Monday, 29 October 2012

Velvet Scoter and Great Grey Shrike in Staffs

With Martyn Yapp AKA The Regional Tick on an official blogging sabbatical I better keep my blog updated, particularly with the regional stuff.

Winter birding mode has already begun and we started on Cannock Chase, perhaps to see if a Great Grey Shrike had arrived. As GGS have now arrived in Wales this stood a decent chance.

Beginning at the Glacial Boulder around 7:40am we spent some time scanning a thrush flock which were feeding on berries. These consisted of 40 Fieldfare, 10 Redwing and around 15 Blackbird. There were huge falls of thrushes on the east coast in recent days and it has not taken long for these birds to reach us.

Also noted in this area; 8 Redpoll (over), 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Jay, Green Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Goldcrest and 2 Buzzard.

We then moved on to Upper Longdon, which held a wintering Great Grey Shrike last year. And bingo!

Great Grey Shrike returns to Upper Longdon. Image courtesy of Martyn Yapp

Surely the same returning bird. We put the news out and then watched the bird which showed very well on its favoured tall stump, before moving further down into the valley after getting a bit of hassle from a Kestrel.

Also of note here 2 Raven and a distant thrush flock over the valley, looking to be mostly Fieldfare.

The rest of the day was spent around Blithfield Reservoir; not at all a bad move as it was to turn out....

The juvenille Black Tern was visible from the causeway, although it disappeared shortly after lunchtime. A late record indeed.

In Tad Bay there were c75 Wigeon, 10 Goldeneye, 4 Goosander, 20 Pochard, Teal and Shoveler. From Beechtree Point I counted 117 Great Crested Grebe and Common Gull was noted.

With the weather turning inclement, we returned to the shelter of Martyn's car and set off for the deep end in search of some Common Scoter that had been seen earlier. In particular there was news of 2 Common Scoter by the angling centre.

However we could see no sign of these here and continued around the res to scan for them. Stopping about half way, we picked up two distant large ducks which looked like Scoter, just as we set off to get nearer to investigate, we got a call from Julian Allen who was on these two birds and they were Velvet Scoters!!

Not only a Staffs mega but also a first for Blithfield - this was massive!! 

Record images of Velvet Scoter by Martyn Yapp

 A bit of white knuckle and we were soon viewing them from the fishing hut; an absolutely spanking drake and duck. Unfortunately these birds seemed very nervy and perhaps this was due to sailing boats still being out. Sadly the birds flew north around 2:42pm, having only been present 10 minutes (to our knowledge).

Whilst Martyn, Julian and myself were very lucky to see the Velvets, it was also very disappointing that their stay was so very brief meaning that other Staffs birders were unable to connect, even those arriving on the scene within minutes.

The birds were again searched for but sadly they had clearly gone.

Interestingly, the same morning a pair of Velvet Scoter had dropped in at Anglers Country Park near Wakefield where they also stayed for 10 minutes before flying south. Surely the same birds...

Finally a lone Common Scoter was showing very well by the dam.

Common Scoter by Martyn Yapp

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Big Scilly Adventure Part 1

Much has been written about the demise of Scilly as a British birding destination in recent years, however, it’s a place steeped in birding history and one I’d always had in mind to visit.

I recently decided this would be the October for my Scilly inauguration and put the necessary arrangements in place; train from Brum to Penzance plus stopover, ferry crossing and B&B accommodation for 9 nights on St Marys.

I arrived in Penzance on 9th October and had a stroll around the harbour, it was around 4:30pm so I was limited really. 2 Sandwich Tern, Shag, Curlew, Turnstone and Oystercatcher were all noted. About 30 Pied Wagtails were on the lido. I was losing the light, so I treated myself to a nice meal at Alverne, before retiring for an early night ahead of the crossing. 

Wednesday 10th October 

It was foggy as Scillonian III chugged out of Penzance, however once this cleared a Sooty Shearwater, Harbour Porpoise and a pod of 20 Common Dolphins were noted. I also saw a cetacean of some sort make a big splash. On discussion with others it seems may have been a Minke Whale or Rizzo's Dolphin.

On approach to St Marys, I turned on the radio kindly loaned to me by Martyn; this is a novel system used by birders to share news of bird sightings on the archipelago (that word already) and I really wouldn't have been without this. With two potential ticks on St Marys (American Golden Plover and Richard's Pipit) I was hoping to connect with at least one of these this afternoon.

Land ahoy!

There was a familiar face from Staffs waiting at the quay; Richard, who had already been on the island a few days and visiting for his third year.

We headed to the airfield (where the American Golden Plover was seen earlier). Checked both the Turning Circle and Windsock, alas the AGP was clearly not around. Walking round to Porth Hellick we jammed in on a group of birders looking at a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling in the bracken.

Other notable birds from this part of the day included a Sanderling in Old Town Bay, a Whimbrel and 22 Ringed Plover at Porth Hellick, Sparrowhawk and 2 Stonechat. Common migrants were evident with the odd Swallow and around 20 Wheatear around the Giant's Castle area. The latter included an odd looking Wheatear that looked as if it had been involved in argument with a Sprawk and a muddy puddle. The words on the radio 'interesting looking Wheatear' drew quite a crowd.

Then a mini-crises as I noticed my notebook was missing. Before the search was underway, to my relief I received a voicemail from another birder who had found it at Port Minck and would return it to me at this evening's log.

The final birding move of the day was a walk out to Penninis Head and this was impeccable timing as the Richard's Pipit had just been refound on a field just off the Penninis Farm Trail. I was soon to realise that success on Scilly was largely due to being in the right time at the right place. Some more familiar Staffs faces were here and were on the bird. It was difficult viewing though as the bird was in long grass, I did get good scope views of 'head & shoulders' although that wasn't really enough for me as it was a lifer. A tick nonetheless and a good result for the first day.

The juvenile Dotterel was also on Penninis Head and showing well.


All that remained was to check in the B&B and before experiencing another Scilly first; the Log Call.

Thursday 11th October

My first full day on St Marys, I set out on my own to do some exploring.

During the morning, I followed the Penninis Farm Trail down to the churchyard and Old Town Bay, up Old Town Lane, Carnfriars Lane and through the Sunnyside Farm Trail. Birds noted included 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 White Wagtails, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Peregrine and in the bay a single Ringed Plover and Dunlin. No news of anything I needed, so I was quite happy pottering around and discovering.

Eventually I came to rest at Strudle House and well, it had to be done didn't it? No sooner had I been furnished with this pastry-based fruity treat, the radio crackled with news of the American Golden Plover back on the airfield. I was soon off on my way and to cut a long story short, this bird gave me the run around throughout most of the afternoon and had disappeared from the airfield, flushed by an incoming plane.

Eventually I returned to exploratory mode, the only notable birds from the remainder of the day being a Yellow Wagtail on the airfield and a freshly arrived Whinchat in Old Town Bay.

The big news of the day however, was the discovery of a Blackpoll Warbler on Bryher. I was too far out at the time of the news, dipping AGP from the airport and would never have made the 3:00pm boat. Had I made it, I would have dipped anyway. A bittersweet day really, having really enjoyed the birding until the birds ruined everything.

Friday 12th October

Rather than rushing over to Bryher I decided to continue explorations and react only on news of the Blackpoll, such had been its elusiveness yesterday. I began with a walk to Penninis Head and then later went onto the Garrison, where I met Richard. Both areas were very quiet, save a few Goldcrests, Meadow Pipits and that type of thing.

Good news on the radio – the American Golden Plover had been refound, this time in Porth Hellick Bay. Third time lucky for me - it was in the bag, however not too much time to dwell on it, as during the stride over to Porth Hellick a Solitary Sandpiper had been found on a dung heap on Bryher!

The AGP was however, a smart looking bird, a juvenile notably greyer than our Goldies, with a bold supercillium and smaller, slimmer build and attenuated (© Collins) rear.

American Golden Plover - Image Coutesy Richard Powell

On the walk back to Hugh Town a smart female Merlin was noted, perching briefly atop a conifer tree.

So, Solitary Sand, my first ‘big’ twitch of the holiday and one that did not present any problems. The bird showed very well at close range on the dung heap and was unperturbed by the crowds.

A very smart bird actually and one that the field guide really doesn’t do justice to. Although very similar in plumage to Green Sand, its dainty structure was more reminiscent of Wood sandpiper. Again, as seems to be a theme with yank waders, it featured a slim attenuated rear.

Solitary Sandpiper on Bryher

Overheard at the Solitary twitch (seriously); a dudey type old woman asked her husband loudly 'what's that we've been looking at?' Her husband told her, of course Solitary Sandpiper and she replied 'yes it is all on its own'!

A small influx of Coal Tits, usually a Scilly rarity, were also causing some excitement around the isles. Most of these were thought to be Irish Coal Tits. I did see one, without any effort from the main path at Bryher on the way to the Solitary Sandpiper.

Thunder and lightning followed with a thorough soaking and a battering of hailstones. Take a bit more than that to ruin a two-tick day.