Friday, January 10, 2014

Americano to take away

Took my first flight in five years today and day tripped the American Coot at Loch Flemington near Inverness. I had a bit of history that had to be settled with this species, I missed the long stayer at Stodmarsh, Kent in April 1996 as I was on a rock in the North Sea for 6 months. Then in 1999 I was within striking distance of the only other bird since, a one day only at South Walney, but frustratingly I was in a work car, so didn't do it (did get Crag Martin the next day though !). Thanks to the kindness of Highland birder Peter Stronach I was watching the Americano within 15 minutes of landing at Inverness today. It could not have worked any better, got off the plane Peter met me and hey presto the only Coot on the Loch, showing well. We watched the bird with just six other birders for over two hours, very interesting behaviour, much more Moorhen like, diving for weed then cruising back to the mass of floating vegetation on the bank, climbing and clambering out, running inland and placing the weed in the same spot, over and over - almost nest building ? Nice back up of Whoopers, Long tailed Ducks, Scaup and a Slav. Whilst the bird remains with the weed in the small bay it will be easy, should it go walkabouts then it might get much harder. THE only way you will get the bird to approach to within 20ft at times is if you stay in your cars, otherwise it remains at 50-100ft distance.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 the year that was

The Buckton year started off in spectacular fashion with this obliging Bittern found on the scrape at mid day on April 7th by John Goleby. Being at home at the time, there was only one thing for it, straight in the car, a three hour drive and hope it remained for the afternoon. Bittern is a mega bird at Buckton and this is not a record that will be repeated in a long time! The bird was almost certainly of continental origin having wintered in the UK and was on its way back over the North Sea, the fact that it chose our little scrape to rest for a few hours could never have been predicted when we started digging in 2009. It also shows that even a very small amount of wetland habitat in an otherwise arable desert will pull in birds, a lesson for the future here. On  this same day Geoff Carr and John Beaumont had a fly-over Crane and two Red Kites!

In recent years in suitable conditions March and April have produced a number of wandering coastal Red Kites in East Yorkshire, so after missing the two birds on the 'Bittern day' I was determined to find my own patch bird. Long predicted and much needed, I was over-joyed to pick one up low over Buckton Hall on April 21st, on a day when a number of other kites were seen moving through the region, particularly by Mark Pearson at Filey. Although I was viewing from about half a mile range from the cliff top, the bird appeared to be continuously dropping over a section of farmland, I quickly drove to the spot and amazingly found the kite sat in the middle of the coast road, feeding on a dead pheasant!

One species I have always wanted to find at Buckton is Bluethroat.  In the last twenty five years it has completely changed its status from a regular spring fall migrant to being very rare and statistically more likely to be found in September. This has not stopped me from purposefully being present at Buckton on any suitable days with rain and east winds from mid May onwards. We had just arrived at Buckton around mid-night on May 17th when news of a Dusky Thrush broke in Kent. An impossible situation, which would require a at least a six hour drive back in the direction we had just come from and a long explanation to the kids who were looking forward to the beach. Stay put, try even harder, nothing else for it. The 18th dawned with a cold east wind and driving rain as predicted, peering through the foggy caravan windows I was willing it to stop, it did at 11am. Ten minutes later I was stood at the viewing screen overlooking the scrape when a small bird caught my eye, flitting around on the waters edge, it turned sideways and immediately displayed a large pale supercillia- my first patch Bluethroat and almost a mile inland! Cue celebrations and sharing with other local birders. It remained all day, often using the same patch of juncus sedge that had hidden the Bittern a month before, a habitat theme occurring here.

For a long time Thrush Nightingale has been the commonest species I have not seen in the UK, I have been for a few but never had much luck, I even heard the one at Minsmere but didn't see it ! So when news broke of one showing very well out in the open at Hartlepool Headland and still being up at Buckton, I just had to go. This capped of a great weekend for chats along with the Bluethroat. It was present in a small area of green space on the headland and was exceptionally showy by Sprosser standards, feeding in the open on the ground near a few ornamental bushes. It was also good to enjoy this bird and catch up with my ex-Farne Islands stalwart Stef McElwee. Who needs a Dusky Thrush ! (me!).

The next new bird literally came as a bolt from the blue or more appropriately black. A rather lazy Saturday morning on June 15th suddenly turned in to mad frantic panic. I casually logged on to read bird messages and read 'PACIFIC SWIFT still showing well' - what ? I scrolled up the list to see it written numerous times, it had been present in Suffolk for over 2 hours and I had been blissfully unaware.... Cue headless chicken, running around grabbing random things, shouting and then eventually us all piling in to the car and heading east. On arrival I was greeted by birders leaving who told me it was a 50 minute walk to the nature reserve pool over which it was still feeding with a large group of Common Swifts. I ditched my scope and began running with bins and camera. I soon realised that I wasn't very fit ! I worked a routine of running hard for five solid minutes and then walking for two. In 25 minutes the crowd of birders were in view but the bird was still a few minutes away due to the snaking arrangement of the seawall. I arrived, barely able to breath or hold my bins. After calming down I had great views of this mega rare Asian arrowhead, scything scimitar like over the coastal pool flashing its tipex-white rump. This bird brought enormous pleasure to the thousands who saw it, constituting the first UK record multi-observer record in 25 years. The only downside, the walk back and the fact that the sky was now black, it rained harder than I have ever known in my entire life for the full 40 minutes, on reaching the car I didn't have one item of clothing that was dry, but I was very happy !

In a summer where blocking birds just kept falling, the next was Bridled Tern, a beautiful dusky tern normally found in subtropical waters and not the Farne Islands in Northumbria!. I was returning from a work visit advising on the protection of the Red-backed Shrikes breeding on Dartmoor when news broke. I was at least 500 miles away at that point but barely 12 hours later I was sat on the quay at Seahouses staring at a cold east coast dawn breaking beyond the Farne Islands, to the east. I had taken up the offer of a lift from Adrian Kettle for whom this bird was a big gap on his impressive UK list. Together with James Hanlon we had kept Adrian awake whilst he was driving through the night by talking rubbish for a few hours, although he probably doesn't remember ! I was a warden on the Farnes in 1996 and on this day it was great to see boatman William Shiel again after 17 years and to reach Inner Farne courtesy of his Glad Tidings boat. As we left harbour at 6am a  radio signal from the island wardens indicated the bird was present and roosting on rocks with other terns just off the jetty. Over 100 birders simply spilled off the boat and on to a lifer ! At one point it had a quick fly around, ten foot over our heads, started calling and then sat back on the rocks! A fantastic bird just in the most perfect setting, how I had searched the terns for a rare one when I had been a warden, well done David Steel and co - the class class of 2013. On the way home we stopped at Amble and watched Roseate Terns fishing the channel between the mainland and Coquet Island.

Suddenly autumn was upon us and focus was once again returned to Buckton. A huge amount of effort went into clearing over grown net rides and making the Heligoland trap fit for optimum catching. I was expecting it to begin in September but in the final week of August the weather charts had hinted at something great. As I announced this on twitter I doubted it would be spectacular as it was. However, not to be beaten by my own prediction I made plans to take Friday 24th August off work. We got to Buckton mid morning, all was calm, I put up a few nets and we went to get fish and chips for supper. On returning we parked at the main dell and just as we stopped we flushed a bird off the path, even through the windscreen it was obvious this was a Wryneck, which was confirmed when we relocated it in the game strip adjacent to the track. It was a great omen, the next day dawned misty, wet and with a purposeful east wind. Migrants were abundant with Pied Fly's, Willow Warblers and Redstarts all new in and in the hand - having wet heads from flying against the rain. Over the ten years that I have been watching Buckton I have never encountered a proper August fall and as a result one or two species that occur at that time in the migration cycle have been missing off the patch. One of these finally fell the very next day. I had spent the early part of the morning at Flamborough largely because Buckton was completely fogged in with visibility down to 10ft. On returning at around 0930hrs I went straight to the cliff top, my progress was halted some 200m from the cliff top as a small bird was feeding on the track ahead of me, many, many Meadow Pipits have done this in the past but thankfully I paused, lifted my bins and focussed on a rather stripy small bird which turned to reveal a wonderful clown-like white eye ring- Ortolan Bunting, get in ! I edged the  car nearer and nearer until it was feeding alongside my side window, it was feeding by running grass seed heads through it bill, like Snow Buntings often do.

The main social events of the early autumn were the Bird Fair and the Migration Festival at Spurn, both brilliant events this year. I was really proud to spearhead the RSPB's new approach to bird fair this year, focussing on the relationship with 'keen birders'. The British List checklist we produced in partnership with BB and the BOU went down a treat - 9000 copies given away! Equally the 'Pushing the Boundaries' presentation given by Martin Garner and Tormod Admundsen as the inaugural 'RSPB Birders Lecture' will take some beating next year. The Migration Festival was genius and showcased Spurn as the best migration site in the UK.

After a lull in early September migration picked up with favourable conditions bringing eastern arrivals in the form of scores of Yellow-browed Warblers particularly on the 26th September. It was too much to take, I left work at mid day and got a fast train north, being met by Mike and Neil Pearson at Seamer station. We quickly got to Buckton and put up a net in the cliff top dell, moments later we caught our first Yellow-browed Warbler. It gave me great pleasure watching Neil, who was over from America, ring this little sprite, the 15th to be caught here. In the remaining two hours we found another and had 1-3 birds almost daily for the next ten days.

On October 3rd I caught this interesting Lesser Whitethroat below, it was massive, with a wing of 80mm and was almost Garden Warbler sized with stout bill and warm brown back. The bird shed a small feather which was sent to Martin Collinson at Aberdeen University who kindly processed it and found its DNA to match that of the blythi form. It was present with a Firecrest.
Equally interesting was the Northern Treecreeper below, caught on October 12th in the cliff top dell. Treecreepers are not common at Buckton with only two previous records, one being a juvenile in August and the other an October migrant but in appearance very typically British. This bird however was immediately very interesting being extremely pallid and frosty. On examination it had to belong to a Northern (or Eastern) race and images posted on twitter caused much interest with one birder suggesting it should be named Hornemann's Treecreeper! Two other Northern birds were at Spurn at the same time. Conditions on the 12th were superb with the Treecreeper sharing the same few cliff top bushes with a Siberian Chiffchaff and migrants crests, warblers and thrushes.

It was fitting that the bird of the year was found the next day on the 13th by Lee Johnson, a superb Radde's Warbler, below. This was the first record for the patch and was caught and ringed the following day when also present were a Firecrest and an incredibly confiding Red-breasted Flycatcher. With continuing good conditions another days holiday was on the cards on the 14th. I flogged the patch hard knowing something else had to be present and eventually I came up trumps, on entering the sheltered garden at Buckton Hall I was greeted with a virtual army of Goldcrests, almost 80 of them and all in three Sycamore trees. I scanned and scanned and suddenly heard the distinctive fruity 'de-juwee' call of a Pallas's Warbler, try as I may for the next five minutes I could not pick up on the bird, the crest flock was very mobile and led me a merry dance around the garden until a full hour and a half later when in the exact same spot I finally had the Pallas's at eye level, gleaning insects from under the big sycamore leaves. This was the 3rd ever record, the first for ten years and the first to be photographed at Buckton.

As with many others the year ended with a duo of northern specialities, a Yorkshire Ivory Gull and a Brunnich's Guillemot in Dorset, 2013 had its moments, roll on 2014 !
 Thanks are due to Mike Pearson, Dave Waudby, Chris Mumby, Richard Baines, Mark Pearson, Martin Garner, Neil Pearson, Dave Aitken, Keith Clarkson, Lee Johnson, John Beaumont, Nick Carter, John Goleby, Geoff Carr, Craig Thomas, The Makins, The Houghtons, Adrian Kettle and Tormod Amundsen.
With apologies to others.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Brunnich's brunch

Arrived at Portland Harbour to be told the Brunnich's Guillemot had showed briefly just after dawn before flying off around the breakwater, the weather was testing to say the least, force 6 SW wind with squalls. Scanning with everyone else I picked up a winter plumage Black Guillemot and 2 Great Northern Divers. After almost two hours I went back to the car to see just how naughty the kids were being ! We then drove around to the viewing spot in front of the Aqua cafĂ© where it had been seen from earlier. No sooner had I got out of the car the twenty or so birders all started to point and bunch together - they had it ! It was about 400m away and made two dives in quick succession before amazingly it was directly below our position at very close range. It then went under again and resurfaced some 200m away and was clearly heading for the marina where I had been stood about then minutes before ! News went out and all the birders in the distance started running towards us, not realising it was in fact coming to them !
Eventually it settled down in the marina, spending 30 minutes just sheltering around the back of a small boat and on view constantly, preening and wing flapping. The bird clearly knew this area well and has most probably been here for a period of time.
After some fifty minutes it once again started diving and after just three dives was out of the marina and heading for the more open part of the harbour, where it spent t he next few hours in company with mergansers, a razorbill and the black guillemot.
Being the first ever mainland twitchable individual this bird brought great pleasure to hundreds of people today and if it settles to winter here then hundreds more will see it. A great Christmas present from the Arctic.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mind the gap!

Short-eared Owl back to winter at Buckton
Rarest patch birds of the weekend - 7 Goosander SE over Buckton
Pallas's Warbler - excellent find by Nick Carter at Hunmanby Gap
Little Bunting found by Brett in the rough at Millenium Wood at Flamborough
It was very much after the Lord Mayor's show at Buckton, very few new birds and it says something when the patch highlight is provided by a duck, well ok a sawbill and seven of them! The bird of the weekend was easily the Pallas's Warbler found at the gap by Nick Carter, cavorting with an 'all-so' ran Yellow-browed Warbler in a small sycamore tree in the corner of a random field, mind the gap !

Thursday, October 17, 2013

'In amongst em'

Northern Treecreeper - amazingly frosty bird
Northern Treecreeper rear view

Firecrest a jewel in the Cliff Top Dell
Black Redstart - a very pale individual

Red-breasted Flycatcher - rattling away like a machine gun !

Radde's Warbler - 1st winter female, new patch bird
This skulky 'acro' gave me the chase for an hour or two 
Nearly !
Red-breasted Flycatcher


Pallas's Warbler at Buckton Hall, 3rd patch record, first since 2003
Had a brilliant few days on the coast, birds arriving all the time, numbers and quality !

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Top shelf sprites

Yellow-browed Warbler -bird 1 caught in the cliff top dell, September 26th 2013
Yellow-browed Warbler - bird 2 caught in the cliff top dell, September 27th 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Big ditch twitch

Juvenile Common Buzzard over Buckton cliff top
Spotted Flycatcher in the cliff top dell at Buckton
Ridiculously tame Great Snipe in a ditch on Beacon Lane, Spurn

Friday, September 13, 2013

24yrs ago today, I was 17, this is still my best ever day!

Its interesting looking back on this day 24 years on. The Booted Warbler was the outstanding highlight, a very rare bird then. It showed amazingly well in the small dell at Bempton, perching on the outside wooden fence and often feeding at very close range on low rough vegetation, en-cirled by 30 odd birders. How I would love to repeat that just a mile to the NW. As a 17 years old I was buzzing after this day for weeks, just like winning the lottery, interesting how with time desires change, then it was about bunking off school and essentially twitching, now its about strategically using leave from work and finding birds on my patch !

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Spurn Migration Festival - a few faces!

Spurn was recently the venue of the UK's first ever migration festival organised by
the Spurn Bird Observatory, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Birding Frontiers and
Westmere Farm.
The event was a huge success with guided migrant walks, seawatching, visible migration
watches and ringing demonstrations.
A full and interesting lecture programme complimented the outdoor daytime activities.
Inside the 'lecture barn' at Westmere Farm

John Hewitt and Nathan Pickering leading a migrant walk

Paul Hackett sharing his digiscope skills

Paul Collins - bird observatory warden ringing a family of young swallows

Martin Garner and Andy Roadhouse part of the organising team

Graham Speight and Mick Turton top spotters!

Garry Taylor and Mike Pilsworth

Ian Smith, AR, Tim Jones