Wednesday 30 May 2012

Bulgaria - day 2 continued

Okey-doke, I have no idea where I was (literally, in most cases), but this was the day that we drove up and over the Balkan range and plateau, and onwards towards Kavarna, our base for the next two days. One of my very favourite places was a streambed just as we hit the hills on the way up - again, a place where I could have stayed for days, if not weeks. I forget exactly what we were looking for - I let Dancho go off and find whatever it was (Sombre Tit perhaps?) - and I got to chasing the birds that were readily and immediately visible - Northern Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, LRP, White Wagtail and Red-rumped Swallow, for which there is just time for one more image. Image is of course a fancy term for photo. Just humour me.


From here we carried on up onto the plateau, and near a small village complete with a loudspeaker advertising chickens, had a few looks for something-or-other. Again I wasn't really paying attention. I was just so delighted to be out in storming habitat that I just got on with birding and snapping. Highlights here were some great butterflies, including this Queen of Spain Fritillary.


A fabulous piece of Woodland near a place called Gorica yielded the much sought-after Semicollared Flycatcher, as well as singing Yellowhammer, somewhat of an atypical location for us Brits, but Dancho said it was perfectly normal. The BSPB has made a point of putting up lots of nestboxes, just as the RSPB does at places like Nag's Head, and so it didn't take long for us to find a pair on territory. Very smart, everyone likes a black-and-white Flycatcher, even if they have to travel to Yorkshire to see one.....



There was quite a bit of driving to get up to our destination, and it's possible I may have fallen asleep in the van. Our final stop was a place near Cape Kaliakra which looked the business. A deep valley right next to the Cape, leading right down to the sea. A mega migrant trap if ever I saw one. Alpine Swifts cruised by, and on the cliffs themselves both Pied and Black-eared Wheatears nested. I'd wanted to see an adult male Pied for a long time, but the views were difficult. Dancho assured me we would see them better the next day. OK then.

Oh, I nearly forgot Pygmy Cormorant. How on earth did I manage that? We saw a bunch of them at a place called Poda around lunchtime. Wouldn't want you to miss out, they were a highlight of the trip....ahem.


Runty. And crappy.

Monday 28 May 2012

Bulgaria - day 2

Back to Bulgaria, though as an aside I am pleased to report that I finally caught up with the Thames Bonaparte’s Gull at the weekend, which along with the Courser were the two birds that I might have missed due to being in Bulgaria. News came on around lunchtime and so I scooted down to Barking Bay with the kids, and was pleased to find it bobbing about doing very little. It transpires that the bird seen on Saturday at Crossness was in fact a different bird, who would have thought it? I was happy to have seen either, and it takes my London total to a reasonably-respectable 240, with a couple in hand. I’m some way off the top, but if I continue to live in London (as is the plan) then gradually it will go up and up. Unless they lump everything, in which case it will go down and down... that said I’m not sure if I would mind that much if the Laridae simply became “Gull”. You could bird without a care in the world, looking forward a bit to January 1st, 2030: “Ah look, Gull over there, a big black one. And another there, a bit smaller, and grey. Tremendous variation in Gull, don’t you think? Well, that’s on the yearlist, no need to look at any more. Onwards.”

So, if you recall, we had travelled south-west down to the border regions near Turkey, and I think my personal tick tally was 14, including a superb Masked Shrike. Easily one of the best days birding I’ve ever had, we saw a vast number of birds, and saw them really well in fantastic surroundings. So, a well-deserved sleep after a monumental first day. Head literally on the pillow, and on the point of closing my eyes, a funny noise from outside. Yup, still time for one last tick - a Scops Owl had started calling from directly outside the hotel.


Day 2 dawned, a bit overcast, and a bit breezy. The pre-breakfast walk was nowhere near as productive as the previous day, and no bee-eaters. A modicum of activity on the Black Sea, with a few Terns, and a smart “fuscusLesser Black-back, the first one I’ve seen. Breakfast back at the hotel, quick packing (for today we were moving northwards up the coast), and then our first stop were the large wetlands near Burgas. Gazillions of birds, Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, a large flock of Curlew Sands. We were primarily there for the Dalmatian Pelicans though, and there were over 80 of these stately birds resting on groynes, whilst the odd one flew in a very leisurely fashion. We added a few more common waders, and then one of the gang (not me I hasten to add) chipped in with three Broad-billed Sandpipers in with the main flock of Curlew Sands. Very distinctive, I'd like to think I'd recognise another, though in reality I am not holiding out much hope - it's probably one of my easiest UK ticks - one of the most common rare birds, if you see what I mean.

We carried on northwards, through a variety of places whose names I can't remember. Highlights were a White Pelican in amongst some Dalmatians, which allowed close comparison and this is one I'll definitely be able to identify in future. White Pelican has a massive beak, whereas the Dalmatians were all spotty and had tails......

I'll get my coat.

We visited a few sites on higher ground, adding a few more birds. A site near a ford, again the name of which escapes me, was my favourite. There were Red-rumped Swallows, need I say more? The tactic was to sit on the shingle near the river bank, and wait. Sure enough.....





To be continued. Sorry, that sounds crap, but what with this work malarky, there are not enough hours in the day. For starters I need more wine. Then I need to go to Wanstead Park and check for Reed Warblers, and then I have this sneaking feeling that tonight is going to be moth-tastic, so I have some preparation to do. Laters....







Sunday 27 May 2012

White-winged Black Terns, Stodmarsh



Catchy title eh? Guess where I went today? Stodmarsh! After an early start in the garden, the highlight of which was a photogenic Broad-bodied Chaser, the next stop was Barking Bay with Nick, where the Bonaparte's Gull failed to show up. A slight ID conundrum with Curlew Sand and Knot, but I got there in the end..... Three hours of no Gull and enticing news of a Greenish Warbler not too far away across the river in Kent made it an easy decision to quit the bay.

Meeting up with Prof W at Northward Hill, we spent a fruitless few hours dipping it in glorious weather. On the point of giving up, David Campbell and a mate turned up and it then sang almost immediately. Go figure. It sang several times, and very loudly, but I never saw it. One day I'll get a good view. After another hour of silence, off we went to Stodmarsh to look for the Terns. Lovely. Also two Wood Sands, a Greenshank, a Little Stint, and a Turtle Dove. Great to be out in the sunshine, even though I am now an odd pink colour.


Friday 25 May 2012

Bulgaria - day 1

We woke up pretty early, we wanted to make every minute count. I had a tick outside the front door of the hotel before we had even gone anywhere, a small group of suspiciously long-tailed Cormorants came over, I surmised they were Pygmy Cormorants, and Dancho agreed. We would see them much better later on, but for now it was excellent news as Dick and Mo hadn't come downstairs yet and I was able to grip them off even before breakfast.

A quick walk down the beach for another new one, this time Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. This was literally three minutes from the hotel. And there was a Shrike. And Bee-eaters. I began to realise that this was going to be a superb trip. The eastern olly showed extremely well, and with a little patience I was able to get a couple of good photos of it, which you get to see here.




Back for breakfast, and then a monumental day beckoned. It's a little bit of a blur where exactly we went, but mostly it was south-west towards the spot where Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria coincide. I think I got another twelve new birds, but it was all about the experience, and I've never experienced anything like it. Cuckoos were everywhere, so were Golden Orioles. Nightingales and Corn Bunting were a constant soundtrack. Shrikes, oh god, the Shrikes. Everywhere, literally every place we stopped - four species in a day, and I lost count of the individuals. I had known I'd see a few, but I was woefully unprepared for the numbers. Mind blowing, at one point I had to sit down I think.



This continued for the whole day. Every place we stopped, I could easily have birded there for days. It was a shame we kept moving on, but such is guided birding - they have an itinerary and list of targets, so onwards we went. We scored them all, including Masked Shrike at the end of the day, a most-wanted. We encountered few towns, and no other people. Once outside Burgas, life became extremely rural, and the commonest mode of transport in the countryside was Donkey and cart. It is incredibly green, and replete with crumbling Soviet era concrete buildings, and the worst roads I have ever encountered. A series of joined-up potholes would be more accurate - the impression is of a country that has seen better days, although now outside of the USSR I guess that isn't true. But a lot of the place has been left to decay for whatever reason - presumably lack of money. Who cares though, the birding was phenomenal.

By the end of the day we had notched up 14 species of raptor, including Eastern Imperial Eagle and Lesser Spotted, one of which sat next to the car and let us soak it up. The Mo thought he had died and gone to heaven I think. I lost count of the number of times he muttered "oh Christ!", and then twatted me round the head with his camera lens whilst elbowing me in the face. I enjoyed it though, which is the main thing, and we all got in on the action.

Men at work. Dick (L), Mo (R)


We did a fair few miles in order to connect with all the target birds, and our day birding was slightly curtailed by a violent rainstorm somewhere near the border, but when we got back to the hotel for much-needed cold lager at a price you could not say no too, I knew we had experienced something special. My favourite place was a hilltop near a place called Topolovgrad, I could have stayed for hours. Monumental views in every direction, with a pair of Long-legged Buzzards and Isabelline Wheatears hopping about. Hawthorn-style scrub on the slopes held Olive Tree Warbler (enormous), Orphean Warbler, and of course Red-backed Shrikes. Breathtaking birding, why oh why can't the UK be like this. The last time I had a view like that with birds like that was.....oh, wait.....Kington Golf Club in Herefordshire, three days ago!


Olive Tree Warbler
A bit of skulker, but got there in the end

Wednesday 23 May 2012

DEFRA Shocker

I had wanted to carry on with my synopsis of Bulgaria and its wonderfulness, replete with stonking photos of things like Red-rumpers and the like. Instead I find myself a little downbeat, even after yesterday’s triumphant twitch. Here is why. This is not a serious blog, but this is serious.
Defra have provided £375k to fund a research project to evaluate different methods of reducing the alleged damage that Buzzards do to Pheasant shooting estates. Here are the four options to be trialled. Any guesses as to which might be the most popular with gamekeepers?

1. Cut vegetative or artifical cover inside and outside pheasant-rearing pens. Provide shelters/refuges in the form of brash piles or wigwams. Possibly also wooden shelters/ refuges.
2. Diversionary feeding. Whole carcasses left on posts out of reach of ground predators. Type of carcass to be agreed with site owners. Provide for limited periods to reduce risk of increase in local buzzard population.
3. Translocation (permanent). Permanent removal off-site, for example, to a falconry centre. NE [Natural England] would be able to provide assistance for researchers in planning and licensing negotiations with potential recipients.
4. Nest destruction. Breeding birds displaced by destroying nests under construction, for example, using squirrel drey-poking pole or shotgun from below thereby forcing the pair to move on to find another nest site or not breed that year. Care would be needed to avoid injuring birds.
If ever a decision showed the influence of money and lobbying, this is it. Only last week it was reported that there was only one pair of breeding Hen Harriers left in England. Their continued persecution by criminal gamekeepers, and the inability of the authorities to prosecute them, or impose any kind of meaningful sentence even if they do, is criminal in itself. Some people may bleat on about old Etonians, Toryboys and so on, but it’s deeper than that. The system is broken. These people act with impunity. I know the majority of the population couldn’t give two hoots about Hen Harriers or Buzzards, but it is still wrong that a tiny minority of people can have such an impact on a species, and all because of money. I’ve never been shooting in my life. Being a birder, I can’t really see the attraction. Photos of proud “hunters” with their kills laid out in front of them, frankly I find appalling. That said, I enjoy eating chickens, and bits of cows, and the process that makes that possible is all pretty horrific too. Hypocrisy is alive and well in Wanstead I’m afraid.



But to give taxpayers money (ergo my money) to fund a trial that limits and removes Buzzards in/from our countryside, in order to protect a non-native species that is a gazillion times more prevalent than Buzzards, and just so that a tiny tiny number of people can pay big bucks just to be able to shoot 21 of them rather than 20 in the space of an hour..... According to the RSPB, there are 41,000 (top end) breeding pairs of Buzzards in the UK. In contrast, it’s estimated that 40 million Pheasants are released each year. To save you time scrabbling for a calculator, that means that Pheasants outnumber Buzzards by 488 to 1. Buzzards were relentlessly persecuted for years by the same people who now seemingly could be granted carte blanche by Defra to have another go. Their numbers are recovering nicely, but they should never have had to recover in the first place. To even consider this trial is shameful in the extreme. The gamekeepers and landowners must be laughing their heads off, literally laughing all the way to the bank.

I’d encourage you to read these links

-          Raptor Persectution in Scotland
-          RPSB Response
-          Pies and Birds
-          Dusty Bins

And fight it.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Of Course I did!


The most magnificent bird. Bloody miles away but utterly superb. It could not have arrived at a worse time. News on Sunday evening after dark, after a few days away, not having seen the family, and a pile of stuff at work. With a heavy heart I declined the offered lift on Monday. Of course, not being a twitcher I didn't really care that much at all. But when it was there this morning again, I found I cared enough to wangle a half day off today and go and see it. The old guard talk about the legendary Scilly bird, I had never imagined I'd get the chance.

Well I did, and I have. The key question is of course how many photos of a Cream-coloured Courser is too many photos of a Cream-coloured Courser? I'm thinking about eight. Bulgaria will resume shortly. Excuse me whilst I go off and punch the air with delight.








Monday 21 May 2012

Bulgaria - the start

Where to start? I’ve just been on a four day trip to Bulgaria, and I’ve been blown away by both quantity and quality. Unless you’ve been there, or you birded in the UK in the late 1890’s, you will have no concept of what the birding there is like. Nightingales seemingly outnumber Robins by about 1000 to 1, Shrikes are common birds, Golden Orioles live in towns, and Bee-eaters are a familiar sight. If you step outside you are assaulted by a wave of sound – “Prruuuk” intermingles with the screams of Swifts, the chattering of Swallows, the fluting of Orioles, and Marsh Warblers add a background of seemingly everything else. If you have not been, you need to. Mind-blowing birding.

I could do a trip report I suppose, but I’ll leave that to Bradders, it’s more his thing. I’m just going to do my usual day by day roundup, and slap a load of photos up. And I mean a load. Although the trip was a birding trip, I can never resist pointing a lens at things, and when Dick’s head wasn’t in the way, or Mo’s elbow in my face (cheers guys!), I did manage to fire off a few shots, some of which please me a great deal. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more of this, but it seems that it’s extremely difficult to actually make a living doing so, and so for now I remain in Canary Wharf, living the dream. And to think I have more Pine Grosbeak photos as well....

This was a four day trip, although it required a day travelling – with the terribly-named Wizzair, with their fetching pinky-mauve planes. At least it wasn’t Wizz-bang-Air I suppose, and the fact that I am typing this suggests that they succeeded in their primary task which was getting me there and back in one piece. This they did, though in truth I cannot recommend them as the spacing between the seats is such that you need to amputate your legs at the knee in order to experience anything like comfort, and it’s a three hour flight. Oh hang on, this is sounding like a trip report.....

Anyway, the dream team of Mo, Dick, Bradders jr and I arrived and were met at the airport by Dancho, our amiable and knowledgeable guide/driver/translator. And beer purchaser. A word at this point to the uninitiated; Bulgarian been is extremely good, and extremely cheap. And, as we found out, extremely abundant. People with less self-control than I could have quickly and easily reached the “three sheets to the wind” stage with no visible damage to their wallets. The damage to early morning birding would have been irreparable though, so I made sure to keep within my limits. Although I am very very young, far too young to talk about ageing, I have to say that this year I have begun to notice the adverse affects of alcohol far more. It could be that I am drinking far more, but I can’t really remember. Certainly the urge to reach for the corkscrew is much higher now that I am working again. Still no varifocals though, so I can’t really complain.

Where was I? Bulgaria, and the airport? And Dancho. Yes, that’s it. Dancho was our guide, via a company called Neophron, which is the tourism arm of the BSPB. We wouldn’t usually use a guide, but they were highly recommended (and we now know why!), and Bulgaria with it’s Cyrillic alphabet seemed sufficiently foreign (for want of a better word) to warrant it. So we opted for a tour, complete with minibus, hotels, food, and Dancho. At the risk of straying into trip report territory, this cost approximately 80 quid a day. Under our own steam, we likely could have done this cheaper, but to save what? 30 quid a day, 20? Neophron made it easy, stress-free (apart from Dave’s exposure compensation issues), and without a doubt got us birds that we could not have got by ourselves, so an excellent decision.

So, dump cases at hotel, retrieve optics, go birding on the shore of the Black Sea in the remaining light, and see Bee-eaters almost immediately. Here is one. Even if you only read this blog for domestic tips and dietary information, you cannot fail to be impressed with Bee-eaters. OK, so a few of the East London massive managed to twitch one in Norfolk this weekend, and well done them, but they had to drive for hours to see a miserable-looking bird sitting on a wire, depressed at its massive screw-up and wondering where all its friends were. Meanwhile I enjoyed multiple Bee-eaters at point blank range, flying over my head calling constantly. This is what birding abroad gets you, would that I could do it more frequently!


Some time ago I set up a photo website as I realised that without one the blog might just become a series of photos. That’s probably happened anyway, but in an effort to at least retain some semblance of writing, I’m going to try and keep it on the light side (yeah right - Ed.). So if you want to see more photos of Bee-eaters, please visit Justbirdphotos.com, where I have put a selection up. There is no obligation to purchase, but if just 100,000 of you do, I can leave Canary Wharf forever. Just think how much more blogging I could do? Hopefully that’s compelling. Errr......

We also saw this.....more later.


Hello, I am a Shrike


Hello.
I am a Shrike.
Specifically, I am a Red-backed Shrike.
One of twenty-trillion Red-backed Shrikes that live in Bulgaria.
The bloke who writes this blog saw most of us.
Are you ready?


Monday 14 May 2012

Down at the Alex



I didn't really go anywhere this weekend, the idea being to thrash the patch and snaffle a few ticks from Nick as he wasn't around. The patch, unfortunately, had different ideas and was obstinately quiet. No doubt it will liven up when I'm not here next weekend and he is. Instead I devoted time to teaching small apprentices what Lesser Whitethroats and other common birds sound like, and to taking photos of a Heron on the Alex. This makes for a really dull post, so that's exactly what you're getting.




However, there is good news on the horizon. I am, as mentioned in passing recently, off to Bulgaria. I've never been anywhere where I don't even know the alphabet, let alone read a menu. It could be quite entertaining as I point at stuff. Hopefully the stuff is all going to be brightly coloured, have feathers, and be extremely close to me. I've heard that it's how many places in Europe used to be before intensive farming took over, and that there are birds everywhere. And not just any birds either. Things like Red-backed Shrike should be common, and I've just seen a link which shows Bee-eaters and Rollers. I could cope with those I think. I'm only going for four full days of birding, but a report I found on the web of a similar trip at a similar time of year netted something like 160 species. The general premise of the trip is a lot of quality birding coupled with extremely cheap beer. I think someone also mentioned a stack of Western Pal ticks, that's fine, whatever. It's probably true; some of the birds on offer will undoubtedly be ones I've never seen before. But if someone tries to pull me away from a photogenic Shrike (of any kind) in order to go and see a Pygmy Cormorant, it might be the last thing they ever do. Fellow travellers, take note!!

Sunday 13 May 2012

Attaboy!


 My son has been spending a lot of time birding with me recently. Let's face it, it's May, and if he wants to see me.... I jest, he is actually quite getting into it. Or that's what I tell myself anyway. In truth, and like many small boys, he just wants to be like his dad. Poor kid, he will learn. Already at school they must think he is a complete freak.

"So what did you do at the weekend?"

Normal child: I played on my Nintendo and watched eighteen hours of Telly.
Muffin: I did some skywatching on the patch, went to Lakenheath Fen, got loads of ticks including self-found Cuckoo, then saw a Black-winged Stilt, and then twitched a Tawny Pipit at Landguard. What is Telly?

I figure that if he comes out with me for long enough, then possibly, just possibly, it will spark a lifelong interest. And if not in birds, then perhaps in photography. He has been practically ripping the camera out of my hands recently - unlike birding, this is something I have definitely not shoved down his throat. I am of course very keen to teach him exposure theory, and how an SLR works, but he has been the driving force here. And here are some of the results. Ok, so he's a lucky boy in that he is able to use really quite a nice camera, but having good kit is in no way related to being able to take a good photo. And before anyone suggests that I set it all up and he just walked up to the tripod and pressed the shutter button, absolutely not. These were all hand held using a small lens, and he employed fieldcraft to get closer to the subjects, including keeping a tree between him and the Wheatear until the last minute, staying crouched and so on. Really impressed, especially given the setup weighs close on 3kg, and he is only eight. The post-processing is all mine, but I did nothing different versus what I might have done with my own shots. Admittedly we delete a few more, but that's all part of the process, and he has improved hugely in just a few weeks.

Please click on this to enlarge it and see just how nice it is. The catchlight in the eye is fantastic. And it's a Wheatear of course....




So now I have a birding and photography companion. When Mrs L asks what my family contribution will be over the weekend, I can just say that I am altruistically taking Muffin out so that he can pursue his hobbies. In other words, I have carte blanche to go birding whenever I want. Does it get any better?

Friday 11 May 2012

Boris Island? Oh please....

This mayoral election was a tough one. Vote for a scruffy, mildly amusing guy with a keen interest in conservation, or for a hypocritical tax-dodging quasi-communist. Neither was a particularly appealing choice for someone like me. How I voted is irrelevant, in the very first interview I read with the plummy Mr Johnson, he spent the first half of it banging on about the airport in the Thames Estuary, and calling on the government to be brave. Genius. Hopefully the decision to go ahead does not lie with Boris, if it did the pile-drivers would have already started. I don't need to bleat on here about quite how catestrophic this would be for birds, there are many places where that information is available, and with scientific back-up. What I can say is that Boris, for all his undoubted intelligence, must be out of his mind. Wildlife in London is already stretched to the very limit, the Thames corridor especially so. To slap an airport, and a bloody massive one at that, in an area of critical importance for vast numbers of wintering birds is morally repugnant.

Do we actually need more planes? We have Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, City. Five airports - isn't that enough? It seems to me that the sky is constantly full of planes, pretty much from dawn until dusk. In fact this morning on Wanstead Flats I probably saw more planes than birds. That we need yet more planes seems odd, I'd argue for fewer, but if we do, then please, not in the Estuary. And not at Lydd either. In fact I can't think of anywhere I'd like it to go really, or at least not anywhere where there isn't anything currently. Demolishing Hounslow and expanding Heathrow would be fine, albeit quite traumatic for the residents of Hounslow.

Anyway, must dash, got to start packing as I'm flying to Bulgaria next week.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Peanuts at Canary Wharf

My first spot of birding in Canary Wharf for a while, and an early start too - once I had confirmed Wanstead was dead. This gave me a full hour in the concrete birding mecca, and I was determined to see a Swift, there have been loads around lately. I should have known better. When I used to bird East India Dock, Swift was a very difficult one to get, so why should Canary Wharf, just around the corner, be any better? Well it wasn't. But I did score heavily, and but for some more powerful bins and a bit more string, could have done even better.

I was minding my own business down at the eastern end of the patch, watching a couple, then three, Common Terns, and scanning the sky for distant specs when a Peregrine zoomed by - not in a stoop but properly motoring nonetheless. It arced back around and then I could see a second bird. I wondered for a moment if it was a male Peregrine and I had first seen the female, but when it banked it became a Hobby. My views were brief, the Peregrine was most unhappy with it's presence, and it disappeared off towards the river. Remarkably it came back again a few minutes later, and again was seen off by the Peregrine, though less determinedly this time - not that it needed to, I think it had got the message - this time it went off towards Bow Creek and didn't come back. I wonder what it was doing in Canary Wharf? There is literally nothing for it to eat, so my assumption is a bird still on passage. A fine patch tick though, never managed one at the Dock that I can recall. Shame that I had no camera, I might have got them both in one shot, they were definitely both in the bins at the same time.

I persevered from my watchpoint, logging an annoyingly unidentifiable finch flock of seven birds, two Starlings, two unidentified small passerines near Billingsgate that may have been Sparrows but I will never know, and worst of all, a distant Wader heading towards Bow Creek from the river that had I been forced to slap a name on it I might have called it a Green Sandpiper. Definitely had flashes of white, contrasting with dark, but frankly it could have been any number of things at that range. I may bring my little travel scope next time, it could prove invaluable in securing the packet of peanuts I seem to working far too hard for. 

Other notable sightings were a pair of Tufted Duck actually from my office window (a sub-list, if you will) and the Greylags are still knocking about. So, having updated the challenge scores, it's 34 plays 36, with good 'ol CW lagging behind. A financial megatropolis it might be, a birding mega hotspot it most definitely it is not. But that makes it that much more satisfying when you do actually get something. I wonder if I'll get to 40?

Random Coot

Monday 7 May 2012

Lucky Landguard

Being a saddo lister, I am able to tell you what birds I've seen where. Partly this is notebooks, but mostly it's the most amazing spreadsheet ever. Have you heard of Pivot Tables? They're great, I mean really great. A quick couple of clicks, and I can produce this:


Landguard NR, Suffolk5
Hoopoe1
15-Apr-091
Arctic warbler1
2-Sep-091
Booted Warbler1
16-Oct-111
Short-toed Treecreeper1
25-Mar-111
Tawny Pipit1
6-May-121

Those are all the rare birds I've seen at Landguard, and every single one of them - yes, all five - were lifers. Not a single one was any trouble at all. I bowled up and there they were, straight onto my list, spectacularly easily. I also keep a dip list, not that I dip very often, but it's always nice to reminisce. Landguard has no entries on the dip list. Every time I've been for a bird, it's always still been there, and I've always seen it, and seen it really well. So yesterday, even though I was nearly a hundred miles away in Cambridgeshire, I knew that if I went, I'd score the Tawny Pipit. Dipping was out of the question, no petrol would be wasted. And that's exactly what happened - Muffin and I arrived, bailed out of the car, walked calmly to the point, and immediately saw a Tawny Pipit.


I have similar luck at and around Minsmere. Hang on a sec. Click, click.


Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk4
Glossy Ibis1
9-Oct-111
Purple Heron1
24-May-071
Roseate Tern3
21-Jun-093
Audouin's Gull1
9-May-111


Dunwich, Suffolk2
King Eider1
17-Oct-101
Thrush Nightingale1
7-Jun-081


Westleton Heath, Suffolk2
Great Grey Shrike1
17-Oct-101
Lesser Kestrel1
29-Mar-101


It's never quite as nailed on as Landguard, for instance I recall a Spectacled Warbler dip, but my record here is still pretty good, and I'm always pretty confident of seeing what I set off to see. It's harder work though - although most were straightforward, the Thrush Nightingale required overnighting in the car followed by three hours walking around in a small circle, most of it in the pouring rain, for about a thirty second view. The less said about the Lesser Kestrel twitch the better, and the Audouin's Gull gave me a mild heart attack by flying off half an hour before I arrived, before doing the decent thing and returning to the scrape just as I arrived on the beach.

Anyway, enough stats. For now. I also do quite well at Dungeness. In fact, I do quite well everywhere, but I think that of the places I've been several times, only Landguard has a 100% unblemished record.

Today was a family day, and what better family activity is there than enforced birding disguised as a walk? Sheppey was the destination of choice, centered around lunch at the Harty Ferry Inn. But before the family were allowed into the pub, the were marched to the hides at Elmley Marshes, where yet another two Black-winged Stilts awaited us. Mrs L was delighted to get a tick, but the girls didn't even look!



The main problem is that the hides are miles away, and so small children lose interest well before half way. Much better is the entrance track to the reserve, where the kids can hang out of the window and observe Lapwings, Redshanks and others at point blank range. Today we had great views of these, as well as of Yellow Wagtails and cute Rabbits. A quick stop at Capel Fleet produced Peregrine and the ubiquitous Marsh Harriers, and a more prolongued stop at the Harty Ferry Inn produced both food and beer.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Suffolk Surprise

The plan today was to go to Norfolk, but with no news on anything by half eight, Muffin and I deceided Lakenheath would be a better bet. I promised him Garganey, Grasshopper Warbler, Bittern, Cuckoo, Crane, Marsh Harrier and possibly Golden Oriole. With the exception of the latter, we got the lot, and I have to say it was a most enjoyable stroll round. He's really growing up quickly, questions are a dozen a minute (of which I can generally answer about three), and he wants to see everything that moves. Today our luck was really in - picked up two drake Garganey from the viewing ramp soon after we arrived, and Gropper was reeling nearby. Two Cranes were on the margins of the first big reedbed you get to, and a Bittern flew over us on the next one. We witnessed a pair of Harriers passing food in mid-air, and Muffin spotted a Cuckoo in a tree that I had overlooked as a Pigeon. Nice. A real pleasure to be out with him, and may those monosyllabic teenage years remain a distant proposition.



A bite to eat at the splendid Walkers roadside cafe on the fiveways roundabout, and then onwards to Paxton in Cambridgeshire for the Black-winged Stilt I mentioned yesterday. It's an extremely long walk from the car, possibly even matching Trimley Marshes, but for such a great bird why not, and there were trillions of Warblers en route. Last time I was at Paxton was in 2008 for a Baird's Sandpiper; it's a great place, birds everywhere, and not many birders at all - hats off to whoever found it as the area is vast. When we got back to the car I checked my phone for the first time in a while and found out about a Tawny Pipit at Landguard. This was a much needed tick, and the only one I can recall that I could have gone for was also back in 2008. I was in Norfolk but never managed it, something about needing to be home or face the consequences..... Today might have been a similar story. It was half-three and ideally I would have been home at five as my parents were coming round for dinner. Luckily the good son in me prevailed, and so at five on the nail we arrived..... at Landguard. The Pipit showed excellently, and I was about to nab a top drawer photo of it when a four-legged friend flushed it. Meanwhile my parents called from outside my house; Mrs L wasn't in either. Oh dear. I figured that perhaps we ought to forego the photo opp and make tracks for home, which we did, arriving at precisely 108 minutes past five. So barely late at all really.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Of late...


I had one of the worst commutes home yesterday that I can ever remember. Mid-afternoon I decided I'd had enough, and departed the salt mines with the firm intention of heading for Wanstead. Somehow I got a little confused and got on the Jubilee line the wrong way, and eventually ended up at Banstead. How that happened I have no idea, but there were some funny birds in a field so all was not lost. Dotterel somebody said. Like Wanstead, Banstead is in the London recording area, and so although my roundabout journey home took four hours, I gained a somewhat valuable London tick - the first for almost twenty years. So whilst very very old people may have seen Dotterel in London before, for young whippersnappers like me this was a real blocker. I got home somewhat later than intended, but the Dotterel - a bird I rarely see anywhere - were well worth it. Note "were", rather than "was" - not just one Dotterel. Fifteen Dotterel. More, in fact, than I have seen in my short birding career to date. First time I've been to Banstead, though the place is popping up more and more of late - some fine patch-working taking place. Admittedly it didn't feel much like London - it's basically the Surrey countryside - but they all count. I am climbing up the London listers leaderboard, and am finally overtaking various people who moved out of London about thirty years ago, so well done me.



Today I hit the patch again. Not too early, but hopefully I didn't miss much. Although it was so cold that icicles were forming on my earlobes, the birdlife was very much springlike. Lesser and Common Whitethroats singing, Willow Warblers too. Swifts overhead, and up to a dozen Wheatear around the Skylark area with a couple of Whinchat. Best of all though were three Yellow Wagtails that remained faithful to the Alex for most of the morning. This is the standout news really - Yellow Wags usually go straight over the top, and half the time you don't even see them. To have them on the deck is more or less unprecendented, and for them to stay...well. I took almost full advantage - despite a camo sheet they wouldn't come quite close enough, but I'm more than happy. In addition to the three at Alex, another three flew over me at various points, so I've had 11 in the last three days.



Although the quality of the patch was undeniable this morning, I've been working it very hard recently, and needed a change. The initial plan had been to be at Flamborough this morning, but that didn't work out so I was stuck in Wanstead. Happily salvation came in the form of Prof W needing Long-billed Dowitcher for his Suffolk list, so after lunch he, I and Muffin headed off to Great Livermere Lake near Bury-St-Edmonds. The bird, in summer-plumage (a personal first) showed beautifully, and was Muffin's 178th UK tick. Not quite in the Mya-Rose league, but he's happy enough, and there is plenty of time.



Tomorrow I'm going to go and twitch something. I don't know what yet, but Black-winged Stilt is looking like a possibility, they are all over the place at the moment. Muffin is coming too, although he doesn't need BWS, having seen five in Norfolk with me in 2010. Poor kid.