Staffordshire Bird News

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Endless Arguments and Spoonbills

Easter was largely forgettable due to the endless NW air stream that resulted in migrants being held up. A tantalising and teasing ROCK THRUSH was almost in our grasps twice but there were endless issues with boat times, seat availabilities on planes, inter island boats etc. We nearly managed to get over on Good Friday and Easter Monday but on both occasions we missed out on booking suitable flights. For the Easter Monday flight, we were waiting for news all day on Easter Sunday (and CJW checking flight availability almost constantly) before we booked and it never came. Experience showing, luck or just experience showing? I like to think it was experience showing and remembering not to make any rash hasty decisions when it comes to twitching / trip organisation.

Anyway. On to birds then on to the arguments you all want to hear about!
Good Friday and Easter Saturday was spent trawling round various sites in Staffs looking for migrants, self found rarities and megas and firsts for Britain etc. Unfortunately, I failed on all accounts. But its better to have failed than to have stayed sitting on your settee tweeting all day. I managed to bump into Grant "Granty" Grant at Belvide where I managed to fail to add REDSTART to my Belvide list for the second year running.

Just noticed a distinct lack of pictures so far. So here's one from the achives.

The Hay Wain by Constable
Anyway, following the failed attempt at the Scilly ROCK THRUSH, we cobbled together a trip to Yorkshire on Easter Monday, and again, that dastardly fellow, The Stalker, managed to get into our car. First stop was our first visit to Spurn this year. We headed straight down to the Canal Scrape / Triangle area and tried to get our first bird of the day, and our target bird for the day. Unfortunately, the Spurn regulars informed us that it had gone to ground. We wandered around, and twice, we heard an unfamiliar scratchy sub song coming from the bushes.

I noticed a photographer walked hastily towards the hide. Then, The Stalker rapidly followed him. I've pointed out many times to all you younger twitchers out there, it pays at twitches not only to watch the bushes, but also to watch the crowd. It pays off I'm telling you.

I walked down the path to the Canal Scrape hide, only for The Stalker to come rushing out. "It's showing" he said. I offered to go to fetch CJW (I knew I couldn't ring him due to signal issues) but The Stalker said he would.

I sat in the hide and soon re-relocated the male Western Subalpine Warbler feeding in the bushes to the right of the hide. I sat there and marvelled at the lovely red front, the moustache stripe, how it actively fed. I was able to get two ladies onto it as well, and I sat and followed it as it fed, sometimes in view, other times not, on occasions with a Blackcap, and all this time I was sat there, I was thinking to myself, where the f##k is The Stalker and CJW!

Anyway, some 40 mins later, The Stalker returned to the hide shaking and covered in sweat. CJW followed in behind grinning. I didn't ask what went on. All I heard was something about someone doing a bit of skinny dipping in the Humber and someone had become a naturist. We all had excellent views of the Western Subalpine before it disappeared. Unfortunately Lord Lichfield didn't managed any video as he was busy towelling himself off.

We had a walk around the triangle but there was absolutely nothing around. The bushes were dead. It was odd to go into the Crown & Anchor car park, and Kilnsea churchyard and not see a single bird. We did a bit of seawatching. And didn't see a bird.

We headed off to Fairburn Ings, but by the time we arrived, the RED-RUMPED SWALLOW hadn't been seen for a few hours, and the hirundine flock was by now very high up in the sky. We did find the adult Little Gull, but despite a long walk around the reserve, we failed to locate the SPOONBILL. The reserve was actually packed as it was a Bank Holiday Monday. As a birder, we were very much in the minority, and I felt odd at walking round with my scope on my back. People kept looking at me and laughing.....Sorry I'll rewrite that...CJW and The Stalker kept looking at me and laughing.

We did hear a Bittern booming, and when we met one of those RSPB volunteers walking round the reserve, those that pretend to know a bit about birds (he did actually point to four Little Egrets nesting in a tree and said "Is that the Spoonbill") he said it was the first Spring that a Bittern had been heard booming on the reserve. You never know, in 2045 when Staffs Wildlife finally do something to Chucklesholme, we might possibly get a BITTERN reported there (but as its Staffs Wildlife I wouldn't bank on it!)



Anyway. Onto the arguments you all want to hear about. As you know (or don't know), we do have quite a few long journeys, and one great way of keeping awake is by conversation. Recently we've had discussions on Bowie could write crap songs, does Philip Schofield sit alongside Wogan and Forsyth as a TV great and was Willie Carson all that (I started that one on the way back from Scotland and I'm proud of that - he did actually win quite a few races). But the biggest discussions come when CJW is driving and his music is playing. His playlist is exactly like a Now That's What I call music album, some good tracks then a few padders no one had heard of to fill the album. Now when one of these "padders" comes on, he always says the same thing "you've heard of this Shirley". Firstly, my name isn't Shirley and most of the time no I haven't. Anyway, in Shropshire, this track below came on. CJW said it was a fantastic track. I disagreed. Here it is by the group M83. See what you think. Finally, I must thank Famous Red Grouse for this blog, as they helped me write most of it!! Love to you all (except the tossers out there and you know who you are and to the Talke Tiny Teeny Ticker - enjoy your retirement. We knew you wouldn't last five minutes)








Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Quiet times in early April

Now its spring, you feel like getting up and going on some exciting trips again. Unfortunately, the airflow has been predominantly northernly recently, and birding has been fairly quiet. Its a case of trying your best to cobble together a decent days birding with a few target species thrown in.

Biggest recent news was the recent finding of a Cetti's Warbler at some site in Stoke-on-Trent; a long awaited and much predicted site first and it was succesfully twitched by all of the current active listers of the infamous site. Incredibly, its the third site first in three years - gives you the incentive to keep plodding around on a daily basis. At least we don't have to make sightings up and pretend at this site like they do at other inner city sites.

So to get the blog up to date. 

Saturday 1st April was a day where we struggled to construct a day out so we stayed in Staffordshire and gathered together a few county year ticks. We headed back down to the deepest SE corner of the county and saw the Whittington SW over wintering Yellow-browed Warbler again. This is my first ever sighting in April (you don't have an April list - oh no!). We then headed to Himley Hall for the feral/tame/ill Whooper Swan that allows people to get very close to so they can post pictures on twitter saying "showing well" but decided not to go and look for it as there was news breaking about a WHITE STORK in Derbys. As I was driving, CJW thought maybe it was from a German ringing scheme and so it was possibly worth a punt. 

As we headed over, it became clear that it was just another escaped bird. We headed into Branston instead where we walked around using the paths and made a note of birds we saw. We then headed off into the north of the county, and as I was driving, I noted a sign saying three-quarters of a mile to Sudbury Hall. Well it would have been rude not to have popped in!



This is the Polish White Stork that hit wires and was flown over to Britain to be mended, and was seen at Welney WWT last year.

Saturday 8th April - We hoped again that something would turn up, but with another week of NW (literally no new migrants in at the Stoke-on-Trent site this week), there wasn't much to go for. We started off at our usual local patch, but when news came that the NIGHT HERON was still in Shropshire, we walked faster and headed off into Shropshire, a county we don't visit too often. (for the record, my Shropshire list stands at five birds - Lesser Scaup, Marsh Warbler, Spoonbill, Crane and Iberian Chiffchaff).

It was my first ever visit to Venus Pools, and we managed to walked from the car park to the bird without being directed or spoken too. The Night Heron was showing ok ish for a roosting bird, and we spoke too Young Billy and Grizzly who were already on site.
Night Heron at Venus Pools by NJS
 

We soon found out there had been no sign yet this morning of the possible returning IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF, but we headed over to the nearby Yellow-browed Warbler on the NW side of Telford. We parked up and entered the wood and joined up with Stoke lads Grant "Granty" Price and Andy "M". Luckily, as soon as we entered the wood, the YBW started calling, and CJW soon located it high up in the trees above us. It also did a small bit of sub-songing. This now becomes my latest ever YBW in Britain, and, although its only April, it is my 3rd YBW of the year. Hopefully we'll still see a few in Autumn as well.

A quick drive up to Whixall Moss saw the Wood Sandpiper still present. I have a feeling that this may be the Blithfield bird that was seen briefly at Radford Meadows. 

We were a bit stuck now having seen three out of the four target birds. But when news reached us that a SHORE LARK was on Clee Hill, we just could resist a bit more birding in Shropshire.CJW did a sterling job by chauffeuring me around, and within an hour we were parked up on Clee Hill. The sky was blue, we could see all 14 counties and three countries visible from up here and there was the Shore Lark sat on top of a ridge. A Shropshire mega tick firmly in the bag!





Shore Lark, Clee Hill, Shropshire NJS




Monday, 27 March 2017

Late March wanderings around Staffordshire

Not too much around at the moment so we've been doing a bit of county birding. We chose Staffordshire for some reason. An Avocet at Doxey sent us hurtling down for the second day running on the 25th, when we also had good views of as many as three Water Pipits, including a summer plumaged one.



We couldn't find the Brent Goose at Chasewater, but a pair of Garganey were showing well at Middleton Lakes.We also saw a bizarre sight of a drake Tufted Duck walking round in a field with a pair of Mallard.


Photos by Lord Lichfield

Finally, the Great Grey Shrike was seen at Swallow Moss on the 27th March, and we were in the right place at the right time when it popped up. Good views were had.

GGS at Swallow Moss by NJS

Thursday, 23 March 2017

20th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 3

Final day of our short break, and the forecast was wet. CJW decided not to set his alarm as he didn't fancy getting up at 05:00hrs to walk around a wood in the rain for some odd reason. I woke up early as per usual and stuck my head out of the window to find it wasn't actually raining. Unfortunately, I woke CJW up and told him the good news. We were soon running down the stairs of the hotel and out into the Scottish morning darkness. What I couldn't see from the hotel window though, was an extremely black sky approaching, and by the time we reach our destination, it was pouring down. We sat in the car and waited, checking the rain app which showed it just as a narrow ribbon. And sure enough, it stopped. We walked round the wood for the next hour or so, and then we returned to the car. We'd failed on our third target bird, which was of course the CAPERCAILLIE (but thanks to those who provided the site details, and don't worry, we have more sites now for our next trip).

Following our second and last full English, we returned to the room. We had several options. Firstly, there were two SNOW GEESE in Inverness, discovered only yesterday. The issue I had with this was the 55 minute drive to the site in the opposite direction that we were heading. There was also an ALPINE SWIFT in Clyde that was seen yesterday afternoon. This site was only just off the motorway and so if there was positive news we could easily pop in. 

By the time we were ready to head off, there was no news on either targets. CJW came up with a cunning plan. We could head to a whisky shop in Tomintoul, only a few miles up the road. So we did.

We arrived in Tomintoul at 0930 following a drive over some very bleak, barren, birdless moors. The Whisky Castle was shut, it was sleet/raining and the wind was gale force. As we sat in the car park waiting for the shop to open at 10 (or 0930 according to the website), we were entertained by watching full bins being blown over in the high street and their contents distributed around the town, and then watched two locals pick up a few items and pop them back in the bin. It kept us amused. 

At 10:00, after ringing the shop, we finally went in. It was a fantastic little shop, full of whisky, most that we hadn't heard of, but we had a very nice chat to the proprietor. And then we set off for home. 

The route home was simply amazing. The sat nav took us straight through the mountains. We stopped at Lecht Ski resort which had a very small bit of snow, then through Glenshee, past Balmoral and eventually on to the A9 at Perth. We had certainly driven through some of the finest scenery possible during our weekend.

View from Lecht
 


Red Grouse en route (CJW)
As we travelled south, we received news that the ALPINE SWIFT was again present in Clyde. It was about two hours away. We carried on, but only received one more piece of positive news. We didn't know whether it was present all the time, or whether it was coming and going.

We arrived at Baron's Haugh RSPB just after 14:00hrs. We walked down towards the Marsh hide but saw someone standing at the bottom of the paddocks. As we were approaching, the Alpine Swift was flying overhead. We stood watching it for nearly an hour, sometimes it came quite low. All the disappointment of the birds we'd missed evaporated. It had been a fantastic trip!

Watching the Alpine Swift
 

My photo's taken with my phone
 

CJW's photo's with his fancy posh camera

 


  

  

19th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend Part 2

The aim for today was to nail the final two target birds on our list of three. CJW set the alarm for 05:20, and at 05:00 the alarm went off. We were up and out in the dark, arriving at our first destination in the dark. For the next two hours before breakfast, we walked and searched but our target wasn't to be found. 

We returned to the hotel and enjoyed our full English breakfast. And then we set off two site number two. Again, we searched and walked. By 11:30, we had seen two Crested Tits, a few Crossbills over and that was all. The difference from yesterday success to today's was amazing. We'd hit the proverbial wall. 

It was make or break time. We decided to head over to the Findhorn Valley and try and rescue the day. Unfortunately, despite a good forecast, the wind had whipped up and we were now driving through very heavy showers. Our spirits were lifted by seeing just two birds. As we left Nethybridge (dipping the Waxwings for the 2nd time that day), we saw a few flocks of geese flying over. We pulled over and eventually counted c500 Pink-footed Geese, all flying over to the south for some reason. The second bird was a Red Kite just up the road - the first time I'd seen one in the area.

PFG flying over Nethybridge
So having actually seen a few birds, we made the drive down to the Findhorn Valley. The scenery was incredible, and the area was very quiet. We knew we could just stop in the middle of the road and take photo's as there was just no one else around.




Views in the Findhorn Valley
It was dry most of the way down, but when we reached the car park at the end, the rain came again, and the wind was so strong, you could hardly open your car door. Things weren't looking good. eventually the sun came out and we headed off, scouring the ridges as we walked. I spent most of the time looking at the ridges behind me as it was easier with my back to the wind. Apart from a Buzzard and a few Ravens, there wasn't much to see.

We walked down to the bridge and stopped by where a path forks off to the right. We could see another shower approaching so we tried to find shelter. CJW then spotted a large bird above the far ridge in the distance. Three times it appeared and we knew straight away we were dealing with quite a large bird due to the distance we were looking from. Although a little distant, trip target bird number two, Golden Eagle, was in the bag. 

With a few hours daylight left, we headed down to two different lochs to look for SLAVONIAN GREBE, but drew a blank at both sites. Then we went looking for BLACK GROUSE, and again failed at two sites. In the end, as we drove across some moorland in the fading light, we admitted defeat. It had been a very tough day in the Highlands.

Red Deer Findhorn (CJW)


Following our tea from the chip shop in Grantown, we returned to the room and finally enjoyed the one species of grouse that hadn't eluded us that day, a nice drop of Red Grouse. All was well again.  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

18th March 2017 - Scottish Weekend

We decided on another trip to Scotland this year. We both had a few days off, so two nights were booked at the Nethybridge Hotel, having stayed there for our trip in 2010. The aim of the short break was just to indulge in a bit of birding, and see a few species that we hadn't seen for a few years, or as in CJW's, for many, many long hard years. We only had three target birds to see.

We set off on Saturday morning at 4am and had our first fuel stop just after the Erskine Bridge. We soon started adding a few year ticks with Hoodish Crow and Red Grouse, and a nice drive through a misty Glencoe. First stop along here was at Loch Achtriochtan, where sixteen swans caught our attention, and our suspicions were correct. They had yellow beaks.

Some of the 16 Whooper Swans on Loch Achtriochtan (CJW)
Next random stop was just before Onich to view the top of Loch Linnhe, where we saw three Great Northern Divers, several Shag and 50+ Eider. To save time, we crossed via the Corran Ferry. Unfortunately, CJW didn't have his sea legs with him on the crossing and succumbed to self chumming. Three Black Guillemots were in the straight and we had fabulous views of an Otter on the opposite shore. 

We finally reached our destination at just after 11am, taking us a mere 7+hrs to arrive.


Having done our homework, we headed to the mouth of the river first, parking in the car park. We were immediately surprised by the total lack of Mallards in the area (and where were all the supposed hybrids?). We saw Greenshank, few Goosander, RBM but that was about it. For the next few hours, in between the heavy showers, we searched all round the bay, even heading over to the opposite bank. We returned back to the mouth of the river, and found three Mallards had appeared. Our spirits lifted, but that was all that flew in. And it started raining again. 

I managed to buy a sandwich from a small local store ran by local people. The sandwich was alright, and was only a few months out of date (It is quite a remote quiet village and I was surprised to find sandwiches available. For legal reasons it was in date but they did look at the shiny silver and gold discs I gave them in exchange for the sandwich in an odd way. Maybe they normally accept pebbles or favours at the shop

As we sat in the car in the rain, knowing how important it is to get the first bird in the bag, we rang the Stalker. Amazingly, he was sat in the car next to us! (Only joking). He suggested we went up the stream. Now we had already driven up the left hand bank, but on the Stalkers advice, we walked up the right hand bank this time. We were tired, it was raining, and there wasn't much to see. We walked past the council depot, then the fire station and then carried on towards the school. In a field there was a flooded bit with two ducks dabbling away. I casually lifted my bins.....two hours to find our first target bird. CJW hadn't seen a Black Duck since he was on Scilly in the 1950s while staying with his Auntie Hilda Quick-Hide. Both of my previous Black Duck were in the south west, so it was a nice addition to my Scottish list.





Flushed with success, we headed off to our hotel in Nethybridge, a drive of just under two hours. We made two stops. The first was alongside Loch Linnhe, where a small flock of birds on the water caught my attention. We stopped and there were seven Slavonian Grebes bobbing around. We decided against the Corran Ferry again due to CJW's sea legs (or was it the £8-40 charge?), and headed up to Fort William. By Duisky, there was a large gathering of gulls on the shore, probably due to the nearby landfill site. A quick check, and there was an immature Iceland Gull sat preening.

Iceland Gull at Duisky (CJW)
 It was still light by the time we arrived on Speyside. There had been two Tundra Bean seen recently at Loch Insh, and as we were passing, we decided to call in. We didn't really know where to look, and we only found several groups of Greylag Geese. We did see a Sand Martin though over the Loch. 

And that ended Day One of our Scottish trip.




Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bluethroat at Tongue End 18th February 2017

Another fantastic days birding in a long line of other fantastic days birding started off at Willow Tree Fen in Lincolnshire. This place looks quite a good reserve but for some reason, it hasn't turned up anything really top draw yet. It does look an ideal place for a late summer RED-FOOTED FALCON maybe for instance.

Anyway, CJW, I and the Stalker walked down the little path and joined the crowd. We'd already passed quite a few birder/birdwatchers walking back, several of whom were back slapping and punching the air with glee. One tramp, sorry, local birdwatcher-type even told us that we should get ourselves down there as there was a BLUETHROAT showing really well. We replied is there really, and we said we might well go down and have a look. 

So we stood in the crowd. And waited. And waited. And actually we started to get really cold as sub-Saharan tropical heat had been forecast for today and we had dressed accordingly. CJW was actually wearing shorts and his Right Said Fred string vest as he thought it was going to be that warm.    

Eventually, just before hypothermia set in, the Bluethroat popped out and did its performance. The sound was deafening. Some even dived for cover in the reed  bed as they though they were under attack from a Japanese sniper. In fact, it was the sound of 120 camo-clad long lens toting muppets with their cameras making all those wonderful sounds. They can obviously silence them, but we are dealing with idiots here who think for instance they can take photos of a duck caught by fishing line and pass them off as a duck showing well. 

I digress (yes muppet I'm still on about you Mr @duckonarope). We watched the Bluethroat wander up and down a few feet away from us. Unfortunately, due to the freezing temperatures, my fingers began to go numb as I shot some video. Anyway, Lord Lichfield has finally started to get to grips with his camera, and his latest offering, if watched on high definition on your mobile, isn't too shabby at all. In fact, its amongst the top two videos you'll see on this page.





We made the relatively short journey up to Rutland Water, where we only managed to add two Black-necked Grebes to our day list, and we couldn't find the much hoped for RED-NECKED GREBE. 

Next stop was back to Drayton Bassett Pits where we finally connected with the Greenland White-fronted Goose, showing well in the field with the Canada Geese. I wanted to see this goose, as its still quite a rarity in the county. This is only my 3rd sighting, with the previous two sightings being my first and second sightings. I also have seen quite a few flavours of geese so far this year. I wonder if I can do the clean "geese" sweep this year or not?




We then decided to head off to Chasewater, where we hoped to see GLAUCOUS GULL or maybe a CASPIAN GULL. CJW was especially excited about this, as he's such a fan of gull roosts. But, there was the chance of one or two year ticks, so the visit had to be done. 

As we were walking back to the car, I received a phone call from a contact at Branston. He'd found something, and it was a Branston tick for me. I told CJW and The Stalker, but they decided to leave it to me to decide where to go next. They were both looking forward immensely to the gull roost, and neither of them had a Branston list. We'd all seen the mystery bird in question twice this year as well. It was a no brainer. Surely it was obvious I had to go with the majority decision in the car.

We were soon parking up at Branston.We only had to sprint to the southern pit. We were soon out of breath, gasping for air, our lungs seemed so tight. Sweat was pouring off us. Then we got out of the car and put our coats on; we walked across the fields. 

It  took us quite some time to find the female Long-tailed Duck, but The Stalker eventually located it. And true to form, it was diving constantly. But it was another addition to my Branston list. What a fantastic day it had been.