Thursday, 28 June 2012

Little Swift

Sunday 24th June 2012

Negative news (or lack of news, many birders probably otherwise engaged with Euro 2012) on Saturday night meant prospects of catching up with the New Brighton Little Swift on Sunday looked uncertain.

Martyn and I hatched a plan with options; a fairly early start (6.00am) to the day in Staffs with a strategic exit route up to Merseyside via the M6 should news of the Little Swift break.

We began at Gailey. Every time I’ve been there lately it tends to pee it down and this was no exception to that rule. Some Swift movement going on with 100+ and also smaller numbers of House Martin. Also 5 x Common Tern, Pochard, Little Grebe, Reed Bunting and a Blackcap (h).

A walk across the causeway then resulted in a major soaking. Negative news on the Swift received. Change of tack, Blithfield. There, we would find refuge from the rain at least, until it cleared.

Sitting in the hide at Tad Bay we noticed an unusually large number of Common Terns for this time of the year, 31 in this bay alone. Many of these possibly failed breeders, the high water levels this year no doubt resulting in a disappointing breeding year for many of our common species. Also 2 Oystercatcher, Shoveler and again a huge number of Swifts. Talking of Swifts, Martyn then received a pager message regarding the Little Swift. It was back and we were headed Scouseside.

The drive north went smoothly, but I was worried by messages of no news. In just under two hours we were in New Brighton and by this time the birders present had managed to relocate the Little Swift above the residential streets around St George’s Mount.

Although it wasn’t on view upon our arrival we didn’t have long to wait. There was a number of Common Swifts doing a feeding circuit and the Little Swift would appear every 10-15 minutes or so.

It was a very distinctive bird and could be picked out from the Common Swift with ease once you had got your eye in. Aside from the extensive white rump (which could only be seen in the right light) the bird was different from Common Swift in a number of ways. The easiest way to pick it out was by its tail, which was short and square-edged. Its flight was a little more fluttery than Swift too.

I found this bird an absolute joy to observe and we only took a short Morrison’s sarnie break for lunch then went back for seconds rather than moving on. A friendly and well-behaved twitch too, well apart from a few cobra-drinkers on a street corner. Genuinely interested and friendly locals here too. This was the second time I've twitched a rare Swift in Merseyside, the first being the Pallid Swift just across the river at Seaforth in 2009.

Images of Little Swift - courtesy of Martyn Yapp

Also during our visit we noted (of course) many Common Swift, House Martin, 2 Curlew over and Blackcap (h). A very brief stop along the front and we saw Ringed Plover, 5 Turnstone, Linnet and many Terns out at sea.

On a sad note, a very poorly seal was on the front and had attracted the attention of members of the public, some who were stroking it and thought it was just sleeping and would be fine. I'm sorry to tell you this but...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A few jars

Wednesday 20th June

An annual summer staple of birding in the West Midlands is a nocturnal visit to Cannock Chase. This usually yields stuff like Nightjar and Woodcock, although you have to be careful - it can be a little hairy up there of an evening, you may bump into ex-footballers and other social degenerates who enjoy loitering in car parks.

Making the most of a rare dry and still evening I headed up the Chase with Martyn. We were early so we had a saunter down to Stepping Stones to see if Pied Flycatchers were around. We could not find any but we did come across a very vocal and mobile Redstart. Also 2 Green Woodpecker and flocking Long-tailed Tits including many juvs by Coppice Hill car park.

Moving on to an area with a reputation for Nightjar, we got into position way before dusk. Whilst waiting we had a Hobby and Kestrel over and warblers such as Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat gave occasional bursts of song.

Our first churring Nightjar was heard at a surprising 9:15pm. It was of course still almost fully light so we still had a while to go before seeing one. Eventually they appeared around the 10.00pm mark. From then until it got too dark to see, we observed at least 3 separate birds, two of them males. All birds were fairly active and showed in flight off and on. The spine-tingling sound of churring on the Chase is something not to be missed. Also a Woodcock came over a couple of times calling.

Sorry no images, it was a bit dark.

Monday, 25 June 2012

16th & 17th June 2012

This blog is in serious danger of becoming a twitching diary. It was therefore time for some long overdue regional birding. Martyn had just returned from a fortnight’s birding holiday in Turkey so a Staffs day out was planned; beginning at Aqualate Mere, we would move on to Blithfield and then take in the usual GPs on the way home.

Saturday 16th June 2012

A female Marsh Harrier was hunting the reedbeds upon our arrival and had certainly been present for a few weeks. Quite a surprise and very nice to see in Staffs. Also here Cuckoo, Willow Tit, Yellowhammer, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 2 Buzzard. There were a massive number of Swifts and hirundines here, numbering 100’s of birds.

Marsh Harrier - image courtesy of Martyn Yapp

It was a bit of a windy wet day really and the Turtle Doves could not even be heard purring let alone be seen. I engaged in a little feeder fodder photography before we moved on.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Tit

We then checked out Coley Marsh. It looked like the sort of place that could do a passage wader or two, but today it was quiet. A few pairs of Black-headed Gulls were nesting, also here Gadwall, Little Grebe, Stock Dove and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Sandwiches scoffed at Blithfield, we were poised ready to put in a few hours here, however we were rudely interrupted by news of a Red-backed Shrike at Black Bank, North Staffs. Blithers cast asunder and we were soon heading north towards a Staffs mega.

This fine female Red-backed Shrike showed well along barbed wire, busily feeding on bees and beetles. Not close, but fine for good scope views. Here we saw lots of familiar faces, glad so many could make it being as the bird only ended up staying one day.

Staffs Mega - Red-backed Shrike - image courstesy of Martyn Yapp

On the way home we checked into Gailey where there were again notably large numbers of Swift and House Martin and 16 Common Tern.

 Sunday 17th June

Some urban birding in the morning resulted in watching a Peregrine flying and calling around the BT Tower. Peregrines are a regular feature of Birmingham's skyscape these days and I have seen them in the centre quite a few times this year. Across the city at another site there are a pair of Kestrels.

Brummygrine - image courtesty of Martyn Yapp

Much later that day I was in Herts to see the female Little Bittern that had been showing very well along the river at Stockers Lake. This was my second Little Bittern, however my first one was brief flight views of a male at Shapwick Heath in 2009. I’m never truly happy with a bird till I get to see one properly, so I was keen to see this bird.

Little Bittern did not disappoint. After a brief wait whilst the bird skulked, she eventually came out into the open fishing and sometimes climbing up on the reeds and branches. Gorgeous warm brown colouration, breast-streaking, pale brown wing patch and a dark crown showed that this bird is quite different from the male but equally striking.

Little Bittern - with now slightly less topical Euro 2012 football

Little Bittern - image courtesy Mark Rayment

Also here Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Common Tern , Reed Bunting, Whitethroat and Pochard. Butterflies seem few and far between lately but an Orange-Tip was noted along with a few damselflys - Banded Damoiselle, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Monday, 18 June 2012

East Yorks

Sunday 3rd June 2012

Two things I can’t abide; royalists and mindless patriotism. The only saving grace of the Jubilee Weekend was an extra couple of days birding granted kindly by our lovely Queen. East Yorks was the destination.

I was keen to all avoid media coverage as far as was humanly possible. This was pretty much achieved apart from encountering a Jubilee special edition of the Daily Fail in a McDonalds and some commemorative tat being sold in the shop at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. There was also bunting there. Sadly, not an Ortolan or anything like that.


Arriving mid-afternoon sadly did not allow time for a full day in the field, however I was very keen to see the Roller that had been at Aldbrough since 31st May, following initial sightings at Kilnsea and Spurn.

This superb adult Roller was still present, feeding in the ploughed roadside field and returning to its favoured post regularly, where it was often mobbed by meadow pipits. The colours on this bird were absolutely breathtaking and it looked at its most stunning when it was in flight. Despite the miserable weather the bird seemed to be feeding very well.

Roller - image courtesy of Mark Rayment

 Blacktoft Sands

A Marsh Warbler had been singing here in recent days and we decided to have a go for this next. This however turned out to be a mistake as it was now raining heavily. Attempted to wait it out, but with the weather not getting any dryer we reluctantly decided to return in the morning.

Monday 4th June 2012

Next morning an entirely different story at Blacktoft. Along with other warblers this reedbed was now alive with singing warblers including sporadic song of Marsh Warbler, something I had not heard before. This is much more varied than Reed Warbler song and can contain a lot of mimicry. The Marsh Warbler occasionally sang from visible perches, views were very good allowing to observe the subtle differences from Reed Warbler including a slightly shorter bill, a more uniform brown rump and pale edging to the primary tips, which in this case was quite subtle.

Marsh Warbler - above images courtesy Mark Rayment

Also noted at Blacktoft – Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat feeding young, Tree Sparrows including juvenile birds, Avocet, Common Tern and Reed Bunting.

Flamborough Head

An adult male Red-backed Shrike was entertaining the crowds near the car park/lighthouse area. We watched this for a while then had a walk down to the plantation. It was a little quiet however 3 Lesser Whitethroat were noted, Corn Bunting (heard) and there was a lot of Gannet and Auk activity out at sea. A Painted Lady butterfly was noted.

Bempton Cliffs

I had never actually visited Bempton before and apart from the annoyingly large crowds of people I was really impressed. The seabird colony was much larger than I had expected with Gannets spilling out on to the top of the cliffs. Gannets hanging in the wind, trying to land could even be captured by my little Lumix.

Gannet flight path

 Also here, rather unexpectedly a Bonxie high over the seabird colony, around 6 Puffin, 1000’s of Guillemots, Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Herring Gull and more young Tree Sparrows.


Tree Sparrows

 Tuesday 5th June 2012

Frampton Marsh RSPB

The journey home was via Lincolnshire, stopping in at Frampton. There’s always usually something to see here and this was no exception. I noted a drake Garganey from 360 Hide and there was also a lot of wader action, particularly from the North Hide; a single Curlew Sandpiper moulting into sum plum, a Little Stint, 3 Sanderling, c20 Dunlin and c50 Ringed Plover. A few LRP were from 360 and other birds noted around the reserve included Avocet, Reed Bunting, Sedge & Reed Warbler and Tree Sparrow.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Portland - The Best Bits

Recently enjoyed a holiday at Portland Bird Observatory, commencing on 19th May. I had a feeling it was set to be a good week upon finding a Black Redstart at the M.O.D. shortly after arrival. Here are the best bits from the trip...

Spotted Flycatchers and Garden Warbler were regulars in the Obs garden, a female Common Redstart was noted at the bill, a lone Wheatear lingered at East Cliffs and other migrants such as Willow and Reed Warbler continued to filter through. Stonechats with young were noted. Peregrine, Raven, Rock Pipit, Little Owl are all regular on the island, with stuff like Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Gullemot, Razorbill etc at sea.

All very nice, however things hotted up considerably with news of a singing Great Reed Warbler at Radipole on 22nd. The bird was elusive during the morning, but as hoped this sizable Acro was in full song again by early evening. Scope views were immense. Lifer #290. Also here some extremely showy Cetti’s Warblers, Bearded Tit and Lesser Whitethroat.

Monster Acro!

Weds 23rd was a most memorable day with a self-found Woodchat Shrike, on the hill opposite the Obs. Very excited to stumble across this bird, my best find thus far and only the second Woodchat I’ve ever seen. The bird stayed in these fields for the rest of the day and was enjoyed by many, including the notorious LGRE.

Woodchat Shrike - both images courtesy of Mark Rayment

4 White Storks also put in an appearance that day. The Obs received a phonecall from Radipole to report them heading our way and within 10 minutes they were over the Obs and out to sea around 12:18. However, they must have had second thoughts on a channel crossing as they returned within 20 minutes heading north back towards Weymouth. A Short-eared Owl was also seen that evening.

4 White Storks - nice to see you again!
Image by Mark Rayment

Lifer #291 – Portland Warden Martin Cade caught an Icterine Warbler on 24th. I saw and photographed the bird in the hand and saw it released. Not sure I feel comfortable ticking in the hand, but amazing to see it like this nontheless.

Icky in the hand

Also trapped by Martin, Willow Warbler & Chiffy - not similar mantle colour
Image by Mark Rayment

Later that day a visit to Lodmoor RSPB provided a Black-winged Stilt, although it was rather distant. Much better though, was getting excellent views of a Roseate Tern, rosy glow showing nicely in late afternoon sunlight. Only the second I’ve seen and the previous was one was in flight 4 years ago. Not a lifer, but felt like one. Also here 3 Dunlin, Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo (h), Little Egret and Oystercatchers with a chick.

Roseate Tern

Ferrybridge is another good place to visit: protected Little Tern colony and waders on the estuary. Ringed Plover, 3 sum plum Grey Plover, Dunlin, 2 Sanderling and 2 Bar-tailed Godwit were noted on our visit on 25th.

As well as birds some interesting insects were noted during the trip. Most notable was a visit to Cerne Giant Hill - the hillside was alive with thousands of Marsh Fritillary, Grizzelled and Dingy Skipper and Common Blue - a sight just as incredible as the giant himself.

Cerne Giant Hill

Marsh Frit - Butterfly Lifer

Broad-bodied Chaser - common in Obs garden

I would highly recommend Portland Observatory as a fantastic place to stay for any birders visiting Dorset. It is clean and cosy and the facilities are very good. Very affordable too at £15 per night for members. Many thanks to Warden Martin Cade, who made us feel very welcome indeed.