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Friday, 31 December 2010

2010

It has been a great year. At the end of each year I always say to myself 'next year really cannot be any better this time' and time and time again I prove myself wrong. Without even trying at all I beat my previous year's British year list total by ten or so.

My thanks are due to many people this year. Most pressing expressions of gratitude go to Johnny Allan for keeping me up to speed with what's been going on in Surrey. Also to Phil Wallace, Mark Stanley, Roy Weller, Rob Stokes, Ian Jones, Steve Gale, Paul Manville, Paul Goodman and several others for their much needed lifts and great company without which this year would not have been the same.

Most memorable moments . . .

Britain

Trumpeter Finch was a great bird to watch and a nice get back
  • connecting with great rarities such as White-tailed Lapwing, Marmora's Warbler, River Warbler, Bufflehead, American Robin, Pied-billed Grebe, Trumpeter Finch, Green Heron etc
  • spending a week doing nothing but seawatching off Porthgwarra, Cornwall while meeting and learning from some very knowledgeable and welcoming birders
  • spending time in the company of new and old friends and some decent birds for a few days on Scilly in October
  • memorable time in East Anglia spent watching Red-necked and Grey Phalaropes together and Golden Oriole, Montagu's Harrier, Stone-curlew etc
  • seeing nine species of American wader
London

White-tailed Lapwing, contender for bird of the year for me

  • White-tailed Lapwing
  • Dusky Warbler
  • helpful birders

Local

While frustrating close to the patch boundary, this male Red-backed Shrike was a top local bird (photo by Mark Stanley)

  • Red-backed Shrike
  • Common Crane
  • Lapland Bunting
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Waxwings, lots of them
  • see below

Patch

Corn Bunting was a memorable find

  • stumbling across great birds like Quail, Hen Harrier and Corn Bunting (invariably when very least expected)
  • seeing, on a regular basis, birds like Black Redstart, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Yellowhammer, Little Owl, Common Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Wodpecker, Red Kite, Hobby etc
  • snoozing off on a lazy summer afternoon with nothing but Swallows keeping me company
  • organising the stall at the Banstead Countryside Day, really feeling people's enthusiam for birds, and seeing an Osprey overhead to boot!
  • having the privelege of keeping track of a family of confiding Hobbies during the summer

Worst moments . . .

Britain

  • walking a total of six miles on shingle in the driving wind and rain to see an elusive bird that I can't tick before going off to see another bird which although slightly easier to see also couldn't be ticked
  • going all the way to Cornwall to dip an American Bittern for the second time - b*ll**ks
London

  • The underground - everything about it
  • Public transport in general
  • People
Patch

  • spending lots of time seeing nothing - lots of time (of the ninety hours put into the last thirteen days all the time spent watching anything noteworthy would probably add up to about half an hour - even the usual things like Yellowhammers that help to brighten the mood evacuated during this period due to the hostile conditions)
  • rude dog walkers
  • getting only one away from 100


2011 TARGETS (many are perhaps a bit ambitious but I find this increases productivity)

Britain
  • get to 350
  • tick off some more tart ticks
  • spend at least one full day birding in Kent or Norfolk in spring or autumn in ideal conditions and find a BB rarity
London
  • get to 230
  • tick off some more tart ticks
Surrey
  • start keeping a Surrey list again and get down to Holmethorpe
Patch
  • get to 120
  • get 100 in 2011
  • find a male Montagu's Harrier
  • find a Corncrake
  • find at least one of the following: Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow
  • find a Richard's Pipit
  • add at least two wildfowl species to my list
  • find a bird that will draw a constant crowd of at least fifty people
  • find a Moorhen
  • keep taking my SLR out and photograph and much as possible
  • make progress with my Canons Farm campaign

Monday, 27 December 2010

Not annoying


After a quiet day I made my way up to The Scrub at Banstead Woods at 3.00pm in case yesterday's gull did a repeat performance. Eleven minutes later I was snapping away at an adult Great Black-backed Gull as it circled overhead, almost certainly yesterday's bird. The extensive white on the tips of the three outermost primaries and the broad trailing edge to the secondaries were visible and recorded photographically (as well as its overall bulk). It's a species that is not very exciting to anyone with water but it's certainly not easy at a place like my patch!


Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 99
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2010: 99

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Annoying!

A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was nice at the patch today but it turns out I missed an unseasonal Red Kite. Worse, though, was the fact that Roy and I almost certainly got on an adult Great Black-backed Gull but didn't quite get enough on it, this was then followed by what was almost certainly a Firecrest in the fading light that was calling away but refusing to show properly. Had the force been with me I would have got to 100 for the patch this afternoon. On the bright side if the Firecrest lingers tomorrow I will nail it and I stand a good chance of getting a GBB Gull over the next few days, if not tomorrow, if I do the right thing. Oh, I also almost certainly had a Waxwing this morning over the farmhouse but it was heard only so I couldn't eliminate the possibility of that mental Greenfinch.

I hope you all had a good Christmas and will enjoy a happy New Year. I for one am having fun with my new Canon S95 which is quite warm when it comes to digiscoping.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Freeze thaw action


The ice is slowly melting and today resulted in/coincided with a bit of movement at Canons Farm, providing me with two patch ticks.

As I was approaching the 'watchpoint' I heard a Waxwing call but couldn't see the bird. A couple of weeks ago I claimed (but didn't tick) one on call at Canons but further encounters led me to believe that this was probably down to a very confused Greenfinch. I thought it likely that this would explain the call this morning but a quick scan just in case was rewarded with views of a beautiful Waxwing perched on a dead tree before it flew off north east, veering to the east and out of view. A great bird and nice get back from Mark who had five over recently. Wonderful!




Roy Weller rang just after the bird flew off and advised that I kept an eye out for Curlew and about ten minutes later six appeared from nowhere, flying quite low, and appeared to be slowing down and gliding increasingly as if they were about to land but they disappeared behind a big bush and a search drew a blank. Two patch ticks in fifteen minutes, that's quite a rare occurance now!


Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 98
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2010: 98

Wouldn't it be nice to get to 100 before then end of the year?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Redpolls!

There has been a large flock of 150 or so Redpolls commuting between Banstead Woods and Canons Farm recently . They can be hard to pin down and when you do manage to, they scatter at the slightest noise and regroup out of view. Plus the light has been awful lately and I've never been very confident with Redpolls so they've been a bit of a nightmare. I have, however, managed to pick out the odd Mealy amongst them. Heres one or two birds from Monday:

Lesser Redpoll on the left with Mealy to the right

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Rewards already


Two days into my mad patching fortnight and I've got myself a tick. I was with Roy Weller and Ian Jones and we found a flock of c.170 Lesser Redpolls at Lunch Wood, Canons Farm. After sifting through the Lessers I picked out a pale bird (only showing its underside) that Roy agreed looked interesting but it took flight before further details could be noted. With dire consequences, he went to answer the call of nature and I picked up the same or another bird again. I got a more prolonged look at its underparts and face which were pale and lacked any brown/buff tones. To my delight it turned around, showing its equally frosty and pale upperparts with white braces running along the mantle. I was sure it was a Mealy but wanted to see its rump before I risked losing the bird by handing the scope to Ian. A little flutter revealed the striking paleness of this feature but the whole flock then took to the air, chattering away and flew north before Ian could get a look. Compared to nearby Lesser Redpolls it stuck out like a sore thumb and was my first 'classic' grey bird.

Canons life list: 96
Canons 2010 list: 96

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Belmont Waxwings in HD . . .

. . . with a bit of Simon & Garkfunkel. Sorry that it's a bit Waxwing overload lately . . . but aren't they just great birds!?! EDIT: well, the HD idea doesn't seem to have worked, it should have come out at 1080p . . . oh well.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

more Waxwings!


I was walking home from college with a friend this afternoon and as we were approaching his house I spotted some starling-shaped birds in a set of small trees, I whipped out the bins and we were both enjoying excellent views of about thirty Waxwings. We moved closer and as I was attempting to digi-bin them a man came out from his house and said he had seen about sixty of the beauties earlier on. Waxwings are truly everywhere this winter, there's three or four big flocks locally at the moment and this is my fourth self found in three days!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Walk to college

My daily walk to and from college does not pass through any remarkable habitat. It involves crossing a main road, walking through a small and basic park, through a council housing estate followed by a couple of residential roads and finally a bit around the edge of a playing field. I've been going there as a school since 2005 and as a sixth form college since September this year. In those five years most journeys to and from the place have not produced anything interesting but it has had its moments. Highlights include a singing male Firecrest in a tiny bit of woodland and a Yellow Wagtail flying over. I occasionally stumble on one or two wintering Blackcaps and the odd Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail or Grey Heron has added interest and I once had a very close encounter with a tame Sparrowhawk.

This morning produced the best of the bunch so far. For the third time in two days I heard a Waxwing calling, looked up and saw the bird heading south west. Amazing!

In the last last of the day I briefly popped up to Banstead Downs Golf Course and located a pair of Firecrests. Unfortunately with the current conditions it is now impossible to get up to Canons in the afternoons except on Tuesdays when I get off at 1.00pm. I can't wait for the days to stretch out again.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

weekend so so




Marsh Tit

Another weekend packed full of birding, with mixed results. Yesterday at the patch wasn't too bad with a Golden Plover and a showy Marsh Tit that Roy Weller managed to twitch. Today was very frustrating; this morning I was approaching Lunch Wood (with the sun strongly in my eyes) and I didn't notice a large gathering of Thrushes and Starlings until I flushed them. Amongst all the commotion the unmistakable bell-like call of a Waxwing pierced through the air and sounded very close but with the light and everything flying everywhere I could not get on the damn thing.

Golden Plover

I only life tick for any region or place if I see the bird and this is the first time that a predicament such as this has gone unresolved and it hurt, I've spent a lot of time specifically looking for Waxwings at the patch lately and this one got me unprepared. There's plenty of time to get one though, so fingers crossed.

I then went to Amberley Wild Brooks, West Sussex where I missed the White-tailed Eagle by five minutes, heard that unmistakable ringing again and immediately got onto twenty Waxwings flying north east; it's funny how this game works.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

local Crane


The very quiet past few days ended with a bang today. I was half way up to Lunch Wood, at Canons Farm when I got a text from Johnny Allan informing me of a Common Crane that had actually dropped onto the lake at Beddington! As I always do when I'm in the middle of patching and get such a message I felt a mixture of excitement, panic and disappointment. I rang Steve Gale who was in bed feeling under the weather but he couldn't afford to miss this bird; he picked me up from the Shell garage near Canons Farm within twenty minutes or so.



On arrival we were greeted by a relatively large crowd full of many familiar London/Surrey faces and some new ones. The 1st winter Common Crane showed well with Grey Herons at the opposite side of the lake all the time I was there; this was a bird I wasn't expecting to get back locally any time soon. A great London/Surrey/Beddington/local area tick and I haven't seen many in Britain before anyway! It appeared quite settled and started picking up and playing with those strange bits of meat that the Herons pick up from the bottom of the lake. A top bird; thanks to Frank for finding it, John for letting me know, Steve for getting me there and Phil for taking me back to Canons!

Friday, 3 December 2010

more snow shots

Today and yesterday I made further feeble attempts at finding something good in the cold weather at Canons Farm. Yesterday produced only another Lapwing and today produced absolutely naff all - with no overuse of the term - not even a Parakeet, Yellowhammer, Woodpecker of any kind or anything. It was too foggy and cold. Here are some shots taken at the farm yesterday, when at least the regular cast was on show:


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow . . .


Lapwing

. . . it has hit hard . . . it brought Beddington 14 Bean Geese and 3 Grey Plovers as well as Waxwings for various sites around London. Banstead wasn't as great . . .


Common Buzzard

Not surprisingly, it was a snow day at school today so I decided to see if I could get a piece of the action down at Canons Farm. The S1 was not running to Banstead so I had to walk through the middle of Banstead Downs plus a bit more to get there, taking me about 45 minutes. After over-sleeping, putting together my lunch, finding sufficient woolies and undergoing this walk I got there disappointingly late, just before 11.00am. Once I got there I had a relatively brief skywatch before walking the farm and having a more prolonged skywatch afterwards. Birds were quite thin on the ground today so I ended up taking photos of signs and the countryside with my SLR which enjoyed its 5th trip outdoors this year (if that).

Yellowhammers

All I got for my efforts was my first patch Lapwing of the winter, a couple of suspicious-looking 'Starlings', a Common Buzzard, a Little Owl and a numb pair of feet despite several layers of socks. The highlight was watching a flock of gorious Yellowhammers feeding in the snow - the lighting really complimented their plumage very well. Sunday at the patch was better with my first Marsh Tit there for about three years as well as my first Woodcock of the winter.


There is again no school tomorrow. I have revised the battle plan: get up at 7.30am, leave (hopefully) at around 8.00am - get there by 8.20am. Skywatch until 11.00am then walk the farm, resuming skywatch at 12.30pm before finishing at 3.30pm.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Mealies

Common (Mealy) Redpoll (bottom right) with Lesser Redpolls for comparison

I tried yesterday for the Common (Mealy) Redpolls that had been seen with huge numbers of Lesser Redpolls local to me at Headley Heath. Phil Wallace picked me up after college at 3.00pm, when on site there was little time left before sunset so we had to act fast. I picked out one bird which I was sure was a Mealy, but it disappeared too quickly. Then all the Redpolls disappeared . . . drat.

Luckily today it was my only free study afternoon of the week which conveniently coincided with dad's only free afternoon of the week. What luck, eh? Shortly after 2.00pm I was on site with Johnny Allan and Kevin Guest enjoying the spectacle of roughly four hundred Redpolls feeding and buzzing in the trees, occasionally flying over us all at once. One or two Common (Mealy) Redpolls were picked out promptly and photographed; the other two had located double figures of his species amongst the Lessers. If this isn't a record for London/Surrey it must certainly be up there. After enjoying the birds for a while they were startled and disappeared, John and Kevin left for home and I did soon afterwards, content but with the thought of the many pages of geography coursework that had to be done by tomorrow very much in my head (I've just finished it after five hours almost non-stop typing).

Much credit to Steve Gale for locating the flock!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Another good weekend

Rustic Bunting

On Friday I was still at college when I received a text from Johnny Allan notifying me of a flock of five Waxwings near Canons Farm, along a residential road off Tattenham Way. Waxwing is a bird I haven't had any luck with locally in the past and one that I wanted to set the record straight with so I was totally gutted that they chose to turn up on the one day in every six months when I had the bloody dentist! I was thankful that they at least didn't turn up within the CFBW boundaries (well, then I would have skipped the dentist altogether and paid the fee later).


Waxwings

I caught the 6.43am S1 to Banstead yesterday and walked to the site. I got there before sunrise and had to wait quite a while before the day had seemed to truly get going. A couple of Redpolls and a Siskin or two called overhead but my quarry was not showing and I was convinced they'd departed, especially considering there weren't many berries on site compared other local places and they had been flighty the day before. Then, a flock of eleven beautiful trilling Waxwings flew into a rowan with a mistletoe hanging from it and preened at the top of the tree before beginning feeding! Wonderful! Soon, Mark, Phil and a few other local birders arrived and we noticed that one of the birds had a smartie-like tick on its neck. I hope it doesn't cause it too much trouble . . . it seemed healthy otherwise.

Today I was patching at Canons with Roy Weller, briefly joined by Andy Harding, with nothing unusual to show for it but one or two Bramblings and five Common Buzzards feeding in the fields were nice to see. A Rustic Bunting broke in Kent . . . damn. With coursework to do and four or five hours of light left I felt it best to forget it. Half an hour later Phil rang asking if I would like to join him in twitching the Bunting, I ummed and arred before concluding 'oh go on then'. He picked me up from Canons Lane and after a smooth journey we turned up at this very easy twitch that was not far at all from where we parked the car with the Rustic Bunting showing very well. Here we came across a few familar faces including Nick and Russel Gardner, Josh Jenkins Shaw and Kev Jarvis. It was a fascinating and beautiful bird to watch and was a complete lifer. I was expecting a bird like a Reed Bunting in structure and behaviour but it reminded me much more of a Lapland Bunting when it was feeding on the ground, doing an occasional low rush through the short grass.

Jomped up prat

A bit of a different post today. This is a rant. Before I start, may I point out how I very much appreciate that the vast majority of dog walkers I have come across while doing my patch birding at Canons Farm are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and I have got to know some of them reasonably well and talk to them often . . . however this post is a bit of a complaint about the rudeness of the minority that spoil it and make my blood boil.

Many visits to the patch have been spoiled by 'Grade 1 Rudeness Walkers', these are people who blank you when you greet them with a cheery 'morning!' and more importantly have no control over their dogs which jump up at you and your tripod, sometimes causing it to lose fix on a bird (if all the birds haven't been scared away already). These people know they have caused disturbance and make no hint of an apology. Often you hear these people make some sort of remark before or after they pass you or halt their conversations and give you funny looks while they pass you. They also leave turds everywhere. I can tolerate these, there's maybe one of these a day, they aren't pleasant but they're tolerable.

But that's not the important bit . . .

Until today I have only had Grade 1 Walkers on my scale but an encounter this morning sparked the creation of Grade 2. I was scanning the horizon for raptors and any other big birds when I became aware of a lady with two noisy alsatians passing me, I greeted her with the casual 'morning' I give everybody but she ignored me. I walked a bit further on and I looked back to see her entering the grassy field used recently by singles of Barn Owl, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl and recognised her for doing this before. For fear of her regularly doing this and putting off birds like this in the long run I approached the edge of the field 'excuse me, just so that you're aware this is a private field, and also it has been in use as a roost site recently by some quite sensitive birds' I politely and softly pointed out. She turned her head and headed purposefully further into the field. Feeling I'd done what I could I walked on.

Later I passed her again, she stopped when she got to me and it started: 'I saved three baybays' lives last night y'know 'n' I don't need some jomped up prat tellin' me where I can 'n' cannot walk my dogs'. Although shocked I controlled my anger and politely remarked that I wasn't telling her where she can and cannot walk her dogs but that I was merely gently pointing out that she should be aware that by entering that field she was trespassing and potentially causing disturbance to wildlife. Before I could finish she walked on while saying 'Get your priorities right! You get your priorities right!' and I simply replied with 'bloody idiot'. So, her desire to walk her huge noisy dogs wherever she pleases is more important than the farmer's ownership of the land and the welfare of wildlife? I think I know who needs to get their priorities right.

In her defence, I will not lie and say I abide by the countryside code all the time and have never wandered into a field. I also wouldn't be too pleased if someone came up to me pointing out my wrongdoings but I would never be so rude and disrespectful to another user of the countryside, potentially ruining their day, who has made a perfectly polite and justified comment.

Perhaps I was having another naive and immature moment, and I really do need to get my priorities right? I don't know . . .

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Quality weekend


A concise post this evening as I've got lots of college work to catch up with after being out all weekend. Yesterday I made my way up to the PIED-BILLED GREBE which showed well as soon as I got to the right spot. It was an interesting bird with its thick bill and chunky structure. Today I found myself watching the AMERICAN ROBIN to my great relief after a long time of what seemed like hopeless waiting, thanks Rob for your company today!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Owl fest

I returned to Canons Farm this afternoon in the hope of getting either a Short-eared Owl or a Merlin, most likely the former. After a quick check of the field by Lambert's Shaw where I found a single Common Buzzard I made my way over to the Harrier Field and was joined by Paul Goodman who wanted Barn Owl for his patch list. The light fell and the action began, a Little Owl called, this stirred another . . . and another. Just after 5.00pm Paul picked up the Barn Owl which showed extremely well on its third consecutive evening. After enjoying stunning views of this bird I picked up another Owl at 5.05pm, it was a wonderful Short-eared Owl and we both enjoyed views as it flew past us, absolutely bloody fantastic! I checked it for Long-eared but it wasn't, this final realistically possible Owl species will be the hardest to find by far; there's plenty of places they could hide. Since I started patching at Canons, Short-eared Owl has been on my list of strong possibilites and most desired finds so it was great to get one there, my fourth Owl species at the site.

This was a significant bird being the 100th species recorded at Canons Farm & Banstead Woods this year and the 110th ever. It is also my 202nd London bird, 160th local area bird and brings me to 95 for CFBW (the ten countdown going much quicker than I expected). For Paul, Barn Owl brought him into the CFBW80 Club and Shortie got him to 81. Good times.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ghostly figures

Hen Harrier

As I arrived at Canons Farm about an hour defore dusk I was questioning the point in having made the effort to visit, that was until a stunning male Hen Harrier flew in front of me! I had it in the bins for about a minute; it was just sublime. With not much light left I immediately rang the two people who would be most interested, Surrey year lister Johnny Allan and co-patcher Steve Gale. Steve couldn't make it but Johnny came over as soon as he could. As he arrived I had just lost it when it flew into the next field, but soon Johnny picked the bird up again and we had good views of it drifting across the field before it dropped into the grass not to be seen again, unfortunately for Mike Spicer who arrived five or ten minutes too late. Hopefully he and a few others will get it first thing tomorrow.

the field it roosted in - the pale dot in front of the barn is actually it!

Johnny and Mike then shouted, momentarily thinking they had the bird again but we soon realised it was a Barn Owl, disappointing for Mike but unbelievable for me! Two patch/London/Surrey/local area ticks in less than an hour - it more than makes up for missing the American Bittern!

The Harrier was an excellent way to get to 200 for London and the Barn Owl brought me to 201 for London, obviously, and 94 for Canons. A perfect evening.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

1 out of 2 yank herons

To the south west today with Rob 'Dizzy' and a couple of Sussex birders Micheal and Dan. I was confident that the American Bittern would still be around and was more than very keen to see this bird as I'm fond of herons and already dipped the bird when it was at Trewey Common. It got to past 9.00am and no news had come out, I started having doubts. As we were nearing the site negative news came through on the pager, I was completely and utterly gutted and my mood instantly sank.

Green Heron

We thought that if people had been looking for about three hours already and the bird had been showing well throughout the week the bird had gone. We decided the best game plan would be to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan and get something out of the day. After a bit of orientational confusion we eventually found each other again and the GREEN HERON which showed very well, better views were had than when I visited the Hythe bird a couple of years ago.

We called in at Exminster on the way back, because Micheal and Dan needed American Golden Plover. This was my third visit to the site in as many weeks and to our surprise the bird was not present, it transpired that it had moved on the Dawlish Warren (probably because of fireworks the previous night) so we headed home; the Green Heron was nice but I'm still quite disappointed about the Bittern . . . I suppose it's one to get another time . . .

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Back home!

Corn Bunting

I was so relieved to return from IoW last night after two weeks away from my own home and more importantly my patch so it was with great enthusiasm that I headed out to Canons this morning. I felt on the ball and was confident that I would find something good; Steve Gale has previously proven that early November is prime birding time at the patch.


Arriving at the barns behind the farmhouse I saw a chat pop up onto the fence opposite the barns 'interesting' I thought 'too late for Wheatear or Whinchat'. I got onto it with the scope and laughed out loud when I saw it was another Black Redstart! The third record of the year! While trying to get better views of the bird I could hear an occasional loud metallic 'tick' somewhere, I didn't pay it much attention and first but looked up to see an interestingly shaped bird sitting on the top of an isolated tree.

Black Redstart

I got to scope onto it and to my shock it was the 4th Surrey Corn Bunting of the century! I immediately phoned Johnny Allan and Steve Gale and the former soon arrived, but not soon enough - it was last seen ten minutes before he parked up! Paul Goodman, Paul Manville, Geoff Barter, John Hughes, Alan Wingrave and Graham Osborne all also made an appearance but unfortunately none connected with the bird. Paul Goodman found a second Black Redstart with the original bird, amazing! Corn Bunting was a Canons Farm, Surrey and local area tick for me.

Isle of Wight

inspiring field work

From Monday 1st November 2010-Friday 5th November 2010 I was reluctantly dragged on a compulsory trip to the Isle of Wight which was apparently essential for my A-level Geography course. This mainly involved pointless measurements of the width of rivers and the gradient of beaches as well as putting up with the idiocy and stench of my fellow students constantly for five days. Needless to say I did not enjoy it, as can be told by the expession on my face seen on photos I'm tagged in on facebook, for those who have me as a friend.

view from my bed

2nd winter Mediterranean Gull just outside the centre


In terms of birding I went of a lovely walk along the River Medina each morning before breakfast I also had a nice view of the river from the window in my room and from the breakfast table. This early morning walk was the only time I got to myself and I recorded 47 species in total on the walk over the five days including Mediterranean Gull, Water Rail, Kingfisher, Redshank, Curlew, Common Buzzard, Siskin and Little Egret.

lovely habitat just a couple of minute's walk away from the centre I stayed at

One of the staff at the centre I stayed at was a very keen IoW birder and it was interesting talking to him about the birds of the island. He told me about how there was a Bluethroat a few years ago along the walk that I did. That's about the only semi-interesting stuff about the trip, I'm glad I don't have any other compulsory geography trips!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Scilly 2010


I returned to the wonderful Isles of Scilly in October half term, the last week of the month, hopeful that I would get a handful of lifers. I went with my parents again (although I stayed separately to them and they only saw me in the mornings for breakfast!) and we stayed in Penzance Sunday night before getting the Scillonion on Monday morning. Funnily enough the journey down there provided arguably the best bird of the entire trip, American Golden Plover, a British tick for me, at Exminster. You probably know by now that I didn't see many rare birds . . .

American Golden Plover

Monday 25th

After a very birdless crossing I phoned 'Spider' the cab driver (a character who would become familiar throughout the rest of the week) up and he dropped me at Green Farm where I met Phil Wallace who was looking for a Serin. I half heartedly looked for about twenty minutes before walking over to the Subalpine Warbler site, a would-be lifer for me.

There were only a couple of other birders looking, after a while one called us over. He had just had the bird and I'd missed it by moments, dang. I staked the site out with a varying number of birders including Pete and Jamie (birders I met on the ferry who would again become familiar characters) as well as Rob Stokes until dusk. At one point I was told I had flushed the bird by accident! I had no luck and planned on returning but this never worked out and no-one saw the bird again. Interest was added with fly-over Serin (presumably the Green Farm bird) and Lapland Bunting (both of which I picked out myself).

Tuesday 26th

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

After breakfast I went for a walk with Phil Wallace around St Mary's. Porthloo rendered three Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Bar-tailed Godwit, two Sanderling, 14 Ringed Plovers and a Curlew . . . not an awful start. Content Farm was busy with birds, the best of which being two female/1st winter Black Redstarts.

Merlin

Following reports of an accipiter that sounded good for Sharp-shinned Hawk Phil and I headed to Newford Duck Pond which gave a good view over some fields in the general area that the bird had been frequenting. A Brambling flew over and Phil asked me to play him the call so that he could familiarise himself with it. In doing so I looked down at my phone and missed the bird - Phil and everyone else got it - sh*t. A theme of stake-outs seemed to emerge as I stayed till nearly dusk, with no further sign of the bird and one or two Merlins, a Raven, the odd Sparrowhawk and a late Swallow to keep me entertained.

Wednesday 27th

Red-breasted Flycatcher

News broke the previous evening of a Red-breasted Flycatcher on the Garrison and I looked at the pager far too late to act on the news (I wouldn't have got it anyway) so Phil and I made plans to have an early breakfast and get on the Garrison as close to first light as possible. This didn't really work out but we got there fairly early anyway and after a tense twenty minute wait we bagged the Red-breasted Flycatcher, my first lifer of the trip. It was a first winter but was really smart and a great bird. Also on the Garrison was a Black Redstart.

News then broke of a Dusky Warbler at Holy Vale, I forgot I'd already seen one and reacted as if I needed it so rushed off with Phil straight away (remembering half way there that I'd seen one in London!). The news on arrival wasn't good but soon the bird was relocated and I got some great views as it called. It then flew to some bracken in an adjacent field and two birders thoughtlessly went in after it, causing the bird to fly quite some distance away. Thankfully, it returned and more excellent views of it were had by all and the bird remains the day I write this.

There was a Spotted Sandpiper on St Agnes and I wanted to see this but a message came through on the pager regarding a possible Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler on Tresco. Decision time. In the end I decided to go for the one that would be a lifer and headed to Tresco. Shortly after arriving I bumped into the birder who had found the bird and he showed me a photograph of what looked like a Yellow-browed Warbler to me, I was plucking up the courage to say something when a message came through on the pager saying that the bird was a Yellow-browed. The birder apologised for wasting my time and I told him he did the best thing as it could have turned out to have been a Hume's. It wasn't a wasted trip anyway as I got good views of the bird in question, my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the year and saw my first Siberian Chiffchaff as well as a good number of Little Egrets.

Thursday 28th

Spider gave Phil, Pete, Jamie and I a lift to Trenoweth where he kindly arranged access to some private fields for us to search for the possible Sharp-shinned Hawk. We searched for a couple of hours but got nothing. Spider picked us up at 9.45am and dropped us at the quay, Pete and Jamie successfully got onto their Tresco boat but the St Agnes boat was full and could not take Phil and I. We got Spider to return us to Trenoweth but we failed to see the bird it was quite cool seeing a female Merlin take a Chaffinch though.

Spotted Sandpiper

We caught the 2.00pm boat to St Agnes and got excellent views of the SPOTTED SANDPIPER but not a lot else. It was a transfixing bird though and showed absolutely exquisitely! Easily one of the highlights of the trip. A male Peregrine was seen flying towards Gugh just before the return boat arrived.

Friday 29th

Jack Snipe

Supposedly our last full day, not a lot happened. Good views of the Red-breasted Flycatcher were had on the Garrison where a Peregrine dropped into the pines and two Stonechats knocked about. I heard a Firecrest at Carreg Dhu gardens. Good views were had of a slumbering Jack Snipe at Porth Hellick where I got good views of another Firecrest. I had another look for the Dusky Warbler approaching dusk but didn't see it, instead getting good views of a Yellow-browed Warbler. Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser in Porthcressa Bay were Scilly ticks for me.

Saturday 30th


Greenshank

I wandered over to Old Town with Phil in the morning. Opposite Nowhere Cottage we got good views of a Firecrest and I picked up the Red-breasted Merganser as it circled the bay before flying off around Penninis Head towards Porthcressa where it was the previous evening. At Lower Moors we got uber views of a Greenshank and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler. The Dusky Warbler was again enjoyed at the southern entrance to Holy Vale. Our boat was due to leave for Penzance that afternoon but it was cancelled and all flights were full meaning that we were forced to stay an extra night . . .



. . . so I spent the rest of the day on the Garrison where I saw an acrocephalus warbler that James Bloor-Griffiths had found the previous day and I had failed to connect with. I phoned Phil, who was around the corner photographing Goldcrests, immediately and told him to get the hell over there so that he could photograph it. Moments that seemed like hours passed and the bird worked its way further away. I started to panic, James has seen Blyth's Reed on Scilly and in India before and said he was 100% sure the bird was one the previous day. In my shaken state I tried to get as many features as I could on it in between shouting like no-one has ever heard me shout before like a mad man, ordering Phil to get the **** over there! Just as I lost the bird to view Phil appeared casually around the corner. The features I got on the bird were: grey legs,
relatively short primary projection, cold tones above and 'bowl' shaped posture. We did not see the bird again and I was frankly more than very pissed off that Phil didn't drop everything and run (if he had done he would have undoubtedly photographed it) - I would have if I was him . . . it would have been very exciting to be part of the clinching of a BB rarity and a lifer for both of us. Sorry Phil, but you said yourself you knew I'd go on about it on the blog ;-) Goldcrests or Blyth's Reed!?!? I know it's difficult to drop lots of equipment especially when you're in the middle of photographing something, sorry for getting so mad at the time Phil :-)

Sunday 31st



I was on the Garrison with Phil just after first light and we did not see the acro again and we had to get on the boat at 8.00am, I was completely gutted as clinching that warbler would have made the trip for me. We bode farewell to the lovely Red-breasted Flycatcher just before we went down to the key and I proceeded to over react and complain for about an hour about what I perceived as Phil's apparent lack of any sense of urgency. The crossing back provided 3 Bonxies. Phil and Josh Jenkins Shaw joined my parents and I on the drive back home and we stopped off at the American Bittern, which we badly dipped and the American Golden Plover again at Exminster, with which we connected as it fed with Grey Plovers.

Summary

one lifer - a poor showing but it was a nice bird however two very good back up birds with a nice supporting cast as well as the islands just being fantastic anyway made the trip worthwhile. Thankfull the hawk that I never connected with turned out to be a freaky Sparrowhawk!