Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hermit Thrush

It looked like a dip at first but to our delight the HERMIT THRUSH eventually gave itself up pretty well to Josh Jones, Kit Day, James Lowen and myself who travelled down to Porthgwarra this morning. What will the next tick be? I've got my eye on the Mourning Dove but anything could happen in the coming days...

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Cape May twitch

I returned last night from a fantastic twitch to Shetland with Pete Hayman, Dave Johnson and John Benham. I set off and picked people up early on Saturday morning before catching the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick in the evening. We faced something of a logistical problem with the boat arriving at 7.30am, leaving us only 45 minutes to get the hire car sorted and drive 30 miles to Toft and get on the roll-on ferry to Yell (followed by another to Unst). We did it, though, and fears of an epic dip were blown away when Mike Pennington greeted us with positive news on our arrival. In moments we were watching the CAPE MAY WARBLER flitting around the small sycamores in the garden of the ruined house and feeding on the ground briefly at one point.

After soaking the bird in through the scope and bins for a good hour-and-a-half, it went missing. We started checking other gardens as a bunch of birders off a charter arrived in a panic and we continued the search after lunch at the farmer's market, with John saving the day by relocating the warbler in the graveyard. Smiles all round! Mid-afternoon the slow return journey to southern England began as we drove back to get the ferry to Yell; bar the car not starting at this point (a problem we quickly resolved), everything ran smoothly. I realised that a change of route on the drive back would mean a chance of stopping off at St. Abb's Head and even though I was the only one who needed it, everybody else was keen and agreeable so that's what we did and Pete swiftly located the male SARDINIAN WARBLER which showed fairly well on and off but the habitat it was using made for challenging photography. It was a real blinder through the binoculars though and made for a top-class bonus for the trip. Thanks very much to Dave, Pete and John for the company as well as John Lees who teamed up with us in the hire car.

The Cape May Warbler showed brilliantly in one or two small sycamores in the ruined garden before becoming more difficult later on
The Sardinian afforded brilliant views through the bins but was trickier to photograph than the Cape May...

Mallydams field trip

From Monday to Friday last week I was on an Ecology field trip near Hastings at Mallydams Wood. It was pretty good fun doing wildlife work out in the field with my fellow students, mainly looking at woodland mammals and plants but I took charge of the trip's bird list which finished on 36 with fairly low effort. Highlights included Firecrest and Brambling as well as the very inquisitive and locally famous Jay that would greet you as you walk through the woods by dive-bombing you on the head from behind then followed you around as you work. Early on the Tuesday morning I escaped to the Hemsted Forest and successfully located the flock of six Parrot Crossbills before I had to dash back to the field centre. This was a second attempt; on Sunday 20th I visited and briefly saw the male TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL but failed to get a satisfactory look at a Parrot. All good fun, such a shame that my hacking cough spoiled the week to a degree!

The Parrot Crossbills early on a Tuesday morning in the Hemsted Forest
You couldn't move in Mallydams Wood without this guy checking things out
We checked Hazel Dormouse boxes pre-hibernation

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Semipalmated Plover on second attempt

Thankfully I managed to see the SEMIPALMATED PLOVER with Liam today at Black Point following a frustrating and very close dip yesterday with the Sussex guys. The flock moved to a shingle beach just down the road after a short while where it showed slightly closer and for a little longer but viewing conditions weren't as good with viewing space at a premium and quite nasty wind and rain.

On the way back home I heard that the three Mandarins seen at Burgh Heath pond (just out of the patch) were seen again and had headed towards Canons Wood, where I knew there was a small private pond that I hadn't yet had a chance to check out. I made my way over there and knocked on the landowner's door; he was more than happy to let me view the pond where there were ten Mandarins! Sadly, he told me that he had bred them there and they occasionally flew off to other ponds but always came back - so no tick! He also had a few Fulvous Whistling Ducks and a Turkey. He used to keep Wood Ducks but they have vanished.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Local Red-necked Grebe

I had the day off yesterday and used half of it to catch up on some sleep, only getting up a little before 1pm. I had to look twice when I saw a report of a Red-necked Grebe at Richmond Park as I checked the news to see what was about. Remembering Pen Ponds is included in my local area listing zone, I headed straight up there (from my Brighton digs). The Red-necked Grebe showed spectacularly well on Upper Pen Pond, floating around, I guess, only thirty or forty yards away. Other people told me it had been at the receiving end of some aggressive Great Crested Grebes earlier and had even been forced onto the other pond but, all the time that I was watching it, it was left in peace and made for part of a tranquil autumn scene at the pond. There were also four Mandarins, three Red-crested Pochards and around forty Wigeons present alongside other common wildfowl while a Red Deer bellowed away.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Saw a Sora

Launching into university life has seen a major drop in the amount of time I've been able to go birding and I've made the most of the times that I have had a chance to get out into the field. Since the Booted Warbler, a couple of days back at Canons and the odd quick look at Sheepcote Valley (yielding a couple of Whinchats the other day, but it has the potential for much more) is about all I've been able to do in between lectures and social time.

A fair few rarities have appeared on the news but none have stayed long or been practical enough for me to go and get. I'd likely have gone for the Thick-billed Warbler and Ovenbird had they remained a little longer but it was not to be... When a Sora came through from Scilly on Wednesday afternoon I hatched plans to enjoy my first long-distance twitch in a while and was off very early the next morning with Kevin McCoy, Mike and Dan Booker and George Kinnard.

St Mary's as seen from the Skybus...

Believe it or not, before going to Scilly yesterday I had never been on a plane before. Our family holidays were always done by car, train and boat as my mum is petrified of flying; I've only ever used boats to get to islands. So, it was a real treat and quite an experience having the Skybus launch me skyward for the first time! After enjoying a new perspective on the world as we made our way from Land's End and over the archipelago, we touched down and were whisked to the quay where we managed to get on the boat to Tresco. I was loving being back on my favourite islands, especially as it wasn't looking like I was going to set foot on them at all this year. As we got off the boat, Dick Filby informed everyone that the bird had not been seen yet but it hadn't been looked for particularly hard so we remained hopeful. We piled into the hide and started scanning the edge of the reeds around the Great Pool.

Half an hour or so passed with no movement at all and we were beginning to wonder whether it might turn out to be a dip when I picked the SORA up near the roosting Greenshanks and Redshanks on the opposite side; everybody else soon got onto it and as it clambered onto the rocks were it showed for a few minutes before disappearing behind the reeds. Result!!! There was a boat back to St Mary's at 10.30am which was coming up and the others wanted to catch but I was reluctant to leave without having soaked up the bird a bit more so I decided I'd get the 12.30pm boat and meet them on St Mary's before getting the flight back to the mainland. As if to iron the situation out, at about 10.00am the Sora appeared by the reeds, somewhat nearer and for a good few minutes rendering me truly satisfied just in time to rush back to St Mary's.

The Sora eventually obliged and showed itself in front of the reeds on the Great Pool

Kevin and I headed to Newford Duckpond in search of the Arctic Warbler while Mike, Dan and George walked to Lower Moors where they succeeded in finding the Bluethroat, but didn't see the Purple Heron. After a couple of hours' searching, it became clear that the Arctic Warbler wasn't playing ball and we got a taxi back to Hugh Town where we enjoyed some absolutely class burger and chips at The Mermaid before meeting the others and catching the plane back. On the airfield there were five Wheatears which made for a nice final touch a very enjoyable, and quite relaxing (for a twitch!) birding day.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Freshers gets Booted

Over the last few days I've been starting university down at Brighton, it's all been a little bit of a blur but it's been fun meeting new people and I'm really looking forward to my course (Ecology) getting going. Being it's quite a niche course, there aren't too many people on it and they all share similar drives and passions, many of them keen on wildlife, a couple of them being keen birders and all of them believing that biodiversity and the environment are very precious things that they want to play a part in preserving.

Yesterday we were welcomed to the Ecology course. After the checking in, introductions from the lecturers and health and safety garble we went on a scavenger hunt working our way from the campus towards the pier and a bar on the terrace. News had come through of a Booted Warbler at Seaford while this was all going on and as much as I was enjoying myself I couldn't let this lifer only a thirty minute drive from my digs get away. So, I bid a fond farewell to my understanding new friends and made a dash for it. The great thing about the course is that many of the people on it are also abnormally interested in wildlife so they don't look at you quite so quizzically when you say you're off to see a small brown bird. Rona is bat batty, Rebecca spends many evenings hunting newts and Marco, from Peru, is a real life Mowgli and partly lives a jungle life where he watches and identifies the birds, insects and mammals of his home country. Getting away, though, involved catching the bus back from the Pavilion to my halls, which added some time to it but I was back at the car before too long and on my way.

Booted Warbler

I arrived to see several familiar faces including Matt Eade, Lee Evans, Jamie Wilkinson, Paul Rowe and Luke Dray. The warbler did appear very quickly but was extremely uncooperative, showing only in flight or for a split-second atop the foliage. Neil Randon and his wife Annie turned up towards the end of the day and accordingly the warbler put on a much better show in the fading light. A very pleasant twitch in the end, with the bird doing the business and the opportunity to catch up once more with some of my friends from the birding world. Booted Warbler is a lifer for me and a cracking bonus to my time at freshers.