Sunday, 25 September 2011

Two more yanks . . .

Sandhill Crane

. . . but please no more for a little while, it's too much! I've got things to be getting on with so won't write a lot. I got the train to Sheffield on Friday night, from which the journey continued with Oliver Metcalf. As we were approaching the site news came through that the bird had just been relocated (having gone A.W.O.L. for an hour or so), we couldn't get there quick enough. It apparently gone behind a hay bale but, a couple of minutes later, Britain's third SANDHILL CRANE launched itself into the air and flew low past us, calling. Utterly brilliant!

Black Scoter (left) with Common Scoter

After a light lunch we got further views of the bird, this time on the deck, and then made our way back, calling in at the scoter flock a few miles down the coast en route. The presence of the Sandhill Crane nearby meant this was a perfect time to look for our quarry because of the increased number of people looking. It wasn't long before the adult drake BLACK SCOTER was picked up and showed in good light relatively close in.

Britain Life List: 319

Friday, 23 September 2011

Scilly twitch

News of a mouth watering selection of rarities on Scilly grew until I could no longer make excuses for not going. This was an opportunity not to be missed and, I feel, missing two days of college was a small sacrifice. Dad kindly dropped me off at Paddington at 11.15pm on Tuesday night and the Riveria Night Sleeper set off for Penzance half an hour later. I soon realised that I wasn't going to be able to sleep on a chair so when a berth became available I didn't mind parting with a bit of extra cash. The rocking of the train was rather effective at nodding one off but the walls separating the chambers seemed to amplify the noises coming from next door and I heard every detail of a crisp packet opening. Then the regae began . . .

Basking Shark

Arriving just before 8.00am, I had plenty of time to collect my ticket for the Scillonian III and board comfortably before it set off at 9.15am. Here I met a chap called Adam, with whom I spent a lot of my time on the trip. The highlight of the crossing was three Basking Sharks following the Cornish coast.

Baltimore Oriole

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

The first port of call for Adam and I was The Garrison where we eventually found the right spot and almost instantly connected with the 1st-winter female BALTIMORE ORIOLE. We got good views for little more than a minute before it flew off, not to be seen again for a few hours. With other birds to see we made tracks to Lower Moors, bumping into three happy birders on the way who reported getting good views of the Black-and-white Warbler twenty minutes previously. After wading through a selection of nearly knee-deep stagnant pools we staked the bird out but had no luck.

Solitary Sandpiper


We decided to cut our losses after a while and head further north. We had no luck with the Bee-eater at Borough Farm nor the Blue-winged Teal at Newford Duckpond but at the latter site got about the best views one could ever get of the SOLITARY SANDPIPER. After feeding it rested and allowed me to get three feet away from it, and that is truly no exaggeration at all. Conservative, even. It was getting late in the day so we thought the pool behind the dump would be the most appropriate place to situate ourselves. We staked out the pool till dark with several others with no luck. It was looking like I was going to dip both of the New World Warblers and began to lose my cool.


Northern Waterthrush

Up bright and breezy yesterday (Thursday) morning for another stake-out at the pool. It was getting lighter by the minute and I was convinced we weren't going to get the bird. Then, a small brown bird landed on the island ten to fifteen feet away - it was the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH!!! Cheers all round and an immense sense of relief for me, and I'm sure everyone else. A birder from the previous night arrived and got the bird but his friend was a couple of minutes behind. It flew off seconds before he arrived. Fortunately, it came through on the pager half an hour later that it was showing again but that must have been one awful half an hour for him.

The rest of the day was mainly spent looking for the Black-and-white Warbler, again with no luck. A little walk for the Bee-eater in between was unsuccessful but when back at Lower Moors we heard the bird flying overhead. A couple of birders got onto it very high up but didn't make that clear so I didn't see it. Bugger, that would have been a lifer. Time ran out, inevitably, and I reluctantly made my way to the quay.

Grey Phalaropes

The crossing back was better. The highlights were three Grey Phalaropes which landed right by the boat, and a Balearic Shearwater. A couple of Bonxies and an Arctic Skua were also seen. A Minke Whale breached five times but I couldn't see it, not that it was particularly small or anything.

Balearic Shearwater

I arrived back at Paddington this morning and dad brought me back home, I had a few hours to spare before returning to college and sleep wasn't likely so I've been doing this. A productive and enjoyable trip with good company. I'm not worried about missing ticks like Blue-winged Teal and Bee-eater but I am a bit miffed about missing the Black-and-white Warbler and a bit less so about a couple of Red-eyed Vireos with which I failed to connect.

I hope no-one from college reads this . . .

Britain Life List: 317

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Hurry for a harrier

I've been highly tempted by the prospect of a trip getting me four British ticks (including two mega New World warblers) but the main problem is, if I did go ahead with it and something really killer turns up (which it's looking like it might) then I will have no funds to twitch it. I suppose it's best to forget a couple of birds I may have to wait another decade or so for and therefore avoid doing myself out of something that I may never get back. Still, Northern Waterthrush and Black-and-white Warbler are two rarities that have always been near the top of my wanted list and it's painful to see them keep coming up on the pager.

This morning didn't quite go to plan but I ended up at Colne Point in Essex with Phil mid morning. After about twenty minutes we got good views of the juvenile PALLID HARRIER fly past and into the distance, never to be seen again. A nice bird (of course), I just wish it showed for the friends of mine who, regrettably, arrived a bit too late.

After staking it out for another two hours, with no further sign, an Icterine Warbler at Minsmere sounded tempting so we headed that way. No sign in an initial search so we popped into a nearby hide where we became distracted by a Pectoral Sandpiper that I picked out. Apparently it had been seen earlier in the day but I had received no messages about it on my pager (signal was dodgy) so it was a complete surprise for me when that wandered into my scope! A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was the best of the rest and it was a shock to see the escaped Greater Flamingo remaining on the scrape.

Britain Life List: 314

Saturday, 17 September 2011

My new life

Well I've had a fortnight of it now, full time education that is. It has been a right slog and obviously my birding has suffered. I've managed to visit Canons for at least a couple of hours almost daily but have been struggling to keep cfbwbirds up to date and have fallen behind in maintaining the patch database and my personal logbook. It's all been for very little, too. Most of the time spent at college has been 'get to know your neighbour', 'what do you already know about the subject?' and 'go and create a monster PowerPoint presentation that we may or may not ask you to present, but you'd better do it because if you don't, and we do happen to check, you're in for it'.

Scilly apart, a Pallid Harrier in Essex was highly tempting. Ian had to go to a football match and Phil couldn't make it. I really wasn't in the mood for phoning around other birders desperately trying to find someone whom I could persuade to make the journey, so I asked dad if he could take me. Just after he picked me up, I realised it wasn't where I stupidly thought it was (near Tilbury), it was near Clacton-on-Sea!!! An hour there now two and a half, add the return and that's five hours. Understandably he didn't want to go that far in the afternoon and it drained my enthusiasm for the idea, too, so I suggested Queen Mother Reservoir instead.

So, after today with all these lovely rarities around the splurge in the attached phone-scoped piece of crap is what I have to show for this autumn day - it is a Manx Shearwater at Queen Mother Reservoir. Thousands upon thousands of House Martins and Swallows moved through Canons today, most of the count courtesy of Roy. Canons is due a half decent (twitchable) bird, and I'm due a British tick. Tomorrow?

Thursday, 8 September 2011


It was one of my early finishes today so I was at Canons Farm from early afternoon. I stopped at the Watchpoint to have lunch and, after finishing my sandwiches, was thinking of moving on when I got a tweet from Johnny Allan: he'd just had an Osprey go south at Beddington. I knew that anything heading over south from there would go roughly over Coulsdon. This is too distant to pick up waders or terns but gulls, Common Buzzards, geese and Grey Herons etc can be made out clearly heading over the ridge there. In theory, I thought, I should see this bird.

So I scanned the other side of the valley intently. For a while the only things I could see that even vaguely recalled Osprey were Common Buzzards. I was starting to think it was getting on a bit for it to fly by but I noticed a large, long-winged raptor drifting slowly south; it was the Osprey! Brilliant!!! I watched it for three or so minutes before losing it behind some trees. Very happy, I was. The three Whinchats were still knocking about today.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 100 (85 at this point last year)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Perfect send off

Reed Warbler

It doesn't usually work like this, but today was one of those days when everything just seemed to fall in my favour. This weekend, it has been almost like the patch has known I am being called elsewhere and my coverage of the site will, very sadly, have to fall significantly. Yesterday was fantastic with top views of three Spotted Flycatchers, a nice Grasshopper Warbler and plenty of birders on site offering top class company but today was even better.

It started slowly with no sign of the Spotted Flycatchers at Circle Field, but a calling Tawny Owl nearby (which I failed to see). Roy arrived and we had a bit of a skywatch before heading for The Scrub. Rain stopped us at Lunch Wood and, after hearing a Tree Pipit and enjoying two Whinchats at Broadfield, we thought the most comfortable and productive thing to do would be to return to our skywatch vigil. We were only a third of the way back when Roy picked up a Common Snipe whizzing past us! This, along with Curlew, is the hardest of the recorded waders at the patch and a very welcome year tick for me as well as a good patch tick for Roy.

Common Snipe

Little was moving in the sky but we roughed it and stayed put. When the rain eased off I saw a warbler fly into a nearby bush but couldn't get another view of it and dismissed it as probably a Common Whitethroat. A while later we saw it fly into a bush on the other side of the path and, honest to god, I joked to Roy 'now wouldn't it be great if it were a Reed Warbler'. I don't know what made me say that, I've never said that before, perhaps when I saw it flying my brain subconsciously identified the bird - bloody weird. Seconds later it popped out '**** me, it is a Reed Warbler!!!'. It dived down and I started to doubt my relatively brief view; had I really just seen that? Was I getting carried away after my comment?

The wait was long and tense but the bird showed again and was indeed a Reed Warbler. I snapped away and one of the results is shown here. We were both delighted. A minute or so later and Ian 'Scarecrow' arrived and, very luckily, saw the bird quickly before it vanished. Three Swifts and four Meadow Pipits then flew over and we were reluctant to leave but had to.

A first for CFBW and a very good year tick, what a way to end a brilliant six months of non-stop birding. They have probably been the most enjoyable six months of my life so far and I thank all the birds and birders who have made them so. It ain't over, though; despite my return to full time education tomorrow I will still manage to visit the patch a lot. I'm certainly in a better position than I was this time last year seeing as I have two 12.30pm finishes and one 11.00am start. This allows three weekdays where the patch can be done to some degree even in the depths of winter, whereas I couldn't do any weekdays in the darker months at my previous college.

More at cfbwbirds

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 107
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 99 (85 at this point last year)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Not one, but three, Spotted

Spotted Flycatcher

This morning, I flushed CFBW's third Grasshopper Warbler of the autumn shortly after arriving. I had a walk around 'The Magic Box' (a name I've just invented for the squarish route through the most rewarding zone of the patch). I thought the misty conditions may have increased the number of gulls present at Legal & General and therefore made the possibility of a Yellow-legged or Med greater, so included this on my walk. There were more Black-headed Gulls than usual and a handful of Herring Gulls (the count on a usual bright day is zero) but no firsts for the patch.

I made my way back to see if the Gropper was showing and came across Factor who was staking it out, after dipping the other recent bird four times. No sign, and Factor headed to Barnes. Ten minutes later I got a call from Paul 'P-Go' Goodman:

'I've got two Spotted Flycatchers!'
'Gah! Where!?!?'
'where the horses are'

Luckily, the Gropper site was within a two minute trolley drag of the birds and I got onto them in a tall tree before they flew off. Factor turned up again, following a phone call, and we got a couple of glimpses of the birds before they vanished once more. Factor then had another mosey around Circle Field and found them both, they then showed into the afternoon; Ian arrived and was very pleased. I savoured them for a good while and realised they were joined by a third bird (at one point all were in one scope view)! Spot Fly was Roy's 94th CFBW tick but Mark Stanley arrived later in the afternoon and failed to locate any of them.

Spotted Flycatcher

It was a real treat to see a trio of this declining but energetic bird on the patch. Here's hoping a Pied joins them tomorrow!

More pics at the cfbwbirds gallery.