Thursday 23 December 2021

River Darwen, Lancashire - 23rd December

My second attempt for the Belted Kingfisher which had been present in the area since 8th November ranging between Brockholes Lancashire Wildlife Trust Reserve, Withnell Fold and from 20th December at the current site on the River Darwen. I first visited on 21st December but failed to see the bird. Today, I set off from Cowley in the Cotswolds at 04:30 and was at the parking spot within the village of Roach Bridge at 06:45. I sat in the dark in my car for a while and then a few birders passed with torches so I got my kit together and headed to the view point over the River Darwen at 07:15 and still in the dark. I got a good spot overlooking the river and waited for the light to rise. More and more birders joined the few gathered birders and eventually all the front row spaces overlooking the river were taken, the next contingent of birders began to line up behind. Eventually there were around 200 birders and as the sun began to rise the birds began calling and eventually the distant rattle of the Belted Kingfisher joined the chorus at around 08:15. To my left a birder picked the bird up perched high in an Ash tree and after a clamour trying to get to a position to view the bird a birder to my right picked the bird up in his scope and eventually let me have a quick look. Sods law, for me the bird was behind a nearby Ivy clad Oak but after a bit of shuffling and adjusting of the tripod legs I was able to see the bird. It was perched surprisingly high above the river almost in the canopy of an Ash and could be seen distantly but well as it bobbed its head and raised its tail.  Over the next hour or so the bird moved between the original trees and then to closer trees where it was difficult to see behind the dense scrub as it perched in trees over the river, eventually it perched in the open and I managed to get a clear view through the trees with a smaller scrum of birders albeit that I was perched on the very edge of a very muddy and slippery slope. Here I managed by best views of this fabulous bird as it perched more or less in the open and back to us. After 15 minutes or so of watching the bird here it flew down river and I decided to head for home at around 09:30. The traffic was thick on the M6 driving south but I was eventually back home at Cowley by 12:45.

There have been five records of this species in Britain and four in Ireland as follows:

United Kingdom

  • 2018 - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly, 18th April, male.
  • 2005 - Tixall, Staffordshire 1st April then Eastrington Ponds, Yorkshire 2nd April then Peterculter, Aberdeen, 4th-8th April. 1st summer male.
  • 1980 - Dundrum Bay, County Down, 12th October, female shot. Oct 12
  • 1979 - Sladesbridge, Cornwall, 2nd October 1979 until June 1980 and Boscathnoe Reservoir, Penzance 23rd to 29th August. Adult male.
  • 1908 - River Allen, Sladesbridge, Cornwall. Female, shot.

Southern Ireland

  • 2012 - Lough Fee and Kylemore Abbey, County Galway, 5th-6th October, 1st year male.
  • 1985 - Killaloe, County Tipperary, 6th February to 21st March. Female. Same as 1984 bird.
  • 1984 - Ballyvaughan, County Clare, 28th October to early December. Female. Same as 1985 bird.
  • 1978 - Bunree River, near Ballina, County Mayo, 10th December 1979 until 3rd February 1979 when shot. First-winter female.

Sunday 19 September 2021

Portland Bill - 17th September

I had another Dormouse survey near to Dorchester today and so opted to head to Portland for a couple of hours before hand. Compared to my last visit on the 15th it was dead with very few migrants present. I walked from the main car park up the West Cliffs, through the Top Fields and down to Culverwell and then spent sometime at the Observatory Quarry. The Wryneck was still in the observatory quarry but otherwise there was very little, I recorded not a single Chiffchaff and overhead passage was non-existent. My eBird checklist for the morning can be viewed here.

Sparrowhawk - Top Fields, Portland Bill

Kestrel - Top Fields, Portland Bill

Wryneck - Observatory Quarry, Portland Bill

Portland Bill - 15th September

Before a Dormouse survey near to Dorchester I popped to Portland Bill for a couple of hours birding. I parked in the main car park and birded the lighthouse, Pulpit Inn and Observatory area. The bushes were alive with Chiffchaff and with good numbers of Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat as well as Redstart, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail and a Hobby flew north. I spent some time at the Observatory Quarry where the Wryneck showed well eventually, it would disapear for long periods under the Brambles to feed.

My eBird checklist for the morning can be viewed here.

Wryneck - Observatory Quarry, Portland Bill

Wryneck - Observatory Quarry, Portland Bill

Little Owl - Observatory Quarry, Portland Bill

Northern Wheatear - Portland Bill

Chiffchaff - Bird Observatory, Portland Bill

Sunday 12 September 2021

Pagham Harbour - 10th September

I headed to Pagham this morning for a Red-backed Shrike that had been present in the Halsey's Farm and North Wall area since 5th September. After school drop-off I arrived on site at 08:40 and parked at the end of Church Lane and walked out onto the seawall. I was midway along the wall when the heavens opened and I got soaked. In the fields to the north of the seawall Yellow Wagtail and Cattle Egret accompanied the grazing cows - the latter having bred locally this year. I reached the end of the seawall where the shrike has been frequenting but it was still raining and I was not especially hopeful of seeing the bird immediately. I 'pished' in the bushes and saw Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler and roving flocks of tit produced Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler. Eventually the sun began to break and bird activity began to increase, I wandered away from the shrike viewing spot  to see if it could be seen from a different angle but soon, the three gathered birders began waving and it was evident that the shrike was back in its usual spot. I short but fast walk and I was watching the first winter Red-backed Shrike back in its favoured spot and showing well. It was evidently hunting dragonflies and it was not long before it caught a male Migrant Hawker which was quickly consumed. It was time to head back to the car. My eBird checklist for the morning can be seen here.

On my return back west to Romsey I stopped briefly at the paddocks at Northey on Hayling Island where Pied Flycatcher have been seen recently, this is supposedly one of the most reliable autumn sites for the species in Hampshire but I had no luck in a very quick look. My eBird checklist can be seen here.

First winter Red-backed Shrike - Pagham Harbour

First winter Red-backed Shrike - Pagham Harbour

Greenshank, this juvenile bird has a noticeably short bill which is evidently still growing - Pagham Harbour

Monday 6 September 2021

Normandy Lagoon and Oxey Marsh - 4th September

After a few days of twitching I returned to my familiar birding habits this weekend and headed to Pennington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve on 4th, as a change to birding the Pennington area I opted for the Normandy and Oxey area. After dropping my son at Saturday school club I parked on Normandy Lane and spent the first couple of hours at Normandy Lagoon mainly scanning the gathered waders. The highlight here was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper which showed well as it fed along the southern shore of the lagoon. Also here were good numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover and eight Greenshank.

Curlew Sandpiper, the second image with annelid worm prey - Normandy Lagoon, Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes.

I then headed west along the seawall scanning the bushes in the hope for a Wryneck or Whinchat but with no luck. There has been a substantial influx of Wryneck into the UK during the recent easterly air flow and with the abundance of suitable habitat I was reasonably hopeful of finding one - obviously overly optimistic on this occasion. I stood at the point scanning the sea and bushes seeing little but there was a steady passage of Sand Martin and Swallow moving east along the coast and a Kingfisher showed well. My eBird checklist for the morning can be seen here.

Common Redshank - Normandy Lagoon, Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes.

Common Kingfisher - Normandy Lagoon, Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes.

On Sunday 5th I decided to head to Salterns Shore, near to Hillhead, Fareham where a White-winged Black Tern has been present for a couple of days feeding offshore with the large mixed tern flock. I have been fairly sceptical about a number of claims of this bird, although in no doubt the bird is present, I do think that there are a number of overly optimistic claims of this bird at distance. When news came through this AM of it still being present I headed off from home but on arriving at site there was some degree of scepticism about the validity of todays claim. Still, I spent around 1.5 hours scanning and year ticked Black Tern. The beach front was crowded in the 26c heat and I beat a hasty retreat as the standard of intellect in the questions from the public aimed at the gathered birders reached rock bottom; the inane yelling by dogwalkers haunted me as I drove back to the relative tranquility of Romsey. My eBird checklist for the morning can be seen here.

Thursday 2 September 2021

Blacktoft Sands RSPB - 31st August

The pull of the White-tailed Plover at Blacktoft Sands RSPB (see here) proved too much and after a family orientated Bank Holiday weekend I was off. Leaving home at 04:15 I made good progress on the quiet roads and by 07:55 was pulling into the car park at the reserve. I walked straight to the Xerox Hide where the White-tailed Plover was immediately on show. I watched the bird for a couple of hours with around 50 odd other birders coming and going from the hide. I headed for home at 10:00 and was back by 14:15 pleased with a successful twitch.

Present at Blacktoft RSPB since 26th August and on occasions showing very well but at times going missing behind reed covered islands. It, or another bird, was seen at Stodmarsh NNR in Kent on 2nd June (see here) but only remained a short while before being chased off by the local breeding Lapwing. Today, as has often been the case, the bird was showing well from the Xerox Hide (it has been seen from other hides on the reserve) where it fed amongst the local waders mainly on floating mats of vegetation (possibly Tassleweed (Rupia) Sp.) rather than on the open areas of mud. However, it didn't look entirely at home in the muddy lagoon and its legs and bill were often coated with wet mud. This is an adult bird and as a result its plumage is rather scruffy and worn. My eBird list for the morning can be seen here.

Assuming this is the same bird as in Stodmarsh this would be the 7th British record and the first since 2010 with previous records being:

  • 2010 - Seaforth (Lancashire) 27th-28th May, then Rainham Marshes (London) 7th July then Slimbridge (Gloucestershire) 9th-10th July, and then Dungeness (Kent) 11th to 21st July.
  • 2007 - Caerlaverock (Dumfriesshire & Galloway), 6th - 8th June, then Leighton Moss (Lancashire), 10th - 17th June.
  • 1984 - Near Telford (Shropshire), 24th-25th May.
  • 1984 - Cleadon (County Durham), 21st May.
  • 1979 - Chesil Beach (Dorset) 3rd July.
  • 1975 - Packington Gravel Pits (Warwickshire) 12th-18th July.

Monday 23 August 2021

Treleaver Farm, Coverack - 23rd August

While returning from the pelagic on 22nd August the remarkable news of a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin on the Lizard Peninsula just west of Coverack broke. I was heading off from Scilly on 23rd and so I decided that if it was still present we would make the diversion to see the bird during our return drive from Lands End airport to Romsey.

On 23rd we landed at Land's End at 12:30 and after a quick stop to buy some lunch, following positive news, we were at Treleaver Farm near to Coverack for 14:30. The bird showed quickly and very well down to around 7m and content with our views we were back on the road by 15:45. My eBird list for the site can be seen here and my blogpost of the 2020 bird here.

This is a remarkable record as while there was another at Stiffkey in October 2020 the previous mainland record was from Prawle Point in August 1980 and so, after a gap of 40 years, birds have occurred in consecutive years - I have been fortunate enough to have seen both birds. I have provided a summary of previous UK records on my eBird checklist here and a blogpost here.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly - 10th-23rd August

From the 10th August I had a family holiday planned in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Seawatching at Pendeen on 14th, 16th and 17th produced up to 17 Balearic Shearwater, 14 Sooty Shearwater and four Roseate Tern. For Pendeen seawatches see here, here and here.

On Scilly the land birding was extremely slow with the only bird of any note being a Lesser Yellowlegs on Tresco on 21st. On 22nd I was out on a Scilly Pelagic on the Sapphire hoping for Wilson's Storm-Petrel which had been seen on 20 back-to-back trips before the 22nd but today it was not to be. The highlights of the trip which went north-east to the Seven Stones area were a stunning adult Sabine's Gull flying close to the boat, two juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, at least 20 European Storm-Petrel, five Balearic Shearwater and 16 Sooty Shearwater. My eBird checklist for the trip can be viewed here.

Sabine's Gull - Scilly Pelagic's, Seven Stones Area

Sabine's Gull - Scilly Pelagic's, Seven Stones Area

Yellow-legged Gull - Scilly Pelagic's, Seven Stones Area

Sooty Shearwater - Scilly Pelagic's, Seven Stones Area

Balearic Shearwater - Scilly Pelagic's, Seven Stones Area

Manx Shearwater - Scilly Pelagic's, Seven Stones Area

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Snettisham RSPB and Frampton Marsh RSPB - 27th July

On 27th July, while on annual leave at our cottage in the Cotswolds, I planned a three wader tick day. I was up early and headed to Snettisham arriving at high tide where my first British tick, a very pale looking White-rumped Sandpiper, showed well on the shoreline feeding with Dunlin. As the tide fell there was a shout of Western Sandpiper but unfortunately, this bird was rather distant on the mudflats and did not show close to the shore as it had done on previous days - but it was wader tick number 2. My eBird checklist for Snettisham can be seen here.

After Snettisham I then headed north into Lincolnshire and to Frampton Marsh RSPB where an adult summer Pacific Golden Plover showed well in the gloom - wader tick number 3! The heavens opened and I began the drive back to the Cotswolds passing through some torrential downpours on my journey. My eBird checklist for Frampton Marsh can be seen here.

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Bempton Cliffs RSPB Reserve - 20th July

On 20th July I finally succumbed to the draw of the Black-browed Albatross that has been summering at Bempton RSPB - a site that I had never visited before. First seen as an immature bird in Norfolk and Yorkshire in 2016 and seen annually at various locations on the east coast of the UK and on the near continent, particularly Germany, since. This year the bird had been present at Bempton since 28th June coming into cliffs for a few days before disappearing for a day or two then to return. 

I set off from home early and arrived on site at 09:15. Initially the bird was distant and sat on the water with Gannets but after a while it flew towards the cliffs and was watched circling Bartlett Nab. However, the bird was always a little distant and i didn't obtain the crippling eye-level views that many other birders had during the summer. My eBird checklist for the morning can be seen here

Sunday 11 July 2021

Langford Lake, Wiltshire - 11th July

My blog has been very much neglected this year due to a number of reasons, mainly as I have been working to get my eBird fully up to date with all of my lifetime observations - I now think I am more or less there and hope to start blogging once more.

I am going to start with working through some of my best birds of the summer. On 11th July I visited a site that I had driven past many times but had never visited, Langford Lake in Wiltshire. A female Red-footed Falcon had been present for a number of days, the bird did not disappoint as it showed well in Great Meadow and was actively catching Emperor Dragonfly and Black-tailed Skimmer. My eBird checklist for the morning can be seen here.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Frampton on Severn and Crabtree Hill - 5th April

With a free day in the Cotswold's I decided to head out for the day to visit various local sites. First stop was Frampton on Severn sailing club lake where a 1st winter Bonaparte's Gull had been present since 31st March. I found the bird fairly quickly roosting on pontoon but unfortunately I was viewing directly into ths sun and so my views were rather poor - I later found out that I could have viewed the pontoon from the north which would have been much better. This was a lovely little spot with my first Willow Warbler of the year singing as well as large numbers of Sand Martin and Swallow present. It felt very spring like. My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Bonaparte's Gull - 1st winter, Frampton on Severn Sailing Club Lake

Bonaparte's Gull - 1st winter, Frampton on Severn Sailing Club Lake

I then headed to Crabtree Hill in the Forest of Dean for the wintering Great Grey Shrike and after a short search was soon enjoying good views of this bird. As I watched the bird dropped to the ground and took a Common Lizard before flying to its larder. My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Great Grey Shrike - Crabtree Hill, Forest of Dean

Great Grey Shrike - Crabtree Hill, Forest of Dean

Finally, I headed to Cleeve Hill Common to look for Ring Ouzel but other than my first Wheatear of the spring I saw little. My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Walrus, Tenby - 3rd April

We had a week at our cottage in Cowley, Cheltenham and I could'nt resist a naughty twitch to Tenby to see the Walrus that had taken up residence on the lifeboat slipway. First seen on Valentia Island, County Kerry, Southern Ireland on 14th March,  it then appeared at Tenby on 27th March after being seen at various locations in SW Wales including St. Govan's Head, Saundersfoot and Monkstone Point. The animal regular hauls out onto the ramp of the lifeboat station but today I spent a pleasant couple of hours watching this beast of an animal feeding close in shore just off the lifeboat station. The animal was diving frequently for periods of approximately five minutes before spending a minute or two on the surface before diving once more - apparently there is a high abundance of Razorclams in the bay and presumably the animal is feeding on these.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Odds and Ends from the 1st Quarter of 2021

Through this horrendous Covid-19 pandemic I have been fortunate in being able to continue to work and to travel for my work. During this time I have managed to make a few short detours to see a few birds. However, during this time I decided to cease posting on this blog, now that April is here and the Country is slowly easing out of lock-down I am planning to revive my posts. Here are some images from the very end of 2020 and into 2021.

Northern Mockingbird - I headed down to Exmouth for this bird at the end of March, not the best of twitches having to stand on a ladder and peer into someones garden.

Cirl Bunting - After the Mockingbird I headed to Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve where around 15 Cirl Bunting showed well

Baikal Teal - A short diversion during the school run got me this very wary bird at Sopley in Hampshire.

Garganey - Some time at Pennington Marsh either side of school drop off produced this fine male at the end of March

Dusky Warbler - I had great views of this bird at Siddington, Gloucestershire in early March

Grey Phalarope - School drop off also produced this bird at Pennington Marsh at the end of February

Bufflehead - I made a short visit for this bird at Lee Marston Lakes at the end of February

Dipper - A nesting pair showed well in Stroud at the end of February

Great Bustard - I dropped into see this bird in Oxfordshire from the Salisbury release programme 
in early March

Little Bunting - Showed well at Thursley Common in December

Rustic Bunting - A visit to Thursley Common in December produced good views after a long wait