Monday, 27 September 2010

Lots of walking, bad weather, good birds and ID headaches

Yesterday I trucked up to Norfolk with Phil Wallace. Several birders have told me about how awful Blakeney Point is to walk but I didn't take much notice, thinking three miles can't be that bad even on shingle. How wrong I was!

It took us about an hour and a half of what was without doubt the most painful walk of my life (three miles there and back of cold, rain, wind and horrid shingle) before reaching the tiny plantation in which the confusion of a flycatcher was residing. After about ten minutes the ALDER/WILLOW FLYCATCHER (possibly even Least or Yellow-bellied still, some people think . . .) showed itself. It was a nice bird and showed quite well eventually but I really like to know what I'm looking at when I twitch something. After half an hour or so we trudged back, I thought the way back would be better - it wasn't -we did see a Brambling, at least one Northern Wheatear and a couple of probable Redwings though.

the flycatcher

Next was Kelling Water Meadows. Phil grumpily waited in the car while I rushed off to get a bird back off him. This was a very easy visit with the Red-necked Phalarope showing well with a Grey for comparison. This was a much overdue British tick, I've dipped a couple before.

Red-necked (left) and Grey Phalaropes

I rushed straight back to the car and we were off to Wells. We joined the gathering in splitting up into the Dell and, perhaps surprisingly, we managed to locate the WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER. I missed a Yellow-browed but wasn't too fussed as I don't need it for Britain and I'll probably see them on Scilly in October. We then got back on the road for London, stopping off at a Little Chef which could only serve chips. We got back at about 10.30pm because of traffic.

As for the ID of the Flycatcher, I obviously have ZERO experience of Empids but from my limited research I'm putting my money on Alder. I just hope it sticks around tomorrow and somebody manages to record it.

EDIT: I've heard that the Bonelli's Warbler was heard calling as both Western and Eastern, hence smashing the apparently confirmed identification to pieces and hence removing it from my list

Monday, 20 September 2010

Two nice yank waders

Wilson's Phalarope

Having not seen a White-rumped Sandpiper in about a year and getting only flight views of the Grove Ferry Wilson's Phalarope a week or two ago, I asked my parents if they'd mind taking me down to that part of Kent on Sunday after a quick check of Canons Farm. They answered positively.

White-rumped Sandpiper

Oare, being closer, was the first port of call. I scanned the East Flood from the road for about fifteen minutes, pulling out only a Curlew Sandpiper before walking towards the East Hide to see whether I could locate the White-rumped from that angle. A couple of other birders joined me but we couldn't find the bird. Just as they were walking off the White-rumped Sandpiper walked into my view and I shouted them over, more people gathered.

White-rumped Sandpiper

After enjoying the bird on and off for a while, I got back in the car and we headed to Grove Ferry. I was greeted at the viewing mound my 'it went out of view five minutes ago', a phrase which it seems most have heard when twitching this particular bird.

left to right: Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope

I waited with the small crowd for a fair amount of time, before getting fed up and scoping the people standing by the Harrison Hide who looked like they might have been on something. I made my way over there and a man asked me whether I could identify the two waders in his scope, I could and they were the WILSON'S PHALAROPE and a Spotted Redshank! I phoned the news out to RBA straight away so the birders at the mound could come and have a look. It was very satisfying to get much better views of the Wilson's than last time and it gave excellent size comparisons to nearby Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Green Sandpipers.

After dinner in the Grove Ferry Inn, we headed home. Thanks for the lift dad.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

This Wryneck does not have a tragic ending

I've always been interested in the sightings from Wanstead, the habitat reminds me of some parts of my local area and it's interesting to compare. Needing Wryneck for London, I had a good excuse to head up there today. I took the train from Sutton to Victoria then got the tube to Wanstead, changing at Oxford Circus, before getting the bus to Wanstead Flats.

I found my way to Alexandra Pond and joined the three or four birders present, including finder Nick Croft. After getting frustratingly brief flight views as the bird startled, we split up to locate the bird again. As I got up from tying my laces some movement on the ground caught my eye - it was the Wryneck and it was showing superbly! I called the others over, and we all enjoyed great views, much to everybody's relief. I'm very fond of birds with cryptic plumage, especially Wrynecks, and it was great to get one in London.

London 197

Friday, 17 September 2010

Gropper at Canons!

You go out looking for Wrynecks and Lapland Buntings and you find a Grasshopper Warbler amongst a flock of Sparrows. May not be as rare as the former two but it was very unexpected and the first record for Canons Farm & Banstead Woods. It showed quite well for a Gropper, too. I walked across the Quail Field aiming to find a Lapland Bunting in the stubble, about half way along I flushed two relatively large bunting-ish birds that gave a brief rattle as they flew off south east. The only plumage detail I got on them was two pale stripes down the back of one of them. Quite possibly Lapland Bunting but I would need much better views before I make the claim . . . no further sign in the evening, hopefully they'll be back tomorrow morning to be clinched.

Grasshopper Warbler brings me to 88 for Canons Farm and 155 for the local area.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Beddington calls again

Another day and another text from Johnny Allan this time regarding a Pectoral Sandpiper at 100 Acre. This is a good bird for London and Surrey and one that I still hadn't seen in either county so I was off straight after college. Transport wasn't nearly as amazingly convenient as it was yesterday (when a train or bus was simply there whenever I approached a stop or station) and I ended up waiting a ridiculous amount of time for the bus. Even so, I was still enjoying excellent views of the Pectoral Sandpiper on one of the sludge beds, in brilliant light, from 4.30pm.

After enjoying the very smart and fresh bird for a bit too long, I wandered up with Dodge and Kojak to the mound where we got good views of the Lapland Buntings which had returned after apparently departing earlier this morning. A quick check of the enclosed lagoons and I left with Phil, about two hours overdue for dinner at home . . . a good day, thanks for the text John.

My plan for tomorrow is to actually spend some time on my patch, which will make a change from the last week or two when rare birds, trainers, college work and social/family commitments have very frustrating kept me away from my dear Canons Farm (though the most likely outcome is that Beddington will continue its purple patch and I won't be able to resist). Oh the inconveniences of education eating up most of the day again! I am dreading winter - no time at all for patch after college and I'll probably be twitching most weekends.

London 196; local area 154

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Lap Bunt bagged

Amazingly, Beddington turned up two Lapland Buntings on the deck today. This follows an amazing enough record from earlier in the year of a single that stayed about three days, which I dipped. Naturally, I was very eager to get to see this pair as I still needed it for life and it is also a good London and excellent local area bird. Luckily, my biology teacher let me out of college fifteen minutes early today giving me some crucial extra time. After stopping at home to refuel myself with chocolate and gather my things, I was straight up to Beddington.

Following a bit of trouble finding the right spot I eventually found the area of short vegetation where Johnny Allan had seen the birds. I walked along the edge of this area and soon flushed the two Lapland Buntings. They only flew a few feet but scurried away into the vegetation after that, only showing themselves relatively briefly. When I walked a bit further they flew off properly and I decided to go and check the enclosed lagoons so I didn't put them off for Paul who was on his way.

When Paul arrived we followed the same procedure and the birds had indeed returned. Paul was very happy because he had also spent a lot of time dipping the bird earlier in the year. One bird showed very well this time, including for a long period out in the middle of the track at the side. An excellent bird!

British 284, London 195, local 153. Thanks for texting me about it Johnny!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

You'd think it was Rutland

Myself with local birder Paul, who helped me out for the last three hours

I was motivated to do the Banstead Countryside Day today due to several things:
  • the prospect of raising awareness and appreciation of birds and wildlife in the local area
  • having something different to do and organise
  • it's something to put on my CV
  • it fits my college's initiative of getting students to do something for the community
And I certainly am glad I did it because it went very well. Because I sensed our stand was more appropriate to the event than I expected, I felt surprisingly comfortable talking to the many people that visited our stand and asked questions about our local wildlife.

I am also very glad I did it because Phil (who helped me out for three hours), the Viewpoint Optics staff and I got onto an Osprey as it circled near the Banstead Woods car park before gliding more purposefully south. The Croydon RSPB group next door were too slow to get onto it, though. It turned out to be a good day for raptors with a Common Buzzard (see video) flying low over our stall for our visitors to enjoy and a briefer view of a Hobby. This is perhaps a tally you may expect if you were holding an outdoor stall at the Rutland Birdfair but to see these three raptors from our stall at the Banstead Countryside Day was very surprising.

Osprey represents my 87th bird for Canons Farm & Banstead Woods. I wasn't expecting to get a very good patch tick while tending the stall!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Twice as nice

Isabelline Shrike

I nailed two good birds today thanks to Rob, who I met at Canterbury after getting the train from London Victoria. After about twenty minutes of waiting at the viewing mound at Grove Ferry we got reasonable flight views of the WILSON'S PHALAROPE as it surveyed the lake, very nearly landing in view (but ended up dropping down out of view in the corner). Other birds noted at Grove included Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Cetti's Warbler, Sand Martin and Marsh Harrier.

Isabelline Shrike

At 11.00am we left for Gosport for our next target but we were heavily delayed by about three bouts of nightmare traffic. On arrival it didn't look good; it was raining and people were standing ridicously close to the isolated area where the bird was staying. Then, Rob gave the shout 'I've got it, on the fence between the two bushes!' and I, and everyone else, was soon on the stonking adult female ISABELLINE SHRIKE (Daurian race isabellinus). The bird itself was quite obliging, staying put in relatively clear view for a good few minutes on both occasions that it showed it was just people's heads getting in the way that hindered my views. We then headed home, happy that we had seen two good birds in a day.

Many, many thanks Rob for your very generous lifts today!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Jynxed torquilla

I headed to St Margaret's at Cliffe today with Phil Wallace in the hope of finding our own Wryneck or Barred Warbler but the areas we searched were dead so we ended up twitching one of the former instead, at Samphire Hoe Country Park. No precise directions were given so we searched the site and found the Wryneck by the railway, the bird was elusive at first but eventually it gave itself up and showed well on the path about 50 metres away. But this tale does not end happily . . .

. . . other birders arrived and also got good views of the bird, only my second ever, then it chose a tragic time to fly across the railway . . . a train was oncoming at 70mph. I muttered to myself 'no no don't hit the train!', to me it looked like it just made it but others said they saw it collide with the corner of the train and everybody there heard a small 'bang' at that exact moment. We stayed around just in case the bird did miraculously scrape survival but it didn't show, it seems almost certain from what we saw and heard that the jynxed jynx torquilla did indeed meet its fate with EuroStar.

Being a softy I was quite upset and it ruined the day for me, one lady broke down in tears and it wasn't nice breaking the bad news to the excited newly arriving birders. R.I.P.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Patch continues good run

Common Redstart

I've had a good run of locally significant/noteworthy birds at the local patch in the last ten days with Common Quail, Golden Plover, Spotted Flycatcher, two Tree Pipits, a handful of Whinchats and Wheatears and a good few Yellow Wagtails; the former three being patch ticks.
This trend continued today when I followed up a 'huit' that sounded interesting. When the bird eventually showed itself I realised I was onto my much anticipated Common Redstart!

Common Redstart

I only had the bird in view for a few minutes as it was quite elusive and I needed to move on, because I was needed somewhere later that morning, but it was very satisfying to finally connect with one at Canons Farm. This is a bird that has surely passed through the area before but there are no official records, so this is the 104th bird for the site (not too bad if you consider it's inland, has received poor observer coverage and has hardly a drop of standing water) and my 86th.


The two Whinchats from yesterday were still present and a Yellow Wagtail flew over. When checking the Legal & General playing field I found another Yellow Wagtail amongst the Pieds, the first time I've seen one on the deck here.

Yellow Wagtail

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Grip & dip - London Tues 31 Aug

I arranged to spend the day birding at the London Wetland Centre with fellow young London birder Louis Freeland-Haynes. Starting just after opening time we went straight for the Dulverton Hide where little was noted other than Common Snipe and Peregrine. Suddenly the ducks and Lapwings got up and we instinctively checked the sky for raptors through the hide windows but we couldn't get on anything at all, we figured perhaps the Peregrine had dashed through. Upon leaving the hide we were greeted by that always gutting 'Did you see it?', we asked what the birder was referring to and he responded with 'Black Kite just flown over'. Our response mainly consisted of expletives and expression of our frustration that we thought a raptor had gone over but couldn't get on it.


Realising of course that this was just one of those things and we had to make the best of the day, we decided to go to the Peacock Tower to look for the Garganeys that had been reported recently. Scanning through the Teal, after dismissing a couple of strongly patterned individuals I got onto another bird which was instantly recognisable as a Garganey (London tick 194) and showed well. This is a bird I've missed in London several times.

some of the Ortolan dippers

News then broke on the pager of an Ortolan Bunting at Rainham so Louis and I jumped on the tube and were checking in within an hour and a half. After an expensive Broad-billed Sand dip followed by a frustating Red-necked Phal dip I was hoping that my recent bad twitching record for Essex would be broken, but it was not to be. As we arrived we came across a group of anxious birders and we joined them, everybody's anxiety turned into boredom and acceptance of a dip after a couple of hours and the crowd slowly disintergrated. Four Spotted Flycatchers were ample entertainment while we were waiting though. A quick check of the river before getting a lift back with Mike Spicer of Beddington produced nothing more than 18 Ringed Plovers and a Greenshank.

Spotted Flycatcher

So I missed two major London birds, one as it flew over me unawares and another by a pretty short margin (if we arrived about 20 minutes earlier, or less, we'd probably have got the Ortolan). Garganey's poor damage limitation but at least I got something out of the day.