Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The tale of two Citrines - 6th and 13th May 2017

CJW was working on the weekend of the 6th May, and I had one or two things to see to, so I didn't venture out until late morning. I was hoping for a BLACK TERN as a patch tick at one of the gravel pits I visit, but I received news that there was no sign of it. So I sat and thought and decided to head off to North Wales where a CITRINE WAGTAIL had been found earlier on.

I was there two hours later and walked to the hide where two birders were already sat there. Unfortunately they had only just arrived, and there had been no reports of the Wagtail for a couple of hours. Indeed one of them proceeded to tell me it had in fact been reported as flying off over on to the saltmarsh.

Following a short scan from the hide, I decided to head off and look for the bird on the saltmarsh. I was a little surprised by the number of  cars parked in the lane compared with the number of birders I'd seen, so I hoped I would bump into a crowd somewhere.

I walked round the saltmarsh just down the coast, seeing a few Wheatears and a couple of White Wagtails but not much else. I returned to the hide where the two birders were stood outside. As I walked up to them another birder came from round the corner. "It's still there" he said, "showing from the mound".

We walked down to where at least ten birders were stood. Mystery solved! It took a little while before the female Citrine Wagtail gave itself up as it fed in the vegetation.

So roll on Saturday 13th May. Unfortunately, CJW travelled up to North Wales on Monday but the Conwy CITRINE WAGTAIL had done a bunk. We looked at various trip possibilities, but come Saturday morning and not a lot was happening. CJW came up with a master plan - lets head to Belvide or Doxey. We slowly headed off down the D road. Then a message came on the pager (been in the news recently - we can name two who still have one). The CITRINE WAGTAIL had been seen in Northumberland again. We were literally yards off the A50 turning. I told CJW he had 30 seconds to make up his mind.

The 1st summer female Citrine Wagtail performed incredibly well, showing down to a few metres at times. We also heard it call as well. Several of us commented how very similar it was to a Yellow Wagtail, perhaps containing a few more zzz's but nothing more.

Photo to show how close the Citrine Wagtail was (just right of wooden post)



On Monday 15th May, Steve Nuttall found a SPOTTED SANDPIPER at Belvide. I wasn't starting work until 2pm so I shot down. The bird was showing from the furthest hide, and I just managed too see it above the heads of the chatting OAP's who always fill the hides there. Its a good job Steve is there for them isn't it!
I've been fortunate enough to see four Spotted Sandpipers in Staffordshire.

Friday, 5 May 2017

A mesmerising Pallid Harrier in Lancashire 29th April 2017

We were promised a change in the weather for the weekend and big things were predicted. We were hoping for some clear cut decisions / bird on the Friday but nothing really happened. I made a few suggestions to CJW. And he made a decision.

CJW arranged to pick me up at 430am and told me we were going birding and we would see a few year ticks. The destination was only known to himself and The Stalker. I consulted my lawyers. We agreed to go with the decision.

As arranged, CJW picked me up at 430am. I immediately looked at his satnav. Arrival at 730am. That meant a journey of three hours so I was able to discount a few places already. As we drove down the D road, he said he had an issue with today's trip. An issue with the trip he had planned! I smirked. We picked up The Stalker and the discussion began. The issue lay with a photo of the adult male PALLID HARRIER at Dunsop Bridge and they had been both blown away by the bird. I had already suggested this as a possible trip, as I knew what the bird looked like. The satnav was changed to Lancashire.

The journey was relatively straightforward and we arrived in Dunsop Bridge at 06:30hrs. We had a pleasant stroll up the valley, and we then sprinted up the last slope to the small viewing area where three blokes were already standing.

For the next two hours, we were mesmerised by the adult male Pallid Harrier as it flew by over the hillside or as it climbed high overhead, calling away, with its silhouette looking more like a large falcon or tern. It was a truly unforgettable sight, and it was hard to drag yourself away from. No one spoke as it flew by. I've never witnessed a bird before that totally captured everyones attention like this before.

Three photo's by Lord Lichfield

And two from me

With news reaching us of a SAVI'S WARBLER singing on Spurn, we decided to head over that way, with the possibility of the female MONTAGU'S HARRIER at Blacktoft as well. It was quite a long journey, and we knew when we arrived that the SAVI'S had not been heard singing for nearly three hours, and the MONTY'S had been seen once at 1030. We hung around the Canal zone area, but it was quite windy by now. We did a bit of sea watching, and we walked the triangle before heading off to the Kilnsea Wetlands and Beacon Pools. It was quiet; we only saw a few bits and bobs and we felt the day may have peaked. In the back of our minds though, we thought there was a slim chance the SAVI'S would sing again in the evening and so there was a reluctance to head off.

In the end we headed back to the car to set off for home. Just a bit further up the road, two cars were parked up and they were looking across a field. Then another car turrned up. Another car paused, spoke to them and headed our way. Using all my two years twitching experience, I sensed they were watching something. I kindly volunteered to walk up the road to see, while the other two waited. Half way up the road, another birder had joined The Stalker and CJW and they were all marching furiously up towards me, grinning and putting their thumbs, punching the air. One of them was even shaking a bottle of champagne and de-corking it. I knew then they were watching a bird.

I arrived, and one of the regulars kindly put me onto a female DOTTEREL that was feeding at the back of the field. It was a nice way to end the day, and at least we'd seen something on Spurn.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Meet the Clayheads

One of the most frequent questions asked on the 1000's of emails is "Who are the Clayheads?". It's about time I introduced my band of brothers. As a one off, here goes. I must say, you have to be rather special to be consider a Clayhead - the elite birders in North Staffordshire.

First of all meet the Artist, Phil Jones

Phil "Jonesy" Jones - I remember Jonesy on an RSPB trip in the mid 80's and the lucky git managed to continue throughout the 90's so despite me seeing my first rare before him, he didn't get distracted by girls and family (he's not a sausage jockey though, please don't think so) and he's birded ever since. Approaching  mid 490's (BOU), he likes to remind us its a Snickers and not a sprint so he's more into world birding now (he'd rather see a Blue-crested Finch Thrush than a Ring-necked Duck for his Yorkshire list now) but he can still be tempted out for a big twitch. You've seen it, he's drawn it. His work has appeared in county reports and LGRE's books, a very underestimated artist, his best drawings are simply superb. It depends now if he can be arsed or not. You ask him for a drawing though, and he can produce one. 
Phil "Jonesy" Jones
Phil "Red Bull" Locker - Shit at numbers, he can't add up to save his life. Always adds to his life list and has never taken a tick off yet, "Mr I'm having an Oatcake first" has been birding since the early 90's. My first memory of him was at Westport when he turned up with his scope (please, only "The Builder" is allowed that priviledge), and he was mithering our leader and Clayhead founder WJL about a THAYER'S GULL at a tip in Cheshire. I remember asking WJL who the hell was that. And the Locker legend was born. Only birds after 16 cans of Red Bull, 4 bags of haribo and 16 bacon and cheese oatcakes, PLo is approaching the magical 500 (BOU) but needs a trip to Bedfordshire desparately please. 

Chris "The St Helen's Kid" Waring - Been birding since the 1930's when for some reason he was taken the the Scillies for his holidays in October. What's that all about the f**king cheat? Personal friend of every famous 1960's birder, his Aunty was Hilda Quick-Hide, who the Hilda Quick Hide is named after. He's been tiger hunting with David "James" Hunt, he's played cricket and sat on the East Bank Cley with Richie Richardson and he's discussed gull identification with Peter "Gull" Grant. Met him first at Westport in the late 80's when he was repping and he used to pull up on the car park in his black jaguar, Armarny (Armani?) suit and barbour wellies and talk to me and WJL. He later went into pop star management and actually attended Kylie's birthday party (most of the stuff on this blog is utter crap, but some of it is true!). If you want to hear about when Chris's girlfriend fell out with Robbie Williams, then just ask him. We've heard them all before. Had a few years out then we found him wandering around Westport in 2010 and we decided he needed his British list increasing. Been try to do that since then. Co-pilot and occasional driver, also is quite sensible and keeps the group under control.

Ian "The Stalker" Burgess - got the reputation of being a stalker as wherever the Clayheads went, he was there. In the end we just invited him along. Now a regular member of the group and not scary at all. Coming up to 450 (BOU) so he's getting a big one slowly. For the purposes of the blog, he is still a scary man and sneaks his way into the car.]

The Stalker
Pops - One of the original members. Took me to my first YOC group. Constantly alongside me through all my early birding and then when we started again in 2000. Always came along with us on every trip until he stopped coming with us in June 2016. Since then he's looked after us from above. Seat permanently saved and thats why we only have three members in the car. Hated sat navs with a passion. Gutted when sacked as map reader. Couldn't believe the anger directed towards the satnav at times. Still, he was pops and we all miss him dearly.  

Karl "The Builder" Stockton - late developer and has accompanied us on occasional trips. The classic 90's birder. Set off fast,woooompf thru the 90's to get up to the magical 500. Now, only wakes up when there's a tick and in spring when he's year listing, and if there's a tick then he's off. Also if you need any big jobs doing, he's a fantanstic DIY person. I can personally recommend him.

Me - the Captain. Been birding since 1982 and an original teeny ticker - saw my first rare in 1986 at the age of 16.Sat out the 90's cos of girls and family and came back in 2000. A complete tosser who you don't want to cross, but once accepted I will look after you for life. The driver, none better, a complete professional, you are safe in my hands. Also trip organiser and I try to dominate you until Chris steps in.

Substitutes"Grizzly" Adams. Has been on a few trips and now is doing a bit more birding than previously. Has to remember you don't have to see a bird just once, you can see it twice in fact.

Grant "Granty" Grant Price - new boy. Spent a whole journey trying to think of a nick name for him. Shows potential and appetite for the future. Just needs to add another 100 to his list and he might get a seat.


Friday, 28 April 2017

Serious accident marrs decent birding day to the South West

A decent day was planned to the west country on Saturday April 22nd. We had a decent list of target species with TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL, BLACK-WINGED STILT and GLOSSY IBIS. Hopefully it could be a decent day. The weather was forecast was good and the crew was assembled. Today it was CJW as navigator and The Stalker as the quiet one who watches us.

First stop was at Slimbridge. We decided to arrive early and sneak in via the secret gate. Unfortunately, our well rehearsed plans were thwarted by a lady standing by the secret gate. She took all our details, checked all three of our genuine WWT membership cards, had a small laugh and joke with her and off we walked towards the South Lake following her directions. (Sneaking into a WWT reserve indeed - what do you think we are? ). 

We arrived at the South Lake and before I even lifted my bins and sat down in the comfy armchair I could see the pair of BLACK-WINGED STILTS feeding away just in front of us. Amazingly, these are my first Black-winged Stilts seen at Slimbridge and in fact, the first I've ever seen in the whole county of Gloucestershire. Who would have thought that! (This is actually my 6th county for BWS for the record)

Then an announcement was made in the hide that there was a SPOONBILL viewable from the Zeiss Hide. I felt the urge to sprint out of the hide there and then, clambering over the chairs and knocking old women flying, but for some reason, I decided to show restraint. We made the long walk to the top of the reserve, only on entering the hide to be met with the dreadful news that the SPOONBILL had flown to the other end of  the reserve. CJW was crestfallen to say the least and did well to hold back the tears. We sat in the hide, pulled ourselves together and started to scan the pools beneath us. Then The Stalker picked up a large white bird flying up along the riverbank. It soon disappeared behind the trees, but we felt it maybe wasn't a LITTLE EGRET.It then started to turn, a neck became visible and we realised it was the Spoonbill! Elation swept through the hide.

With the possibility of another year with hopefully a blingless CRANE, we headed down to the other end of the reserve. We sat in the Holden Tower and amazingly the SPOONBILL flew down to our end of the reserve and gave us excellent views from the tower on its fly past. There were two CRANES present but they were blinged up. The Spoonbill showed well from one of the flat low hides that you have to duck under a piece of carpet to get in.

With no news from the TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL site in North Somerset, we headed down to Ham Wall instead. We parked up on the car park, the sun was beating down but things started to go wrong. We were getting our stuff together as normal, and I swung my scope on my back. I didn't realise CJW was stood directly behind me checking my collar size, and with one swing of my tripod I smacked it into his head. The crack was deafening and he went down like a ton of bricks. After a few moments on the floor, the stars stopped floating around his head and the tweeeting birds flew off. He stood up as though nothing had happened.

I looked at The Stalker and we just shrugged our shoulders and carried on. But we knew CJW wasn't quite right but what could we do. The birding on the reserve was fantastic, and poor old CJW just jabbered along grinning and singing old sea shanties to himself. We saw three Hobby, five Swift, three Bittern in flight, four drake Garganey, a Glossy Ibis, nine Great White Egret, two Whimbrel and eleven Cattle Egret. The list was just like one you get sent in from Berryhill or Trentham Gardens.

Poor old CJW after his bang on his head. You can see his odd shaped egg head

Just managed all eleven Cattle Egret at Meare NR


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