Sunday, 25 September 2011

25 Yanks, 7 lifers...6 days (part 1)

Myself and Josh Jones had planned on heading back to Ireland in September, well pretty much since we left there this time last year. As the departure date got closer, excitement and expectation levels increased, as low after low came across the Atlantic depositing a very healthy number of nearctic waders across the western extremities of the British Isles. The ferry was booked, all that needed to happen was for us to leave. Then, whilst walking round Flamborough, Black-and-White Warbler broke, the day before departue. A few calls later, the ferry had been pushed back a night, and changed to Fishguard-Rosslare. I met Josh mid-afternoon on Sunday to make a leisurely way down to Cornwall, stopping off in Lydney, Glos to have a look for the Spotted sand. Unfortunately we got there a bit late, no-one was around, the directions weren't entirely clear, and there was a huge amount of riverbank to search, so we missed it. It didn't really dampen our spirits, and we pulled in at Drift reservoir for a few hours kip, nervous and expectant at the thought of an excellent few hours on Scilly (and in my case, with a degree of nervousness about getting seasick on the Scillonian). The weather was pretty crap at dawn, but we still headed off down to the end of Drift at first light in the fog and drizzle to get a glimpse of our first Yank of the trip, the juv Lesser Yellowlegs doing what Yellowlegs do and mooching round the edge of the reservoir, looking pretty tame. We didn't have much time to hang about tho, as we needed to buy tickets for the crossing. By midday, we found ourselves in St.Mary's harbour, after a blissfully sickness free trip, picking up a Leach's petrel on the way across as a yeartick. Garry Bagnell kindly offered us a couple of spaces on the taxi he had booked, and we agrees that we should go to Newford duckpond for the briefest of looks for the Solitary Sand, before heading off to Lower Moors for the warbler. When we arrived, the taxi promptly departed for another fare, and with the Solitary Sand absent we were left to watch the Blue-winged Teal Ash Howe had found at the weekend squirm around in the mud, feeding constantly, only a few feet away. A very different experience to the one at Wheldrake. After about 10 minutes, another taxi appeared and we jumped in and headed off to Lower Moors. We had a wade through the mud on the side of the path, and headed in to a swamp filled with 30+ birders looking for the warbler and the waterthrush. It had become apparent that the waterthrush was far from pinned down, and that I could easily spend all of the 4 precious hours I had on the island waiting for it to show without success, so I decided to concentrate my efforts on the other birds on the island that would be lifers for me. After about 10 minutes of running, pishing and stalking through the Lower Moors rainforest, the Black and White warbler gave itself up, a truly stunning little bird. Pictures really don't do the bird justice, like the parula last year, it really seemed to glow in the dark and damp of the woodland. After getting good views of our main target, myself and Josh walked on to the Garrison and Lower Broome platform, which was only populated by only 3 other birders, a pleasant change to the slightly cramped Lower Moors. I picked up the Red-eyed Vireo, and it showed fantastically well, sitting out in the open for prolonged periods before crashing off to pick up more shield bugs to eat, then popping out again. We then shared a taxi with Will Soar and Stu Piner, and headed back up to Newford duck pond. By this stage, the Sandpiper had come on the pagers as showing at project pool, so we had the briefest of looks for the Bee-eater (fail), whilst Will and Stu enjoyed the teal, then headed back to Dump Clump. At the pool, the Solitary sand was showing incredibly well, showing down to just a few metres (unfortunately my camera was on the wrong setting, hence the blue appearance). We then returned to Lower Moors for a second crack at the warbler, this time getting even better, more prolonged views. With all the species we expected to see in the bag, with crippling views to boot, we chilled out, chatted a bit, and wandered down to the ISBG hide to check out the Pec. On my way to catch up with Josh, who had gone on ahead, I realised that somehow it was already 4pm! We needed to check in at the harbour in ten minutes at the latest, and it was at least a 20 minute walk. I dashed in to the hide to get Josh, glanced at the head and breast of a Pec sand buried in vegetation, and sprinted up to the road. A local was driving, thumbs out, and miraculously the car stopped and gave us a lift all the way to the quay! We boarded with time to spare, and I enjoyed a few decent seabirds on the crossing back (60+ Stormies, 3 Balearics, 3 Sooties and 15+Common Dolphins) while Josh kipped in preparation for the dash round to Fishguard in time for the 02:45 ferry. Day 1: 6 Yanks, 3 lifers to be continued....

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A cracking day

...followed by a weekend of dross.

But still, Friday was a very good day. I had a six hour dawn survey, beginning at 6am, at a site in north(ish) North Yorkshire. Normally these surveys drag a bit, with hours passing without seeing a recordable bird, or getting excited about a single feral Greylag at a miles range that can be recorder. Not this time however, with wader action coming thick and fast, lots of autumnal flocks of the commonest waders, plus a migratory Dunlin, a White Wag on the deck, and a fair few passerines on the move overhead, with hundreds of hirundines hawking around. All of this would have been enough to make the morning pass fast enough, and lead to a good day, but to top the survey off, after returning from an enforced hours break, an Osprey was circling over site, before heading off at about 10:30ish.

During the break, I had recieved a call from Tim Jones about the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that had been found in Gretham Creek. We made plans to meet up in Northallerton at the end of my survey, and sure enough, despite Tim hitting some rough traffic on the way up, we were under way by 14:30. I wasn't particularly optimistic, with the bird having gone missing once already, and it apparently being very flighty. It was with great surprise and relief then that we rocked up in Cleveland to people walking away from site, looking pretty happy and reporting the bird as still there. Five minutes later, we were watching a stonker of a summer-plumages ST Sand at about 70m range, showing off a fantastic array of plumage features. I will at some stage try and upload my field notes, which completely fail to do it justice, but they are full of outrageous comparisons, from Stilt Sand through Ruff to Pec. An all brown wader never looked so good. Sadly, its absence on Saturday came as no surprise, with it being very flighty and not particularly happy associating with the Dunlin flock. There were a few Curlew Sands and Ruff around, allowing for further comparison to a few common species.

We carried on to Whitburn, in the hope of getting Tim another multiple tick day, but sadly neither the AGP or Bonapartes Gull felt like co-operating, the highlight being an interesting small gull, that I think is a Med Gull x BH Gull hybrid, and Tim thought was a slightly abherrent Med Gull (although he may have returned to sitting on the fence by now).

After such a good day, the weekend had a lot to live up to, which it spectacularly failed to do. Saturday I headed over to Flamborough, a bit late on in the morning admittedly, and had a wander round Old Fall and the Gorse field. This produced a dozen odd phylloscs and a Spot Fly. Then spent 30 minutes looking for a slightly suppressed RB Fly, before giving up and having a look round Holmes Gut. After not seeing another bird, I gave up in disgust and went home.

Sunday wasn't much better, but at least involved less petrol. A trip to Wheldrake resulted in little more than a new found appreciation of Wheldrake when there is actually water there. In fact, I got so bored, I started to learn stuff about common birds, disgusting. If you're interested, the amount of orange on Teal's beaks is quite important in ageing and sexing them. There was a 2y male and a juv Marsh Harrier buzzing about as well. I then headed on to North Duff, again no water, and again another juv Marsh Harrier and not a lot else. A wandering route home meant that I (independently) bumped in to the same gull flock Russ had, this time with just the one YL Gull in it, near East Cottingwith, as a mild bit of interest to round off a niceish weekend.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Early Autumn update

Haven't posted in a while, partly because with the new job I haven't had as much time to write rubbish blogposts, and partly because I haven't had as much time to be a rubbish birder.

Anyway, in terms of actually finding stuff for myself, the summer has been pretty uneventful. I added Quail to my self-found list (as has everyone in the country I think), and found some breeding Nightjar near Harrogate, and a pair of HB's at a new location in the New Forest(for myself at least, I'm fairly sure the locals know about them). Twitching was also fairly uneventful, with new birds in the form of a long overdue WR Sand at Saltholme, and a hugely distant and hazy Stilt sand at Lodmoor RSPB. A return trip to Salthome a bit later gave nice comparisons of the back and tail of a Semi-P with a Temminck's Stint(the Semi-P was being thoroughly crap and not coming out from behind the causewy at all). I probably saw more stuff, but I was presumably so un-enamoured with it that I can't remember them.

But now Autumn has started, the blood is up again, and the first trip in anger was had, down to Cornwall for a spot of seawatching on August bank holiday weekend. In hindsight, I clearly chose the wrong weekend, and sat in the wrong location in Cornwall pretty much everytime I moved, but these things can't be helped. I console myself with the thought that I was at least out in the field seeing birds rather than sat at home on my arse, despite the trip having cost me 150 quid+ with only 1 very crap tick to show for it,despite the weather, time of year and location promising a whole lot more.

Thursday night saw me and Tim heading down from York at 7pm, aiming to get a little sleep in PG car park before dawn. As we hit Cornwall, a storm was brewing, wth immense lightning flashes over Dartmoor and Bodmin, promising a good seawatch ahead. As dawn broke, Ash Howe and Joe Stockwell pulled into the car park, and we headed for Gwennap head. The day started well at PG, with 3 Great Shears, 10+ stormies mooching, and our best counts of Balearics for the weekend. In the afternoon, we moved on to Pendeen as the wind had switched a bit, and arrived to the impressive site of thousands of Manxies streaming past, with good numbers of Sooties caught up with them. However, I found it more of a struggle to get on birds from here with the higher elevation, and missed all 3 of the large shearwaters that were called out, which resulted in a rather bad tempered seawatch on my part. A couple of Basking sharks thrashing around went some way to cheering me up a bit.

Saturday saw more of the same off Pendeen, with large numbers of Manxies and a good passage of skuas as well, which included 3 poms, including one stunning intermediate morph bird with full spoons just beyond the rocks. (Joe and Ash missed most of the moring, including that Pom, through a combination of sleeping, getting breakfast, and generally being a bit dudey). By about half 11 the passage had dried up, and we headed down to the Hayle, where we found (at least we didn't know of their existence before we rocked up) a Little Stint and a Curlew Sand, along with about half a dozen Med Gulls of varying ages. We headed to Long Rock, full of sunbathers, holidaymakers and a few definitelynotstrungasapurplesandcostheyweresatonrocksinmountsbay Knot, where we got a call from Ash to say the Black Kite had been seen again on the Lizard. We headed off to see the bird, and I picked it up briefly dropping down behind a house in the direction of Lizard point. Unfortunately the others wouldn't leave with only 3 second, head on views of a Black Shite (in fact, didn't even believe I had identified it), so I wasted at least half an hour of seawatching time watching the most boring raptor in the world fly around a field eating a vole, whilst locals and holidaymakers borrowed our bins and said stupid things like 'isn't it beautiful' and 'look how big it is'.
We headed back to pendeen, to hear we had missed about 3 manx shearwaters, and continued to see about 3 more for the rest of the afternoon. then we went to the pub and drank Rattler. After the Pom, that was probably the highlight.

On Sunday we got up, I chucked some grass in a north easterly direction, and we drove to PG. Quickly realising I am an idiot, and cannot tell which way the wind is blowing, we headed back to pendeen (but not before logging a few Sooties)and didn't see a lot from there either, the highlight of an otherwise quiet morning being an adult Sabs Gull picked up by Brett. By (sometime before) midday it had gone dead again, so the three others went to string stuff at Drift whilst I slept. None of us were particularly succesful. An afternoon session off PG was more fun, with a steady drip of Sooties and skuas keeping us in good humour, with Joe being a wuss and staying down in the cove (but still managing to see roughly the same birds). The highlight was an adult Roseate tern which we succesfully picked out, despite the obvious skepticism of the Seawatch SW observer, who missed it, picked it up late, then sounded very doubtful about its identity. We were very pleased to have it confirmed later by Brett and Joe who had watched it at much closer range as it had passed the Cove.

On Monday, the wind had completely died, so we sacked of seawatching, Tim dragged me down to Devon kicking and screaming, to sit in Bank Holiday traffic round Paignton and eventually look at a few partially concealed Cirl Bunts in a hedge in Broadstairs car park (tart tick number 3 for Tim). We split from Ash and Joe who headed back to watch woodpeckers in Hants, whilst we continued on to stare at a reedbed in Somerset (Meare Heath). The pool in front of the reeds had a couple of Garganey, a Spotshank, a few Greensands and other bits and bobs that made for a pleasant few hours unsuccesful wait. I wandered down to Noah's lake to watch an osprey sit on a large stick, and I'm told that if there had been space in the hide for me to turn my head, I could have seen a Great White Egret (which Tim promptly ticked on my return to Spotted Crake watch). There wasn't, so I didn't, and a chat with Dan Pointon, sheer laziness and a pressing engagement with a 6 hour drive all conspired to stop me returning to the hide for a second attempt to see one of the largest and most obvious birds on the British list.

Overall, it wasn't a bad weekend, with some very good birds seen. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, it is the story of what might have been that means it was not a pleasant an experience as it might have been otherwise. On the Saturday, we (and everyone else watching) missed what seems to be a very dodgy claim of Yelkouan Shear, on the Sunday, we missed a close in Little Shear (that passed PG cove whilst we were watching from Gwennap) last thing in the evening, partly because we had decided passage was done for the day despite all evidence to the contrary, and because we were looking to far out at Sooties, despite repeated warnings from regulars that the biggies pass close in. It was even worse for Joe, who had left the cove ten minutes before it was seen, due to another pressing engagement with a nap. On the same evening, one of our number (who shall remain unnamed *cough* hants birder *cough* Cockram *cough* failed to mention an unidentified bird which possibly/probably got picked up and seen on Scilly the next day, until we reached the pub that night. A few days (one??) after, a Baird's was found on the Hayle, and this week, record numbers of Great Shears and Balearics went past. Overall, these cast a bit of a shadow on our trip, but at least we saw the birds we did, better than being stuck in front of the TV any day of the week.

The big question is, with more weather fronts piling in to the Uk over the next few weeks, where to head to next? My money's on NW Ireland, where I fully expect to find myself, hopefully finding, not twitching, before September is out.