quite nice.

Took the more gentle coast road from Applecross to Shieldaig, with the highlight being a bush full of Stonechats: a pair with four well-grown juveniles, all crossly 'tac'ing away at us.

On the way 'home', an Osprey flew over Garve in the middle of a rainstorm.

Species added today:
163. Crested Tit
164. Eider

May 18, 2006

Lochindorb and Loch Ruthven

Fantastic views of two Ospreys at Lochindorb, including one flying - sunlit - into the wind, very low over the loch, which was deep blue (see pic on left).

Also two Black-throated Divers looking very dapper on the water. Tried to string something sitting onto a post into a Short-eared Owl, but it turned out to be... an owl-shaped piece of wood.

Darren saw a female Hen Harrier but I managed to miss it. A female Red Grouse was right by the side of the road.

Moved on to Loch Ruthven via the Farr road (which looked great for raptors but was rubbish...). Two pairs of Slavonian Grebes were on the water, looking very smart indeed.

Species added today:
162. Black-throated Diver

May 17, 2006

Taking it easy... we're on holiday!

Back to Garten/Abernethy today in search of more crossbills/Crested Tits. Unsuccessful on both counts, though the Goldeneye nest-cam in the Osprey Centre was most entertaining.

Insh Marshes was quite quiet until an Osprey flew over and all hell broke loose. Redshank, Snipe, Sedge Warbler, Redstart and Tree Pipit seen here.

On the way back to the cottage, stopped at Tulloch Moor and Darren found a distant Whinchat.

Species added today:
161. Whinchat

May 16, 2006

Higher and higher...

The view from part-way up Cairn Gorm

... but not high enough. Today we walked part of the way up Cairn Gorm in search of Ptarmigan. Didn't really go high enough as the weather looked dodgy and we were ill-equipped. Plus it was too bloody steep for a wimp like me. We did add Red Grouse to the year-list and also saw a pair of Wheatears and some Meadow Pipits. However, the view was cracking.

Species added today:
160. Red Grouse

May 15, 2006

Grantown Woods

Didn't get much time in the field today, but what we did have was good. Mid-afternoon, we went for a walk around Grantown Woods to look for crossbills. We duly found crossbills - 21 in total including a couple of singing birds.

Rubbish record shot is on the left - we think it's Scottish (if it is possible to ID them in the field...?). Draw your own conclusions...

Red Squirrel was a lifer for me, too!

We'd stopped along one of the footpaths to listen to an unidentified sound when an enormous, black, turkey-sized thing leapt out from high up in one of the pines, crashed through the twigs and flew away from us.

Oh... right... That'll be a male Capercaillie, then... There was a slight feeling of anti-climax but at least we'd found our own...

Species added today:
157. Scottish Crossbill
158. Capercaillie
159. Hooded Crow

May 14, 2006


Now for something completely different. Scotland is quite insanely far north (well, it is if you live in the Midlands).

We stayed at the superb, self-catering Grianan cottage at Balliefurth Farm near Grantown-on-Spey. Top farm, top cottage, bargain price, and a bottle of wine in the fridge when we arrived. Recommended!

Started off nice and easy with a quick stop in Nethybridge - Dipper and Grey Wagtail on the River Nethy. Next stop, RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre at... Loch Garten. It has to be done. I was pleased to see that, after an absence of 38.5 hours, Henry the gentleman Osprey had delivered an 18" trout to EJ, his lady friend, and taken over nest duties. Good.

Went for a wander around the forest and heard a couple of crossbills (note usage of lower-case 'c') but unfortunately didn't get a look at them. Also the usual selection of Common Sandpipers, Goldeneye, Wigeon and Siskins on/around the loch.

We were both eager for eagles so the next destination was the mighty Findhorn valley. Having been to Wales a couple of weeks previously, we're now old hands at upland birds, though singing Ring Ouzels and Wheatears are still the business.

It's a bit like birding in mainland Europe, as you can just pull up anywhere safe by the road, scan around and see good stuff.

By a small burn, two Spotted Flycatchers (year tick!) and a male Redstart fly for insects while a Tree Pipit breaks into song. An Arctic Tern dips into the Findhorn itself in search of fish, catches one and heads off downstream. Rock Pipits flit around the boulders and Curlews and Oystercatchers inhabit the meadows.

Big herd of Red Deer (Monarch of the Glen etc etc). Summer-plumaged Common Gulls pottering about. Very noisy Peregrine calling constantly... Darren catches sight of a big, dark thing which turns out to be a Golden Eagle, but I only got onto it as its tail vanished over the ridge. It was a big tail, mind you - couldn't have been anything else!

Flushed a Woodcock from the roadside on the way out of the valley.

Good start.

Species added today:
154. Spotted Flycatcher
155. Arctic Tern
156. Golden Eagle

May 02, 2006

Nearly Dipper-dipped

Our last day in Wales and we were in danger of missing Dipper. Disastrous. Fortunately, local knowledge came to the rescue in the form of a text-message tip-off from Alan Davies: try walking upstream in Betws y Coed. We did just that and lo and behold, there was a pair of Dippers. Phew!

Time to clear off back to England.

Darren moans about me using my phone to access the Internet, but now all I need say to him are two words:

Woodchat Shrike

Browsing the sightings on BirdGuides, it was very lucky indeed that a Woodchat had turned up - at Trent Meadows, Derbyshire - within a couple of miles of where we'd be driving to get home. I had no idea where the site was exactly, but joy of joys, with the aid of Multimap I managed to guide us to the spot. It worked like a dream and Darren saw his first-ever shrike.

Useful links:
Birding Conwy

Thanks to Alan Davies and Ian Peters for useful info.

Species added today:
150. Dipper
151. Lesser Whitethroat
152. Garden Warbler
[Woodchat Shrike]

May 01, 2006

Land of the Super Feathery Animals

Tried some seawatching at Llanfairfechan today. Not bad: Gannet, Red-breasted Merganser, Razorbill, Shag, Cormorant and Red-throated Divers.

Having 'dipped' on Ring Ouzels yesterday, decided to try Snowdonia again and eventually succeeded near Llanberis. A bird which flew quickly across the road nearly caused a domestic incident between us (I saw it and couldn't call it quickly enough for Darren to see it before it disappeared against the boulders) but we decided that hearing its calls afterwards was sufficient...

Along a back road between Capel Curig and Betws y Coed, we stopped to scan for Dippers. No sign of those (though it looked right), but we jammed in on a singing Tree Pipit, a gorgeous male Redstart sitting in a flowering hawthorn bush, a female Pied Flycatcher and an endearing Common Sandpiper on the river.

On a beautiful sunny evening, stopped at Caerhun church (above) to scan the Conwy valley.

Still need that Dipper, though...

Species added today:

147. Gannet
148. Ring Ouzel
149. Tree Pipit

April 30, 2006

Ynys Môn

... that's Anglesey to non-Welsh speakers.

A good start today before we even reached the island. Stopped at a likely-looking spot in the Ogwen valley near Bethesda, and found a singing male Redstart (Brit-tick for Darren) and a couple of scrapping Peregrines just by the road.

Having to learn songs as I go along - just don't hear things like Pied Fly or Redstart anywhere near often enough to get used to them. But I think I've got them sussed now. It helps that I realise I don't know something pretty quickly... (if that makes sense).

The first planned stop was Fedw Fawr, in the north-eastern corner, for Black Guillemot. Finding it was easier said than done. No signposts and lots of very narrow roads meant it took a very long time indeed to reach the spot, as we didn't have the right OS map.

However, once we were there, the Black Guillemots performed rather nicely on the sea. There was a lot of chasing and calling as they went about their courtship. Shag, Peregrine, Raven, Fulmar and Rock Pipit also seen here.

Next, on to RSPB South Stack on the westernmost part of the island. We dropped into Holyhead to grab something for lunch, which was a bit of a mistake. Wandering in search of a Co-op or similar, a crying teenage girl nearly bumped into me. I'm a kind person so I asked 'Are you OK?'

As she walked past me I noticed:
  • she had lost one of her shoes
  • she was seriously out of breath
  • her T-shirt had a big shop label still attached to the back

Hmmmm. Let's get out of here...

It was a bit more civilised at South Stack, with Choughs diving over the cliff-edge, Razorbills and Guillemots on the cliffs and Stonechats perching on the gorse.

Had to do a quick bit of twitching before we left Anglesey. American Golden Plover at Cemlyn. A scattered flock of 138 Goldies to pick through in the murk made it not-very-straightforward... bumped into LGR Evans ('Britain's top twitcher') who had just seen it as we were arriving and there it was on the beach.

A tad underwhelming, if you ask me...

Species added today:
142. Redstart
143. Black Guillemot
144. Chough
145. Razorbill
146. Sandwich Tern
[American Golden Plover]

April 29, 2006

Mountain birds

An early start today. Woke up at 4am to leave for our date with some lekking Black Grouse. Hard work, but ultimately worth it.

At 5.15 we met with a group of other would-be grouse watchers and walked up through the dark, dark forest to the 'purpose-built hide' [an old shipping container with slots cut in it and clad with tongue-and-groove], overlooking some dark, dark moorland. It was a bit foggy.

I was starting to wonder whether the grouse would remain invisible all morning when they finally emerged through the gloom.

The wind wasn't in the right direction for us to be able to hear their weird, weird sounds, but with the aid of a scope you could see them nicely. Lots of macho posturing, strutting, dancing, kung-fu fighting and jumping in the air above the grasses.

Wheatear displaying, Horseshoe Pass

After refuelling at the excellent Coed Llandegla cafe, we departed to the Horseshoe Pass. We'd been told the slate quarry was a good place to see Ring Ouzels. We failed on that count but found some very nice Wheatears, a spectacular fly-through Peregrine and singing Rock Pipits.

Pied Flycatcher hole-prospecting, Coed Hafod

Back in the Conwy valley, took a wander around Coed Hafod, an oakwood that I'd been to before. Didn't see anything on that occasion, but it's beautiful and looked promising.

Within a few minutes we were watching a male Pied Flycatcher serenading a female and trying to entice her into his love nest (see above). Then the first of several Wood Warblers started singing...

Ended the day in the bar of the Castle Hotel, sampling the wares of the Conwy Brewery (Bragdy Conwy). It's always important to sample local delicacies.

Species added today:
140. Black Grouse
141. Pied Flycatcher

April 28, 2006

Croeso i Gymru

Roosting waders: Black-tailed Godwits, Knot and Spotted Redshank

Took a slight diversion to the shores of the Dee to visit RSPB Inner Marsh Farm. A very pleasant, secluded location. Walking down the hill, we heard our first Sedge Warbler of the year in the reedbed and were surrounded by Whitethroat song from the hedges.

Once at the lagoons, we were greeted by more than a thousand Black-tailed Godwits interspersed with Knot, Dunlin, a few Spotted Redshank and a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits.
A large immature Peregrine came through, scattering all the waders but only making a very half-hearted attempt to catch any of them - another year-tick as Darren hadn't seen one previously.

After a rather convoluted journey which took us through Flintshire and Denbighshire, we finally finished up in Conwy - county first, then the walled town where we I'd booked four nights in the Youth Hostel. Cosy, basic and squeaky of bunkbed - but comfortable enough - it would be ideal for anyone who loves sauna-style wood panelling...

Headed out up the Conwy valley and ended up going along a single-track road to
Llyn Crafnant, for no real reason other than it looked like it might be interesting. Over the rush of water downstream from the lake, there was a trilling which turned out to be a Wood Warbler - the first of our Welsh target birds.

Species added today:
137. Sedge Warbler
138. Peregrine
139. Wood Warbler

April 27, 2006

Cheshire smells of silage

We paused in Cheshire on the way to north Wales to facilitate a meeting with Tom McKinney.

To mark this momentous occasion, we visited Sandbach Flashes. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding (which was nice) and a few other bits and pieces: Buzzard, Tree Sparrow, Kingfisher...

After that, Tom guided us to a nearby pub, The Green Fox in Elworth. Except it wasn't really called The Green Fox - it's just that the sign had faded and the fox had ended up a greenish colour. It's just the Fox Inn. It was gloriously sunny so we sat outside at a picnic table for lunch and pored over the road atlas, gathering extra gen for forthcoming trips.

Species added today:
136. Swift

April 23, 2006

Bedford Ps again

Darren has fallen for Bedford Purlieus so we went back again this morning. I think it makes all the difference when the sun's out, but when we arrived, it was grey and overcast.

We had a pleasant stroll around and managed to bag a year-tick in the form of Cuckoo (my first for the year; D heard one at The Lodge the other day). Unfortunately no Garden Warblers in action or anything else more exotic.

A flock of Lesser Redpolls feeding high up in big birch trees were interesting - they largely 'disappear' from this area during the breeding season.

Last week's interesting weedy field produced the same flock of mostly Linnets plus Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Yellowhammers. No Wheatear or Golden Plover this time.

When the sun did eventually emerge, there were Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Post-It note-yellow Brimstone butterflies on the wing. The Wood Ants were pretty impressive, too.

A selection of photos can be seen here.

To finish, we saw two Red Kite soaring together in the blue sky.

Species added today:
135. Cuckoo

April 16, 2006

Into the uplands

For some reason, I have a soft spot for Bedford Purlieus NNR, despite having seen rather little there (with the exception of a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker one morning in 2002).

It was for this reason that I suggested we visit this morning. There are also some nice pastures nearby which look good for Ring Ouzel or perhaps Wheatear, so why not?

To be honest, the time we spent in the wood itself was pretty uneventful. Lots of nice wildflowers out, though, especially Primroses, and plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in song. A grotty-looking field to the east of the reserve proved slightly more interesting, however.

Darren picked up a distant Hobby to the south, which was a year tick and one of the first to be seen locally. Nice work. Prolonged scanning of the field produced a selection of Yellowhammers, Linnets, Goldfinches and Fieldfares. Common birds, but good ones. Finally, Darren found a male Wheatear with some Pied Wagtails (no Whites here). A nice bird to find, I always think.

With Buzzards soaring high above the wood, it was a good morning, and we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the Black Horse in Nassington, which is highly recommended.

Species added today:
130. Hobby

April 13, 2006

He doesn't want to talk about it

Received a slightly garbled message from Darren, mid-morning, about one of his colleagues having seen a Firecrest.

Lunchtime found me at the correct location with MAW, and by a stroke of luck (or perhaps skill), we managed to see the elusive, flame-feathered beast - for about three seconds. For most of that time I was looking at its backside but did manage to get a glimpse of white supercilium.

But where was Darren, you may ask? He'd made the schoolboy error of going to the building society at lunch, instead of searching for the Firecrest. To compound matters, his mobile was out of range, too, so the first he got to hear about it was when he saw Mark and me enjoying lunch in the canteen. He wasn't very happy.

You have to learn from these sorts of mistakes.

Not to worry, I said, one of Mark's mates has found a Hoopoe at Fowlmere - we can go and see that after work. It was understandable that Darren wanted to spend time after work looking for the Firecrest, but unfortunately it was an hour wasted.

By the time we got to Fowlmere, the Hoopoe had gone to roost and was barely visible in a thick hedge.

Sometimes, things just don't go your way.

Another post on this topic at bogbumper

Species added today:
128. House Martin
129. Hoopoe

April 05, 2006

Post-work birding

It's that great time of year when you can go birding after work's finished. Tonight we stopped at Grafham Water to see a Blue-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava flava which had been hanging out at the dam all afternoon.

There was a spectacular hatch of flies which was obviously what had drawn the 'Blue-headed' to that area, along with about ten other Yellow Wags, a couple of Grey Wags and some Pieds. Didn't manage to identify any Whites conclusively, though.

The Great Northern Diver that we'd seen before (at Diddington) was visible, too.

Species added today:
125. Blackcap
126. Willow Warbler
127. Yellow Wagtail

April 04, 2006


Species added today:
124. Chiffchaff

April 03, 2006

The Lodge Grapevine

Today, the biggies finally dropped.

Katie had a singing Blackcap from her office window, a first for The Lodge this year, but despite being in exactly the spot she heard it no more than five minutes later, the bird had shut up. Another tick for K which I hadn't seen; to go along with the Tawny Owl and Peregrine she's seen from the grounds recently- not to worry, I'll catch up with them eventually.

Then, during my coffee break later this morning, I was out on The Plateau with colleagues when a raptor caught my attention flying away from us to the north-west: not easy but definitely not the usual Buzzards we see almost every day. This bird did not carry it's wings in a shallow 'V-shape' and when accompanied by a mobbing crow was clearly bigger than a buzzard. When the bird banked in an effort to avoid the crow, all became very clear; structure, underwing pattern and visible necklace confirmed it: Osprey. The third year in succession that I've seen the species in Bedfordshire. A Lodge tick for me but as it drifted off further, I wanted to get Katie and Mark onto the bird.

Mad dash to desk. Katie on voicemail, Mark on voicemail. Wankers!

But they aren't really wankers, they were in a meeting. Still, my two companions got a lifer and it transpired that the bird had been seen earlier by two other colleagues over The Lodge and was seen later in the day at nearby Southill.

This afternoon at around 4:30, Katie phoned. ''Ravens now over the carpark.''

Nice one K- the bird I most wanted to see at The Lodge.

Mad dash out of office back door and upward gazing begins; Buzzard, another Buzzard..........ah......Raven, another Raven............nice.......

At which point three colleagues were standing alongside me. The birds were drifting perilously towards the sun but thankfully, they all got onto the birds as they drifted off high to the west and before retinas were in danger of being singed. The Ravens were accompanied by an amazing six Common Buzzards (all carefully checked).

Clearly some serious raptor passage today......

Even the construction workers who are building on site came over and asked what we had been looking at and seemed genuinely interested. ''Bloody hell, Ravens and Ospreys..nobody told me!''

I'll make sure I give them a shout next time a Lodge mega turns up.

Species added today:
123: Raven

April 02, 2006

We're conservationists, you know

We did lots of conservation work this morning.

It was jolly hard.

Clearing vegetation off two islands in preparation for the coming breeding season isn't exactly glamorous, but it was quite rewarding - or it will be if something decides to nest there.

Together with Mark, Jenny, Andy, Robin and two dogs, we spent the morning at Willington gravel pits (Darren's old local patch), getting the tern islands ready for the returning Common Terns. They're currently en route from west Africa but are expected back anytime now, so by clearing excess vegetation from their nesting islands, we aim to make them feel at home.

Armed with shears, loppers, rakes, various bits of wood and some all-important lifejackets, we got across to the islands in a small, white, plastic dinghy (easier said than done, given the strong cross-winds which made landing in the right place quite hard) and set to work. On the smaller island we cleared off some topsoil which now looks rather nice for waders, too...

Despite it being seriously windy, the sun was out and numerous Skylarks were singing while we worked. Around 20-30 Sand Martins buzzed over the water and there were a few Redshanks and Ringed Plovers lurking around the pits.

On the way out, EagleEyed Oakley-Martin picked out a Wheatear in a field and we then adjourned to The Crown at Northill for a cracking Sunday lunch.

It's a hard life.

Species added today:
121. Sand Martin
122. Wheatear

March 28, 2006

'Let us go then, you and I...'

... to tick a thrush in Peckham Rye.

(Yes, that's more TS Eliot)

Last Monday, I received some photographs of a ''strange bird'' in someone's garden in Peckham. Usually these 'strange birds' turn out to be Fieldfares, but this was indeed a first-winter male American Robin. Big news, so after putting news out and begging my line manager, me and a colleague went down to London on the train to see the bird and interview the finder (Katie couldn't make it).

We didn't see the bird, but had a good enough day anyway - the finder was a charming lady who offered us teas and biscuits. Birds of the day for me were the six Sand Martins just before we pulled into Sandy on the way home. For Mark, the best bird was the one standing on the platform at Welwyn North.

After Katie picked us up from the pub, we moved on to Grafham where Kittiwakes had earlier been seen: again no joy but we did get the first Swallow of the year as we drove home on the A1.

Species added today:
120. Swallow

March 26, 2006

Local twitching

Today we went twitching with Weedon's World of Nature, alias Mike Weedon, Peterborough's most avid year- and area-lister.

The reason was that he was car-less and there were good birds to be seen in the north of our local area. Because I'm kind, I offered him a lift.

Our first stop was Deeping Lakes Nature Reserve, where, that morning, there'd been a Little Stint and a Sandwich Tern. Little Stints are annual in this part of the country, as are Sandwich Terns, but the terns are far less reliable. This point was proved yet again as the bird had scarpered by the time we arrived at the scene...

For a while, it looked like we were going to have a double-whammy of dipping (i.e. failing to see target bird), but the day was saved when a tiny wader flew into view and landed on an island in front of us. It was very small indeed, and not particularly close, but undoubtedly an interestingly-plumaged Little Stint (click here to see Mike's photo).

A wander around to The Lake and its hide brought us a few Goldeneye and Darren picked out a redhead Smew. Nice work...

A visit to Baston & Langtoft gravel pits was next, as there'd been a few migrants hanging around there that morning, too. Typically, there was nowt to be seen - except one of the 'famous' Red-crested Pochards which breed there (deemed self-sustaining). And that was a year tick for us all.

After a quick stop at Maxey, where we saw very little, with the exception of the Yellowhammer pictured above, and a Green Sandpiper, we gave up - partly because it was starting to rain, and partly because it didn't seem worth carrying on. That's local, inland birding for you, sometimes...

Species added today:
Little Stint
119. Red-crested Pochard
Green Sandpiper

March 25, 2006

Nene Washes

Conditions weren't ideal on the windy Nene Washes today, but the birds didn't seem to mind too much. We shared the area with something in excess of 5,000 Golden Plover and numerous Redshank, Lapwing and Meadow Pipit.

There were a few 'ticking' Snipe but no drumming could be heard. It looks fantastic for waders - breeding and otherwise - at the moment, but there's a good chance most of the water will evaporate before passage really gets underway.

We were hoping for a few Garganey or a Wheatear, but the swirling, rushing flocks of Goldies overhead made up for their absence. The Lapwings were in full display mode and there was much aerial flirting/fighting. Meadow Pipits 'parachuted' over the meadows and flocks of Wigeon were still around. The calls of Marsh Harriers echoed from higher up.

But the best stuff is yet to come.

March 22, 2006

Do not disturb

At 4:30 this afternoon the news broke, a mega had dropped at The Lodge. Local birder Phil Hasell was photographing redpolls from the hide on the meadow and a pair of Mandarin had dropped in - a site first.

Well, at least since the previous owner of The Lodge kept them in his swimming pool in the early 1900's.

The news was quickly disseminated, and as I rushed to the hide after asking the wonderful receptionists to put me on DND for a few minutes and considering the possibility of an early April Fool, a mass twitch was in progress, conceivably the first time any of the four of us had ever undertaken a 400 yard twitch for Mandarin.

There they were; the female prospecting and the male standing guard as she inspected the hole and cleared out any debris. Handsome birds, male and female both, and thankfully an introduced species that is not of conservation concern. If they take up residence and breed, I hope they won't be disturbed too much.

Species added today:
118. Mandarin

March 21, 2006

Cock up

Driving to work this morning, a fat bird with a long bill flew overhead as we sped down the A1. Me, being half asleep offered ''Snipe?'' to which Miss Fuller replied ''Snipe? My arse, you big monkeyhead, it was a Woodcock.''

Flushed with pride at my hopeless hangover-induced misidentification I went for a bracing stroll on Biggleswade Common with a colleague. Not much apart from a displaying Sparrowhawk, a Common Buzzard, 112ish Fieldfares and a nicely singing Yellowhammer- well, thats what I called them as.

March 19, 2006

Four-point plan

We had quite a successful day today.

1. Helped with a Wildlife Watch walk at Ferry Meadows. None of the hoped-for migrants, of course (everything is late this year), but showed the kids (and their parents) some nice birds - two Kingfishers, some displaying Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and Pochards. Enjoyable.

2. Lunch at The Ship in Oundle (superb and good value), en route to...

3. Twitching at Eyebrook Reservoir. I got back some year ticks on Darren - Smew, Goosander and Grey Wagtail - while he got a lifer - Green-winged Teal.

What was once a Black-throated Diver appeared to have morphed over the weekend into a Great Northern - which we don't need for the year-list but it was good to see all the same.

[Ironically, another Green-winged Teal was found at Woodwalton Fen NNR this afternoon, plus some Garganey]

4. And finally. We paid homage to the Iceland Gull at CEGB Reservoir, Peterborough, which has been roosting there recently.

I would like to say in a very smug way that I was the first person to get onto it, beating four blokes. HA! I'm not the world's biggest gull fan (in fact, I'd go as far as to say I actively avoid them) and usually I'm rubbish at spotting these things.

Luckily, Icy stood out among the throngs of Black-headed Gulls. It wasn't even too hard to age - it's a second-winter starting to get adult pale grey feathers on its mantle.

However, I can confirm you won't be finding me at the tip searching for Caspian Gulls anytime soon. Yuck.

Species added today:
116. Goosander
Green-winged Teal
117. Grey Wagtail
Iceland Gull