Wednesday, 29 February 2012

I would walk five extra miles...

...for an insurance bird. Johnny picked me up from college early this afternoon and we headed to Whetsted Gravel Pits for the Hooded Merganser. I hadn't thought much about the bird until RBA put it out in capital letters and I wondered what the chances of it being a wild bird were. It got me thinking about how American wildfowl like Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and American Wigeon get through with few questions asked, put there seems to be a bit of an automatic dismissal of Hooded Merganser occurrences. Of course it's impossible to be entirely sure of the origins of birds like this, and you can either take the innocent until proven guilty approach, or throw them all out until a wild-ringed or isotope-tested bird makes itself available. I'll just go by what the BBRC decides, in order to keep my list consistent.
blue is the route that should have been taken; red is our magical mystery tour
We got to Five Oak Green without much trouble and found Moat Farm. The directions on the pager said 'take path from Moat Farm' so we followed the first path we came across for about two miles before we realised we'd gone wrong. We walked back to where we started and found another path which we followed, but along this one we took another wrong turning - it still took us to the correct spot but adding an extra couple of miles. By this time we were both thoroughly pissed off, it was pretty hot and I hadn't eaten or had a drink in hours. I worked out on Google Earth this evening that we walked about seven miles in total when we should have walked about two. On finding the right pit, we located the female HOODED MERGANSER - it dived frequently at first and the light was crap but after a few minutes it settled down and stayed about water for a while, preening and resting before resuming feeding. Didn't notice any rings and the wings looked alright - probably about as good as one will get in eastern England but I'll wait for the official decision on this bird before adding it to my list. If it acts like the 2005 Kent bird I can't see why it wouldn't get the rubber stamp, if the BBRC use constant criteria to assess each wildfowl record like this.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Bog dump bonanza

Great White Egret
Today at Beddington was fantastic! I arrived to meet Andrew Verrall who gave me the very exciting news that he'd had a Great White Egret on the main lake, but unfortunately it had flown off northish. I put it on the pager and tried my best to let local birders know; I thought it had probably long gone but suggested it would be worth a look at Jim's Pit on Hundred Acre. We walked up there and at first sight couldn't see it at all, then I picked the Great White Egret tucked up in vegetation in the far corner! I couldn't believe it was still there! We watched it for some time here, waiting anxiously for others to arrive, then a worker pulled up in his truck right by the pit and got out, flushing the bird. It looked as though it were leaving, gaining height, but it decided to have another go at the main lake and suddenly plummeted down there, just as Dodge had got onto it.
first-winter Glaucous Gull
second-winter Iceland Gull
It remained there long enough for four other birders to connect including, critically, Johnny, who I think wanted it more than anyone else after being on North Ronaldsay when the only other GWE was present for part of one morning (I saw with that bird with minutes to spare). It was an excellent visit with lots of other good birds: I picked out an adult Kittiwake as it dashed by; the first-winter Glaucous Gull that I'd been praying to see put in an appearance; three Curlews flew over; I saw three Iceland Gulls (a first-winter and two second-winters); the Water Rail showed well by the hide and Green Sandpiper and Common Snipe were noted.

The Kittiwake and the Glaucous Gull were London, Surrey, local area and Beddington ticks for me :-)

Super local birding!!!

Pagham Paddy again

I spend a good morning at Canons Farm yesterday in the company of Paul 'P-Go' Goodman, Phil Wallace and Linda Mount. Highlights included a female Peregrine, the first for the site of the year, and a female Stonechat (following a male the previous day, another first for the year). Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawks were in the air but it was difficult to know how many were around - a bare minimum of three and two respectively.
female Stonechat at Canons Farm
Phil and I left to pick up Alex Bowes and we shot down to Pagham Harbour - my companions hadn't yet seen the Paddyfield Warbler, even though Alex had narrowly dipped it twice. I fancied another look at it, anyway. I haven't been there many times at all but I really like Pagham Harbour - there was a good variety of waders present, including three Bar-tailed Godwits, a bird I don't see all that often when I think about it. Good numbers of Golden Plovers, too. The gathering of birders was a fair way further along the wall than last time and that the bird was in was a little denser but with patience some excellent views were had of the PADDYFIELD WARBLER. Not well enough for my cruddy 300mm spare and half-broken lens though!

Colin Manville's shot of the Paddyfield Warbler

Saturday, 18 February 2012


I was near The Scrub and contemplating aborting the visit as rain started to set in this afternoon when I picked up a beautiful and wholly unexpected pair of Red Kites as they slowly drifted past in the inclement weather. It started getting heavier and I called dad to see if he'd pick me up and give Holmethorpe a quick go before going home.
Red Kites
My main quarry was the Scaup - I'd gone to see what was probably the same bird a few weeks ago but opinion briefly swayed to it being a hybrid. I went to see it again anyway just in case it was a different bird. On arrival, the first bird that caught my eye was a large, white-winged first-winter gull. Its bill was reminiscent of Glaucous Gull but was 'dirty' and less clean-cut in appearance. Alas, it was a either a hybrid or a northern Herring Gull. I couldn't find it again when I went round to the other side of the lake to get a better look but I did succeed in picking out the first-winter drake Scaup - yay local area tick! It's an interesting bird, having a little extra but slightly faded black on the nail of the bill (which is the reason for questions being raised as to its purity) but apparently this is fine for a first-winter.
I had spoken to Graham James on the phone and he told me that Gordon Hay had had a second-winter Iceland Gull at Spynes Mere (EDIT: apparently an advanced first-winter). Neil Randon also texted me saying it was still present pretty recently so I dashed over there quickly, picking it out easily enough. Light was fading and I had been about an hour (which is the longest my dad wanted to wait) so made tracks. A good day of local birding.

second-winter Iceland Gull (EDIT: apparently an advanced 1w)

Friday, 17 February 2012

Boney bonus

Today was amazing. I left early with Ian and we arrived at Rhiwderyn with little problem, in the hope of seeing the Common Yellowthroat. The twitch seemed to have a good turn out, with the field turned car park hosting dozens of cars, and lots of familiar faces knocking about. It seemed there was free range over the fields that the bird had been frequenting, and people were spread out. Ian and I covered a part of hedgerow that no-one else was watching. We waited half an hour or more then there was the tell tale mas scrum in an adjacent field. I dropped everything and ran like the wind but was still too late. Another twenty minutes or so and nothing - then another shout from further up. Ran up there and it looked like it was going to come to nothing again but soon the COMMON YELLOWTHROAT flew up, then back, then up and so on a few times. After this went on a little while I eventually saw the little beaut perched up for a second or so, getting the mask well. It disappeared, and the shout went up again fifty yards or so down the hedge. Everyone scrummed but I could see a pattern of people stampeding and the bird moving emerging so took it a bit more calmly. I did see it even better a little later on a couple of times. A really nice one.
My photo was too awful to keep on here, so here's a neat shot kindly provided by Colin Manville
Having spent about three hours there and both seen it well, we made tracks for Cosmeston Lakes which was a nice setup. They did quite good chips and while we were scanning the west lake, two birders called us over after they picked the smart drake LESSER SCAUP out nearby at the west end of the east lake. It showed well and was a prim bird; great to finally see one after dipping a couple! On the way back we noticed a ringed Whooper Swan (Y59) within slapping distance by the boardwalk.
Lesser Scaup
Whooper Swan
Wicked. Next, Cardiff for the adult Bonaparte's Gull that had been seen recently. It was a nightmare finding an access point to the coast near the heliport but eventually we found an unofficial method of entry in a quiet corner of an industrial estate. We were the only birders there. There were good numbers of Pintails and Shelducks, plus a few Shovelers and a reasonable gathering of Black-headed Gulls. We kept scanning the gulls but there was nothing for ages, until an adult Med Gull put in an appearance.

More gulls gathered as the tide rose and the day went on but there was still no sign of our quarry and we were losing hope. Ian went further down the path to try to find more gatherings of gulls. As I was scanning, my eye was drawn to a first-winter gull, much smaller than the Black-headeds. It had a fine black bill and a grey wash to the nape - I was getting pretty excited and took some shots, one happened to be at the right moment when the bird opened its wings. This revealed a very neat dark trailing edge and a clean white underwing. OK, this was looking very much like a first-winter BONAPARTE'S GULL - a new bird (the one that had been present previously being an adult)!!! I rang Ian and after a few minutes he returned, we double checked it and put the news out. GET IN!!! Fancy that, dipping a rare bird but finding another individual in exactly the same place... and my third lifer of the day and my best ever self found bird!
showing the characteristic wing
grey nape, darker upperparts, thin dark bill and short pink legs visible here
good comparison with 1w Black-headed Gull - so much smaller!
After enjoying the bird for nearly an hour, it flew (giving wonderful comparison with Black-headed Gulls) and we headed off home. Cheers Ian

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Lesser spot

Today I finally saw another Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on the patch, a lovely male near Piddly Pond that showed for quite a long time as it fed, seemingly oblivious to my presence. My only ever record of one this year is a heard-only at Pages Acre and that was the first time one had made my notebook since the pair I was monitoring fledged their young at the end of last May.

Lesser Peckers are amongst my all time favourite birds; I will never tire of watching them and feel very priveleged to have a good population on my patch. I find it amazing how they succeed in making themselves virtually undetectable apart from during their 'noisy season' which lasts from late February till early April. In fact, in this period of time they can be very obvious and you wonder how on earth you've not been seeing them for months on end.

Monday, 6 February 2012


I enjoyed my usual Monday morning visit to Beddington today with a good variety of gulls present. The highlights included self-finding a new adult Caspian Gull and seeing a first-winter plus good views of one of the second-winter Iceland Gulls, as well as an adult Yellow-legged Gull. I had a walk around the mound and picked up a close fly-by pair of Curlews that appeared to drop down but couldn't be found again.

second-winter Iceland Gull
adult Caspian Gull
first-winter Caspian Gull
adult Yellow-legged Gull
'Snowy' the leucistic Black-headed Gull

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Paddy power

Just got back from an enjoyable day with Ian twitching the Parrot Crossbill at Black Down NT and PADDYFIELD WARBLER at Pagham Harbour. Both were successful, as you already know by my bolding up and redding of the birds' names, plus the crappy photos at the top of this post. It was nice seeing a singing Woodlark, about thirty Common Crossbills and a decent number of Siskins at Black Down while Pagham was also notable for a nice selection of saltmarsh birds (including a flock of around two thousand Brent Geese) and Water Rails a plenty. Very glad to get the two target birds out of the way before the deluge of snow.

I know some people aren't entirely convinced that other options haven't been ruled out for the crossbill, but it's on my list for now!

Heading out to Canons now for a bit of the local birding action that's been going on in my area today...

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Getting chilly

Not a lot been happening in the last week. It's got a little cold, I've flushed a few Woodcocks in Banstead Woods, seen a first-winter Caspian Gull at Beddington and been doing a couple of exams at college. So not anything high-octane. Hopefully gonna try for the Parrot Crossbill and Paddyfield Warbler at the weekend, but unless I was having nightmares I believe I was told it's going to get very cold and very snowy bt then. Give it a shot anyway.

Today was quite interesting in that I had a very quick wander around part of Morden Park just before a biology exam. I heard a Reed Bunting calling and saw it well, a female, in a bush next to me for a little while until it flew off into a wooded area. I wasn't expecting that! Not too bad for a typical manicured London park.