Monday, 31 December 2012

2012....The Year That Was Part 1

I got out birding a bit this year. Maybe a little too much on the twitching side some might say, but also making up for lost time. One of my aims was to reach 300 on my life list. It's fair to say I smashed that and also chalked up a decent year list of 254, but as I reach the end of the year I realise that numbers are just not important. What matters is getting out there and birding and enjoying it.

2013 is back to basics year. In the meantime here are my 2013 highlights:


The year started on a very local level with trudges around Sutton Park and Sandwell Valley. My first birding trip away came at the end of January when I caught up with the Western Sandpiper at Cley Marshes. I also ticked the Lesser White-fronted Goose, which was back for a second winter with the Taiga Beans at Buckenham. Coue's Arctic Redpoll was at Titchwell and Norfolk specialities such as Shorelark, Lapland Bunting, Bearded Tit, Hawfinch Bittern and Snow Bunting were all seen.


Back to local birding again, a near-adult Iceland Gull was at Stubber's Green.

Near adult Iceland Gull at Stubbers - the bird is now here again and fully matured. Image courtesy Martyn Yapp.

On 18th February, a highly memorable twitch of the Common Yellowthroat at Rhiwderin in Gwent with Martyn Yapp. We spent a morning getting soaked and when the bird did reappear there was some running up & down the hills in panic, with one poor bloke ending face down in the drink. In the end the sun came out and the bird showed very well. A happy ending for all.

On the 25th Feb I saw both Spanish Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco in Hampshire.

Spanish Sparrow at Calshot
On 26th Feb, another tick, perhaps a tarty one I should have seen earlier, but still very nice....

Glossy Ibis in Dorset


The 3rd of March saw a bloggers trip to Wales.

Here we had a Rose-coloured Starling at Holyhead and we dipped a Surf Scoter at Morfa Nefyn. It was still a very good day though with lots of seabirds noted and an interesting albino Common Gull in Colwyn Bay which briefly had our hearts a-flutter.

Rose-coloured Starling - Image Courstesy Martyn Yapp

10th March was a highly decent day on the Chase with Great Grey Shrike, Common Crossbill, Brambling and Woodlark all noted. This continued to be a great regional day, with a White-fronted Goose at Branston and my first Black Redstart of the year noted at Blithfield.

First Ochruros of the Year - Blithfield Res
The 11th March provided a regional tick - Yellow-browed Warbler in Warndon, Worcestershire.

On 26th March, something very strange happened. A totally unexpected garden tick....

Red-legged Partridge - in a suburban Brummy garden!


1st April was a bit of a blogger's twitchathon day. Martyn, Richard and I began at Meare Heath, Somerset where we saw two Long-billed Dowitchers and also a Great White Egret and a Bittern. We then had Spotted Sandpiper and Long-tailed Duck at Chew Valley. We finished with a Bonaparte's Gull at Newnham.

Long-tailed Duck at Chew Valley - Image Courtesty of Richard Powell
Boney at Newnham

On the 7th April it was regional tick time and Staffs tick time for many staffs listers. A Common Crane was at Radford Meadows and it was indeed present for a couple of weeks. A pair of Gargeney also graced the brook during my visit. Also Ring Ouzel at Berry Hill.

Staffs Crane - Image Courtesy Martyn Yapp

On 13th April a Short-eared Owl at Croxall. A great patch bird.

On 19th April a significant regional tick. Black-winged Stilt at Clayhangar. Not one, but two of them! Part of a national influx at this time.

One of the two Stilts - image coourtesy Mark Rayment

Toward the end of the month there were a couple of ventures into Oxforshire. 28th April was a Dotterel at Balscote Quarry and more significantly 4 of a party of White Storks at Standlake on 29th.

Image courtesy of Adam Hartley -

This was also the day we saw 5 Black-necked Grebes at Farmoor at very close quarters.

Black-necked Grebe Posse at Farmoor


One of my personal birding highlights of the year, alongside Martyn Yapp was finding a singing male Black Redstart in Birmingham City Centre. This has long been my favourite bird and one that is close to my heart. To watch and listen to this bird on a regular basis throughout the spring, along with a second bird that we also got wind of, was an absolute privilege.

Rooftop singer - 1st summer bird

Image by Martyn Yapp

From 19th May, I spent a holiday on Portland, staying at the Bird Obs. The outstanding highlight of this was finding a Woodchat Shrike, personally my best find ever. I was proper chuffed to bits.

Woodchat Shrike

Other highlights of this enjoyable break included Great Reed Warbler at Radipole, 4 White Storks over the Obs (the same birds as in Oxfordshire), an Icterine Warbler caught by the warden Martin Cade, Black-winged Stilt and Roseate Tern at Lodmoor and Black Redstart at the M.O.D.

Great Reed Warbler at Radipole

Icky in the hand at Portland


3rd June saw a twitchy trip which included the stunning Roller at Aldbrough in East Yorks, Marsh Warbler at Blacktoft. Close up views of Gannets at South Stack were supurb.


The 16th June saw some good regional birds - Marsh Harrier at Aqualate and even better a Red-backed Shrike at Blackbank.

17th June - crippling views of a Little Bittern in Herts.

Little Bittern at Stockers Lake

On the 20th June, a highlight of any regional birding year, watching Nightjars on Cannock Chase and avoiding Stan Collymore types. On this occasion, me & Martyn saw at least 3 birds and a roding Woodcock.

On the 24th, a memorable Little Swift twitch at New Brighton. Immense flyover views of this little stunna. Not only that, but we met someone called Terry and got involved in seal rescue.

Little Swift - Image by Martyn Yapp

Well this post is turning a bit more epic than I thought it would be. I think it needs to be a two-parter, otherwise I will never get to bed ready for DAY 1 tomorrow. Part 2 tomorrow maybe.

In my youthful days if someone had told me I'd be writing a bird blog at 11pm on NYE I would have probably shot myself. Now I wouldn't change a thing....

All that remains to say is thank you to anyone who has visited by blog in 2012. May I wish you a very Happy New Year and Happy Birding for 2013.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Buff-bellied Pipit

I didnt manage to catch up with a Buff-bellied Pipit this autumn on Scilly this autumn, with one or more birds present but highly elusive throughout my stay. Unexpectedly however, one had turned up a little closer to home at Queen Mother Reservoir in Berkshire.

This was enough to tempt me into a pre-crimbo final twitch of 2012.

The day started well with a self-found flock of 40 Waxwings in Milton Keynes.

The weather turned very dire, as it has been throughout this Xmas. I don't remember Bing Crosby singing I'm Dreaming on a Wet Christmas. 

That was not a problem though as we were soon watching a very confiding American Buff-bellied Pipit as it fed on the dam wall often down to only a few feet and not bothered at all by the birders huddled over it. A good bird like this is always worth getting soaked to the skin for.

Buff-bellied Pipit at Queen Mother Res

Incredibly there were now two Buff-bellied Pipits here on Boxing Day. The mind boggles! Not sure if they have both cleared off now though or not as there is no further general access until New Year.

Also here a Long-tailed Duck, 1 Red Kite, 40 Fieldfare and a Jay.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Birding in Fog & Floods

Saturday 24th November 

Stubbers Green, 8.30am 

Despite good numbers of gulls here, there was nowt even slightly unusual amongst them. Most notable were 18 GBBG and 2 Common Gull. Wildfowl included 8 Shoveler, 29 Tufted Duck and a Pochard. Also a flyover Redpoll was noted.

We would have lingered longer but the gulls were then all flushed by activity at the farm. 

Chasewater, 9.30am 

Next, the Swag (or Jeffrey’s Swag as it's also know, I’ve no idea why). Locating the Great Northern Diver was slightly harder than anticipated, due to a thick blanket of fog that descended.

The Diver was viewable from the railway line and gave some good views. It seemed to be holding its bill slightly parted throughout our visit, which is perhaps cause for concern. Let's hope not.

Great Northern Diver - images by Martyn Yapp

Also here 10 Goosander, 3 Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, 10 Golden Plover over and good numbers of Wigeon and Pochard.

Cannock Chase

Finishing the morning around Tackeroo, it was now virtually impossible to bird as we were enveloped by fog. The only sound was the chacka-chacking of Fieldfare.

Noted; a fine pair of Bullfinch, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Jay and a decent sized thrush flock, that was mainly Fieldfare, but with smaller numbers of Redwing, 2 Mistle Thrush and 1 Song Thrush.

Sunday 25th November

Croxall Lakes, 8.00am

After the storms of last night, much of the Trent Valley was underwater and many roads were impassable.  At Croxall Lakes the lake had extended somewhat which was odd to see, but the hide was still functional.

A large Golden plover flock was on the fields over the road, numbering up to 400 birds joined by c200 Lapwing and c300 Black-headed Gull, plus the odd Common Gull.

Wildfowl numbers on the main lake totalled 123 Pochard, 187 Teal, 8 Wigeon, 8 Gadwall 8, 3 Great Crested Grebe and a pair of Goldeneye.

At another nearby pool we counted 36 Goldeneye.

Lichfield, 11.30am

As we were so close we called in at Cappers Lane, where a large number of Waxwings have been feeding. There were about 30 in the area, that we could see, but by the end of the day up to 80 had been counted.

Unfortunately my camera battery was dead. But whilst I can’t bore the Waxwing haters with my shots, I can with Martyn’s...

Waxwing - what's not to like? Image by Martyn Yapp

Blithfield, 1.00pm onwards

A watery battle to get here. Unfortunately we could not see the Great Northern Diver at the deep end, due to sailing activities that had pushed it out of our view.

After lunch, we relocated to Tad Bay hide where two female type Scaup were viewable from the hide; the birds flew south whilst we were watching them, but a nice gull pre-roost was building up. We were also now joined by Richard Powell and a bit later, Martin Whalley.

It wasn’t long at all before we were lucky enough to pick out an adult Caspian Gull, a crisp classic looking bird, showing all the salient features. Very nice indeed.

Richard managed to get some digiscoped pictures...

Caspian Gull - digiscoped images by Richard Powell

There were also 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls here and 14 Goosander.

Despite the inclement weather, some very good birds could be seen in Staffordshire this weekend, proving that it is always worth going out.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

White-rumped Sandpiper in Staffs

Saturday 17th November 

A big bird for Staffs, with only 5 previous records of this wader in the entire West Midlands region. Three of these occured in Staffs in the 70’s and 80’s and one in Worcestershire in 1996. *

And then of course, the one day bird at Grimley New Workings on 14th July this year, which Martyn and I tragically dipped the following morning.

A White-rumped Sandpiper had been found on Tuesday 13th November at Drayton Bassett Pits/Middleton Lakes, or whatever we call it these days. With work all week, my initial outlook on catching up with this bird was pretty grim.

However the bird was still present come Friday. Gulp.... This was a bird Martyn previously described as his ‘biggest regional bogey bird’, which didn’t exactly bode well for the bird hanging on till Saturday morning.

I’m pleased to say that the White-rumped Sandpiper was indeed still present and we enjoyed some very good scope views of this first-winter bird. It was active and mobile throughout our visit on the pit south of the north pit and it was undisturbed by some mechanial digging work that was going on.

White-rumped Sandpiper at Drayton Bassett, images courtesy of Richard Powell
Also notable; 2 Green Sandpiper, 4 Little Egret, 1 Golden Plover over and 1 Kingfisher.

This was followed by a quick call in at the Edison Rd River Culvert where we had a Chiffchaff and a Peregrine carrying prey.

* The new Birds of the West Midlands

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Staffs, Scoters and Waxwings

The weekend of 10th/11th November involved a regional day, followed to a jaunt to Wales with Martyn.

Saturday 10th November 

Stubbers Green 

First up; Stubbers Green, albeit briefly. It was more of a quick look in for Iceland Gull, rather than a dedicated gulling session, although that will no doubt be soon on the cards. No Iceland, or anything really on the scarce gull front. 4 GBBG, 4 Common Gull were present. A Green Sand was heard but sadly not seen and Shoveler and Pochard were noted, as well as a flyover Redpoll. 

Croxall Lakes 

We arrived at Croxall about 10.00am. Most notable here 2 Redshank, 1 Common Snipe, a flock of c100 Golden Plover, 1 Kingfisher and a Little Egret. Wildfowl included 55 Teal, 35 Pochard, 1 Goosander and 1 Shelduck .

There was also up to 80 Redwing present, but only the odd Fieldfare.    

Cannock Chase 

Then a saunter on the Chase, around Tackeroo down to the shooting butts. It was a liitle quiet, but a nice sunny afternoon.

Noted 1 Stonechat, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and common tits, finches etc.

Coal Tit - image courtesy of Martyn Yapp. Would make a nice RSPB Xmas Card


The day ended with a little gull roosting and surprisingly the adult Iceland Gull was in the roost early, but it then flew north. An adult Med Gull was also noted.

Sunday 11th November


Time to have another go for Surf Scoter. Up to 3 drakes are once again being regularly seen off Llandullas and we were on the scene from 7.30am scanning the Scoter flock. This was going to be hard work with a lot of the Scoter at this stage little more than little black dots.

A bit later we relocated at an elevated point on the cycle track and this made all the difference. Some of the Scoter had drifted a lot closer and Martyn picked out a fine drake Surf Scoter at the front of the pack. We got some quite good views on it, by cranking up the zoom; a tick for me too.

Also noted on the sea; 5 Velvet Scoter , c3,000 Common Scoter, around 20 Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Fulmar, 2 Kittiwake, 20 Oystercatcher and many Guillemot.


Following this, a little light relief was needed and we visited the car park of MFI in Llandudno. Or should that be Llan-dude-no?

Personally, I never tire of these beauties. Up to 200 Waxwings around MFI, B&Q etc. There were also some grockle queries to answer about 'exotic birds'.

Here is one of Martyn's

A flyover Grey Wagtail was also noted here.

Conwy RSPB

Finally Conwy RSPB. A couple of Firecrest have been around, but we don’t have much luck with these lately....

Noted here 2 Chiffy, Siskin, Little Egret, Redshank, Curlew and 13 flyover Golden Plover.

3rd November

Shustoke Reservoir

A day birding the northernmost reaches of Warwickshire began at Shustoke with Martyn and Ian. Target bird, the Slavonian Grebe that had been present since 30th October.

The bird was at the west end near some Great Crests. Always a nice bird to see, especially on an inland water.

Slav Grebe at Shustoke - images courtesy Dave Hutton

We did get wet here but noted 1 Goldeneye, 15 Great Crested Grebe, 7 Lapwing, a few Siskin, 1 Bullfinch and 7 Lesser Redpoll. Winter birding has well and truly begun.


Then a look at Coton Lakes, where frustratingly viewing is rather limited from the hide. It would help if some of the shrubs were kept in check.

We noticed some distant movement of Wood Pigeon involving 500/600 birds and also c300 Fieldfare. Also noted here 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Jay, 1 Kingfisher and Pochard, Shoveler etc. We had a look from the roadbridge, which has been good in previous years for Scaup, but again viewing is limited.


A couple of Firecrests had been reported here earlier in the week so this was our next target. No luck there, but its easy to see what attracted the Firecrests, with a pair of Blackcap and at least 3 Chiffchaff along this insect-rich path. In November. In Warks.

Also a few Redwing and Fieldfare around the reserve, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Redpoll and Jay. Wildfowl counts included 35 Shoveler, 45 Wigeon and 4 Goosander. Buzzard and Sparrowhawk noted.

Edison road

The Culvert here is another area that has previously had wintering Firecrest, so it was worth a gander.

Here we had 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Raven, a heard only Green Sandpiper and Teal on the River.

The Ravens gave very good views and even landed on a nearby building.

Raven - image courtesy of Martyn Yapp

Coleshill Quarry

The day ended here. An area none of us knew much about, but looked worthy of exploration. Noted 3 Green Sandpiper, 1 Little Egret and 1 Kingfisher .