Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The 'Cowboys' hottest 3 birds of 2014

I've just got enough time to squeeze in one final blogpost of 2014 before setting off for yet another liquid lunch and then onto New Years celebrations with friends - which doesn't bode well for being out on the patch New Years day to start the annual year list - maybe I'll start the list on the 2nd of Jan!

Anyway my top 3 birds for 2014 are as follows:

In third place and taking this years 'Bronzed Birds Eye Chilli' goes to the Short-toed Snake Eagle at Ashdown Forest, superb bird and great location and if my views had been better then this bird would have easily have taken 2nd spot, but as I had to tick and run on the day, the Snake Eagle just takes 3rd place.

3rd Place - If only my views had been this good
In second place and taking the 'Silver Scotch Bonnet Pepper' goes to another raptor and this time it's the juvenile Pallid Harrier at Tingwall airport on Shetland. Great views of this distinctly marked eastern European harrier. Watching this bird hunt over the moors surrounding the airport at close range was a real joy and a pleasure.

This years runner up
So to this years winner and picking up the much coveted award and top prize of the 'Golden Scorpion Trinidad Pepper' for 'The Cowboys hottest bird of the year 2014' goes to...the male Siberian Rubythroat at Levenwick, Shetland - no real surprises there then!

Top spot and the 2014 winner by a country mile
The Rubythroat was this years clear winner - I had the most amazing views of an absolutely stunning bird and I was lucky enough to share the experience with three good birding friends, this was one of those special birding moments that will live with me for a very long time.

Which just leaves me to wish you all a very happy new year and good birding in 2015, and I look forward to continuing to share my birding ups and downs with you all in the coming year.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

2014 patch list, limping until the end...

One last visit to the patch this year resulted in adding a much overdue Common Buzzard to the beleaguered list, with Wigeon also recently added this helped to bring my 2014 total up to its usual mediocre number which happens to be 94 this year.

In a year when free time became even more of a premium I added just three patch ticks in the form of Coal Tit, Lapland Bunting and Jack Snipe - It was somewhat disappointing not to personally add anything of new or of note to the general Wanstead totals but I shouldn't grumble as I just haven't had the time to give the patch my full attention. The undoubted highlight of the year though had to be the Spring Blyth's Reed Warbler singing in the brooms, this was a much overdue BB rarity for Wanstead and a great find for the ever present and persistent Mr Croft - I was frustratingly away at the time holidaying on the Isle of Skye with the family when I learnt of its appearance and had to live through the experience in a series of excited text messages, which only to added to my personal disappointment and agony!

Other minor personal highlights were seeing my first Spring migrants on the 15th March as a pair of Sand Martins flew over Alexandra Lake, and witnessing a good 'fall' of autumn migrants on the 31st August which included several Spotted Flycatchers, Northern Wheatears, Whinchats and Common Redstarts. The Lapland Bunting on the 16th October was a true gem, a quality patch tick made even better by the sight of three blokes (Jono, Dan & myself) dressed in smart work attire trampling through long grass in flat, polished shoes searching for it. Thankfully once found the bird was more than obliging and was seen down to just a few metres at times, which was a bonus as I had arrived straight from work without any optics.

Isle of Scillies, Penninis Head
A confiding Lapland Bunting on St Marys, Scillies - September 2013
This is what the Wanstead bird would have looked like if I had turned up with my camera.
What will 2015 bring? Most likely more grippage by my fellow patch workers but I'm used to that so nothing new there then. A Short-eared Owl or a Woodcock would be nice as both are overdue patch ticks, a large wader wouldn't go a miss either - Godwit, Whimbrel or Curlew - I'm not fussy anyone of those three I'd be happy with, and after a year off the return of an autumn Wryneck would be most welcome again, so would the return of a Lesser spotted Woodpecker although I fear these are fast becoming even more rarer than Wrynecks!

Whatever 2015 brings if i'm out there amongst it, then I'll be mostly happy...





Saturday, 20 December 2014

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Valentino - The Med Gull

It was great to catch up with this old east London favourite at the weekend - Valentino. I believe it is now the 15th winter that Valentino has returned to this neck of the woods, historically always seen in and around Valentines Park in Ilford he has now become an annual visitor to Wanstead Flats as well, and can often be found roosting on the the football pitches or just loafing around Alexandra Lake.

Gulls in general are long-lived birds and it wouldn't be unusual for a Mediterranean Gull to live for 20+ years but with Valentino's healthy Mediterranean life style and diet he could be around for another 10 years yet!

Adult Winter, Valentino


Adult Winter, Valentino

Adult Winter, Valentino

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Shetland - the supporting cast and numbers

Our motley east London crew consisting of team members Paul Hawkins, Martin Blow, Nick Croft & of course moi, amassed a very reasonable 134 species in our week on Shetland, of which I added five new birds - Siberian Rubythroat, Lanceolated Warbler, Pallid Harrier, Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll and with the good wishes of the BBRC Eastern Bonelli's Warbler. We also managed to find our own Blue Tit and Great Tit - which is not to be sniffed at, as both of these birds are scarce visitors to the isles. We also had enormous fun one afternoon chasing first an Acro which turned out to be a Reed Warbler and then a Locustella which turned out to be a Grasshopper Warbler both along the burn at Channelwick and surely that's what makes Shetland so special - every bird is worth checking and then double checking as you never know what's lurking in those nettles. And then there was that wet Bunting around the Sumburgh Lighthouse garden which we all got over excited about, fuelled by alcohol we all made assumptions which were later downgraded!

Shetland
This beauty was sheltering in the Virkie Willows and was one of two Long-eared Owls we saw that week.
Flock, Shetland
Brambling were numerous in number with flocks of over a hundred seen around the crop fields at the Sumburgh Hotel and Wester Quarff.
Shetland
Just the one Great Grey Shrike, this very mobile bird was seen along the East shore of the Virkie Pools.
Shetland
This Little Bunting at Boddam gives us the run around - which was typical of this species throughout the week!
Shetland
My first ever 'Northern' Bullfinch in the crop field at Geosetter.
Shetland
Three Olive-backed Pipits, this was one of two birds at Lower Voe, with another seen at Wester Quarff being a nice rewarding team find.
Other birds of note but weren't featured in the last few Shetland blogposts was a Red-breasted Flycatcher at the back of the kids playground at Toab, where we also saw another Blue Tit and of course the Lanceolated Warbler at Quendale, I did manage one photo but due to the fading light and distance when I took the photo it wasn't worth posting - even after heavy cropping! So here's a link to the finders Chris Griffin's blog with excellent photographs of a great bird.

Along with the great birds and company, I also managed to lose and then thankfully retrieve 1 rucksack with camera, passport, flight tickets still inside, 1 iPhone, 1 Walkie Talkie and 1 Canon Extender - thanks to Jim Nicolson for returning that expensive piece of hardware. On top of that I gave Didier Drogba a run for his money by face-planting head first into the long grass whilst looking for a Bluethroat much to the amusement of Mr Hawkins & Mr Blow who literally pissed themselves with laughter - Shetland 2014 was memorable for many reasons!


Sunday, 19 October 2014

More Shetland, Pallid Harrier

Undoubtedly the highlight from the week on Shetland had to be the Rubythroat but witnessing a stunning juvenile Pallid Harrier hunt over the open grassland and moors surrounding the airfield at Tingwall came a close second.

After seeing the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll at Veensgarth, and although nice this was, it was a little under whelming as the bird wasn't quite the big snowball I had hoped for but a rather plainer looking 1st-winter female, the team decided to head the short distance to Tingwall in hope of catching up with the juvenile Pallid Harrier which had been reported in the area for the last few days and whilst we still had some light left in the day - but in all honesty I didn't think we had much chance of seeing it giving size of the area and the large range the bird could cover.

But within minutes of arriving as we stood watching from our vantage point on slightly higher ground above the airfield and sheltered from the elements by a farm building, luck would have it the bird came into view and I was able to enjoy excellent scope views down to less than 30 metres as the bird circled the airfield. At one stage as it passed relatively close by I was so engrossed with watching it hunt, mesmerised by the birds head pattern and soaking up the moment through the scope, I had to be reminded I was carrying a camera, to the point I almost missed the opportunity in getting the photographs below.

Juvenile, Shetland

Juvenile, Shetland



Thursday, 16 October 2014

Bonelli's Warbler of an Eastern persuasion

It took two trips to Scalloway to nail this rather special little Phyllo. The first attempt was a little half-hearted as the our crew had all seen Western Bonelli's Warbler before. After a couple hours searching the mature Sycamores and gardens we did finally manage the briefest of flight views, content this was another bird added to the growing trip list we moved on, but things changed once news broke that the bird had been heard calling confirming this an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler! The flight views were not going to be good enough and we were back on site the following morning for another attempt.

Stopping on route at Wester Quarrf to search for yet another Little Bunting (one of many we dipped, strung, and eventually saw that week) we stumbled across an Olive-backed Pipit in the same crop field, a great find for our four man crew and thoroughly deserved after all the miles, slog and hours we'd been putting in.

Back at Scalloway our initial search drew a blank but as more and more birders arrived on site, eventually the bird was located and prolonged and good views were had by all, although during this time the bird didn't call for us. I'm happy to pencil this one in as a tick and await confirmation in the coming months from the BBRC - but all the signs are looking good that this is going to be Britain's 7th record.

Shetland, Scaloway

Shetland, Scaloway

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Magical Yellow-browed Warblers on Shetland

The beauty of birding on Shetland is even when things are quiet, you can always guarantee seeing or hearing a Yellow-browed Warbler. I managed to catch up with over twenty-five birds at various locations in the week I was there. The photos below are of one particular showy bird at Geosetter which was fly catching along the burn, and at times would happily land just a few feet from the end of the lens!

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A private audience with a Siberian Rubythroat

With news of the adult male Siberian Rubythroat at Levenwick still showing as we arrived on Shetland for the week, it was a case of picking up the hire care from the airport, dumping our luggage at the accommodation and driving straight to the location. Already swelled with birders views were always going to be difficult but after a couple of hours frustration circling the garden we gave up the ghost and headed back to Sumburgh with thoughts of returning the following day for another crack.

We had received no early morning news on the bird and thoughts were turning into what might have been! Birding the the quarries and fields around Sumburgh farm news soon reached us that the bird was still at Levenwick and had relocated to another garden just down the road. We were there within twenty minutes but so were the 50+ other birders and again the bird was giving us all the run around with just fleeting glimpse's between hedges, that was until I managed to get a great face on view of the bird briefly below a Sycamore tree high on the home owners drive way - that ruby coloured throat shining brightly in the evening light.

The following couple of days the weather had turned for the worse with 60mph gusts and heavy rain to contend with, we did our best to bird some of the sheltered spots in and around the south of the Island. Driving past Levenwick we decided to stop by to see if anyone was still looking for the bird and to our amazement there wasn't another birder on site, deciding to pull the car up along side the driveway we sat in the car sheltering from the weather and then BOOM within a few minutes the Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the hedge and started to hop along the driveway towards us!

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levinwick

Holding our breath...Myself, Paul Hawkins, Martin Blow & Nick Croft couldn't believe our luck as we enjoyed crippling views and a private audience with this holy grail of birds for most British birders. As soon as it disappeared into the hedge we were all high-fiving and punching the air with delight, pinching ourselves at experiencing such an amazing bird, and just the four of us as well.




Monday, 22 September 2014

A special Wheatear

Yep, it's a bog standard, good old Northern Wheatear, but this one differs slightly from the all the others I've seen this year - why? Because it's a 1st-winter Northern Wheatear and occasionally if you're lucky and you find a good one, these Autumn birds are a bit more inquisitive and confiding, and can be approached within just a few feet - unlike the adults in the Spring which are far too flighty.

This was the case on Sunday morning as I crossed the Flats, two Northern Wheatears were chasing flies in the short grass on the football pitches, as I sat in the centre circle (thankfully it was a late kick-off) and watched the pair of them, they slowly started to head in my direction, oblivious of my attentions one of the birds came running right up to me until it was almost within touching distance - ok slight exaggeration, but you get my drift. As I continued to click away, even the sound of the shutter didn't phase this bird and if anything it was intrigued by the sound - one rather special Wheatear.

1st Winter, Autumn

1st Winter, Autumn

1st Winter, Autumn

1st Winter, Autumn





Monday, 15 September 2014

Chats on the Flats

An early Sunday morning circuit of the Flats was significantly quieter than the week before, the biggest change was the lack of Sylvia Warblers, I didn't see one Blackcap or Lesser Whitethroat and I only found two Common Whitethroats. Whilst there were still good numbers of Chiffchaff moving through the area constantly contact calling, the Willow Warblers had all but moved on - as is the fast pace of migration at this time of year.

The 1st Stonechat of the year did the decent thing and stuck around for a few days allowing us low-listing weekend birders to add it to our year lists, it also obligingly perched up on the logs south of the Broom fields before being flushed by the usual dog-walker and disappeared further into the long grass and was lost amongst the last of this years flowering Rosebay Willowherb.

Wanstead Flats

The Whinchat were slightly harder to come buy and weren't where I would expect to see them on top of the Broom south of Long Wood, but I did eventually find four birds on the western edge of the SSSI, an area I've not seen them in before, maybe they too were also looking for somewhere else to reside away from the constant flushing and disturbance!

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Nose to nose with a Red Squirrel

It's been a few years since I last visited Brownsea Island, so whilst recently staying near Poole Harbour it was too good an opportunity to miss to not go again, especially as I'd promised my two children guaranteed views of Red Squirrel - I was potentially setting myself up for a fall there!

To this date Brownsea Island still remains the only place I've ever seen these shy and diminutive Squirrels away from Scotland and with a healthily population of up to 200 Red Squirrels on the Island your chances of seeing one is very good - although not always guaranteed.

Despite the rather inclement August weather it didn't take us long to locate our first Red, high up in a large Beech tree shelling nuts (job done and dad had been vindicated) but once he'd spotted us he was soon off and was lost amongst the canopy of leaves, we continued to see only fleeting glimpses of a few other Squirrels as we made our way around the island but all that changed when we came across one of this years young coming down an old dead tree with the top-half missing. Clearly it was a little bit startled at the prospect of having to come down the tree with four pairs of eyes staring up at him, especially once it realised it had nowhere to go other than in a downward direction, so this little fella gave us all brilliant views as he scampered down the tree in a circular motion not dissimilar in style to a Treecreeper, all the time doing its best to avoid us, before skipping across the ground and up the next available tree and away.

A thrilling way for my children to engage with this true native species of mammal, which sadly is no longer a part of our pine forests on the mainland.


Dorset, Brownsea Island, National Trust

Dorset, Brownsea Island, National Trust

Dorset, Brownsea Island, National Trust

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The first fall of Autumn

After an evening celebrating a friends 40th birthday I could easily have stayed in bed this morning but for once the decision to drag myself out was the right one, and before 8.00am I was enjoying good views of four Spotted Flycatchers and a smart Common Redstart on Wanstead Flats - this was a prelude for the rest of the morning with a decent fall of migrants scattered all over the Flats.

It's always hard to exactly summarise the total number of birds involved (I'll let Mr Croft figure those numbers out) but I alone saw over 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Common Redstarts, 8 Wheatear, 3 Whinchat, 6+ Lesser Whitethroats, Tree Pipit, and a couple Yellow Wagtails, add into that mix good numbers of commoner Phylloscopus and Silvia Warblers and a small passage of Hirundines and this starts to paint the picture of the mornings birding.

Any regular birder of Wanstead Flats will tell you it's not always like this and at times it can be a real drudge and effort to pull yourself around the Flats without any reward, but when you do get a warm sunny Autumn morning like today, surrounded by fly-catching migrants those dark, cold, wet and windy February mornings soon disappear to the back of your mind.

The only thing missing today was possibly a Wryneck but there's still time this Autumn to add one of those to this years totals, hopefully continuing the run of years this scarce migrant has graced Wanstead Flats.








Monday, 28 July 2014

Wasp Spider, Rainham Marsh

After a particularly heavy Saturday night in town with friends it was midday before I managed to get out for some air in a bid to try and clear my head, and a circuit of Rainham Marsh in search of passage waders was as good a hangover cure as any - and it seemed to have the desired effect. Not only was I starting to feel better but finding 5 Greenshank, 7 Black-tailed Godwit (one of which was colour-ringed), 4 Green Sandpiper and a Whimbrel was worth the toil in the mid-afternoon heat.

Whilst walking around the reserve I also kept an eye open for Scarce or Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell butterfly, although I found and photographed several Small Tortoiseshell there wasn't any sign of those possible channel hoppers from Holland - although a single Clouded Yellow was a nice bonus.

Another bonus from the walk was discovering a striking Wasp Spider close to the footpath at the start of the northern boardwalk near the shooting butts hide. This large female with its unmistakable black and yellow stripped abdomen looked as if it had just devoured another grasshopper and was just hanging around waiting for her next victim - you can't fail to be impressed with these southern european invaders as they continue to expand their range north.

Rainham Marsh RSPB

Rainham Marsh RSPB

Rainham Marsh RSPB




Wednesday, 9 July 2014

It's oh so quiet

The song by quirky Icelandic pop princess Bjork kind of sums up mid-summer birding, and a walk through Wanstead Park at the weekend confirmed this.

The pair of Reed Warblers were still frequenting the small patch of reeds on Shoulder of Mutton lake and all three juvenile Great-crested Grebes were on Herony and growing up fast, and that pretty much summed up the morning on the birding front, but thankfully there are a few other distractions at this time of year to pass the time and point the camera at - butterflies being one.

With good patches of nettles, uncut grass and bramble still in flower along a few of the paths on the west side of the park, there were a few butterflies on the wing. Even with the rain showers I managed to find eight species Comma, Essex and Small Skipper, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Small Copper.

A nice distraction before birding's main course and the onset of autumn, and with a few waders already on the move, it won't be long until the days start to become shorter and birding ramps up again to full throttle - I wonder what delights the birding gods might offer up this year..?


Butterfiles

Butterflies

Butterflies