Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Hudsonian Godwit, Somerset

All really to set to head off to Lincolnshire for a drake Blue-Winged Teal, all hell broke out when I received a text from Steff of news on a Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset. Was this genuine? Is there a pic? Will it stay three hours until I get there? Well there was only one way to find out... luckily I was already on the road while Steff and Zac were already on the road to meeting me. We made the obvious decision that the BWTeal was off and a trip to Somerset had now taken priority.
The three hour journey down was kind to us apart from the average 50mph zones which seem to be featuring on the M6/M5 every few miles.. Arriving at our destination of Meare Heath, a Wood Warbler called in the car park... despite the want to stop and track it down, there was no time for that, there was a 'third for Britain' waiting!
As we stood on a grassy bank over-looking a small scrape, there was a Hudsonian Godwit sleeping amongst a flock of 160 Black-Tailed Godwits. It occasionally moved revealing it's considerably longer bill. After around 30 minutes or so, it took a stretch extending it's wings high above it's head displaying it's main identifiable feature: black underwings. The onlookers watched 'ooh-ing' and 'awhh-ing' each time it did so. Our much more familiar Black-Tailed Godwit contrast by having clean white underwings and it was great to see both species side-by-side.
Clearly in the image above you can see the less-prominent white wing bars than what we're use to seeing with the Black-Tailed Godwits.

Scanning the flock with binoculars could easily highlight the Hudsonian Godwit as the much overall darker bird was easily picked out.
The lighting conditions weren't great created from the overcast sky but a supporting cast was excellent in the form of  3+ Great White Egrets, Hobby, Bittern, Garden Warbler, Wood Sandpiper and 2 Crane (presumed introduced birds from the Great Crane Project).
This (if accepted) will represent the third record for Britain following a single record in 1988 in form of a fly-over and the last real twitchable bird (presumed the same) in 1981 and 1983 at Blacktoft Sands in East Yorkshire. The question now begs whether this bird will relocate further North or stay in the area for a few more days. Since, there has not been any further sightings although I'm sure everyone across Britain will take that little bit extra time to go through their local Godwit flocks for the hope that it'll have chosen their patch to stop off on it's next stage of its journey. There's a good chance that this bird will end up in Iceland and remain with the current Godwit flock. Only time will tell!
After Little Bustard, Hudsonian Godwit, Great Blue Heron, two Harlequin Ducks, Pacific Diver, Greater Yellowlegs and Pied Billed Grebe turning up so far in 2015, what will be next?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Blue-Winged Teal, Donna Nook

After the excitement of successfully twitching the Hudsonian Godwit, the Blue-Winged Teal was held off for a day until the Sunday where Steff offered to drive me over to Lincolnshire in search for this American species. Blue-Winged Teals have been hard to come by for me in the last few years with mainly BWT x Shoveler hybrids turning up over the real deals! I missed the last local bird back in April 2013 at Burton Mere Wetlands whilst being up in Scotland and with it staying only a couple of days, it had sadly departed before I got back.
The drake at Donna Nook turned up about two weeks ago and has remained very elusive over it's stay remaining unseen for up to 5 days during one week. Waiting for a good day weather-wise provided key. We turned up not really knowing of what was in store. Seeing some birdwatchers in the car park, negative views came about on it's whereabouts and confusing directions added to the frustration. We set off on the 2 mile trek walking South East along the beach, passing the military area and following the military towers until we came to the last one on our right. Walking inland over a metal gate into a cattle field and over the bank, we finally found the pools that the Teal was inhabiting. Luckily, we didn't need to do too much more; a group of birders had the Teal locked down and it was remarkably 'showing' from inside the reeds! Not sure if I'd have picked this up though if I'd have been casually walking past on my own looking for it...
Spot the Teal
Luckily, the bird came out for a few seconds on the water and swam around to the other side of the small island. The contrasting white facial marking was apparent as was the small sky-blue speculum and the small white circular patch behind.
The bird was particularly wary and spent a lot of its time under over-hanging branches or in the reeds.
A couple of fine Yellow Wagtails also put in an appearance along with a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, lots of Common Whitethroats and a Wheatear!
I was really pleased to get the Teal as it was one on the most wanted list for quite a while. A huge thanks to Steff who drove!
A short video of the Blue-Winged Teal below:

Monday, 13 April 2015

Orme Ouzel Outbreak

After failing to not see a single Ring Ouzel last year, I wanted to ensure I saw a couple of birds this year as North Wales is an excellent place for catching up with the species as they're pretty hot on migration and breed at nearby localities as well.

The Great Orme has always been a migration hotspot over the years with scarcities such as Bee-eater, Red-Rumped Swallow, Alpine Swift, Subalpine Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe and Short-Toed Lark just to name a few occurring during the Spring migration in recent time.

Woodchat Shrike - June 2012

With migration delayed due to a cold airspace centred over the UK, it was only a matter of time before the flood gates opened and the migrants poured northwards. Ring Ouzel's are one of the birds that have hit the UK in force within the last week with over 50 individuals reported from Combe Hill in Berkshire on 13th April. The Great Orme also delivered too with over 20 birds reported during the weekend.
Very distant shot in terrible conditions - Male Ring Ouzel
Myself and Steff took the trip over on Sunday I weather that can only be described as abysmal with gale force winds and driving rain starting out on arrival. Luckily we met Steve Culley there who gave us directions to bird by car which led us straight towards the flock. Up to 7 birds showed well (although there was probably 10+ birds in total) feeding on the ivy berries.
Note the stark contrasting white collar clearly highlighting them as a male birds
A lone male Blackcap and a Wheatear also joined in on the action as the Ring Ouzels sheltered from the spring storm. A great sight and despite the distance and the weather, it certainly provided a warm spring feeling on a dire, wintery day.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Patch Scaup Rarity

Found a real nice drake Scaup amongst the 11 Tufted Duck at the Brickfields pond in Rhyl today. The bird stood out a mile away and showed well at many times allowing good opportunities for images. It was only inevitable that something had to have been blown in on the back of the strong winds over the last two days.
The last Brickworks' Scaup was actually only a couple of years ago so didn't quite quality for a 'patch mega'. The search will continue during the Spring of which I'm still waiting for the first signs. Into April and no sightings of any hirindines yet really shows how slow it's taking.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Iceland Gull at Pensarn

Present for almost 6 weeks now, the Pensarn Iceland Gull seems to have made the overflow car park on the east side its home for the time being. It is still showing incredibly well and won't refuse a slice of bread or two. However, this isn't my latest record of Iceland Gull in North Wales. I found a second winter bird back in 2013 on 30th April on the River Clwyd.  
Hopefully the Pensarn Gull will stay around as long as that, but the likelihood is that it probably won't. So if you haven't seen it yet, get yourself down there soon!
Very approachable, especially when you're in the car

Here's a video of the bird I took last month if you haven't seen it already!
Best of the rest include a Great Northern Diver from Rhos-On-Sea (28/03), Whimbrel and 2 Pink-Footed Geese on the River Clwyd (30/03) and plenty of Chiffchaffs

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Penduline Tits at Dart's Farm RSPB

I've seen a few Penduline Tits in Spain and they've been easy to catch up with, however records in the UK have been a little different. Many are elusive, a one (or two) day bird or even after the initial report; fly off high and are never seen again. However, in recent time they have become an increasingly more familiar sight on the birds news services. Many reports have mainly come from the Kent area, whereas others have been dotted around the south coast. An interesting report from Lancashire back in 2011 where a Penduline Tit was trapped and ringed in the November. It was even more surprising when it was re-sighted in the following February and April, 2012.
Back to these birds... they've been around since 5th December last year and due to reputation and other birding priorities, I haven't had too much chance to travel down for them until this weekend. We were due another twitch (as March can drag birding-wise) so myself and Steff made our way down on the back of 3 week's worth of reports of these birds coming from the same location: the little pond at Dart's Farm RSPB.
After a set back and diversions all occurring within 10 minutes to the destination, we finally arrived. To our surprise, the two Penduline Tits were showing, and showing well a matter of feet in front of us! Before I could get over the realisation that they were actually present, they did what they do best (when they want out) and took to the skies (and high!). With the pressure off, we both decided we wanted more views so decided to wait until they returned. A few birdtracks later and a doze in the warm sun, they were back!
The birds showed incredibly well in front of us for at least 90 minutes giving us opportunities for a few pictures although with the ever-increasing strength in the wind and the quick flitting from reed-to-reed and branch-to-branch, I found it difficult to get a definite shot in!
Both sexes are very similar with subtle differences but both feature a black mask over the eyes, grey head, brown-rufous back and buff-coloured under parts.
After spending the majority of time in the blossom tree adjacent to the small pond, they came down to the reedbed and bed from the bulrushes giving more fantastic views.
Although the birds showed for well over 90 minutes, they have lived up to their reputation during their stay commuting between the small pond on the RSPB reserve, Exminister Marshes and Bowling Green Marsh RSPB all within close proximity of each other.
Penduline Tit extracting the seeds from the bulrush
Here's a couple of videos taken from the visit to Dart's Farm RSPB
Since arrival there has been three birds present up until just over a week ago so who knows where the third has gone and who knows where these birds will go next? Will they stick around or head off from it's wintering ground?

Ring-Necked Duck, Priorslee Lake

On our way back from Devon, we decided to drop in at Priorslee Lake where a Ring-Necked Duck had previously been reported earlier that day. It was nice to get out of the car and enjoy what was left of the sunshine following a 3 hour drive up the motorways. We more or less immediately got onto the bird despite it having its head tucked in; asleep as it's clear white spur at the front side of the bird clearly highlight it wasn't a (more familiar) Tufted Duck!

It soon had its head up and was showing well from distance regularly diving with the Tufties. It's distinct peaked head was obvious and clear white bands across the bill also easy to see to confirm its identification. This is my forth Ring-Necked Duck after a female at Ranworth Broad back at the beginning of 2012.
Drake Ring-Necked Duck
There were 16 Great-Crested Grebes at the site; many of wish were paired up and carrying out courtship displays to one-another. It brought a lovely end to the day watching the sun slowly sinking as dusk rapidly approached.

Fantastic Finch Fiasco

With a day to spare, what better but to spend it in the local countryside of North Wales. As the forecast was to be beautiful, myself and Steff decided to try and get around the local sites. First up was a drop in at Old Colwyn for a sea watch. In quick succession, we both found a drake Surf Scoter each and up to 6 Velvet Scoter were also bobbing within the huge flock of Common Scoter. No less than 5 Red Throated Divers were also present with Red-Breasted Mergansers, Guillemots and Fulmars thrown in too! A partially leucistic Common Scoter threw us for a moment but with closer inspection was revealed as a female.
We then took the trip to Clocaenog forest where we immediately locked on to Siskins! They were everywhere we went displaying in the warm spring sun. We were also very lucky enough to walk into 4 female Crossbills (of which has been quite hard to see in recent years at Clocaenog).
Two of four (female) Crossbills
As we started to make our way back, we came across a huge finch flock which looked good from the start. Redpolls, Siskins, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and 2 super summer plumaged Brambling. The latter (one of my favourite finches) I haven't witnessed too many times in this plumage, so it was real good to find a couple so close to home. Also of note were 2 Fieldfare still hanging on!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Lapland Bunting at Cemlyn Bay

A very fine Lapland Bunting stayed put between 11th-17th March to allow close inspection from birdwatchers as far from Manchester. The bird showed well from the path just north of the west car park and quite possibly could be still around now. It has however been a little harder to locate as time as progressed.
The icy wind howled from the moment myself and Steff got there but hardened to the prevailing conditions, the Lapland wasn't phased as it fed on small seeds between the stony path ahead of us.
I've been use to seeing these birds in autumn on the Great Orme in small flocks hiding amongst the depths of the long grass; often proving difficult to keep an eye on.
The bird was ever-nearing summer plumage with it's black bib coming through along with its nice rustic body plumage.
Over 200 Golden Plover and a lone Sanderling roosted on the nearby rocks however an over-wintering Whimbrel remained elusive. There were no signs of any terns yet although the wardens are expecting the first Sandwich terns any day now. Up to 8 Med Gulls have been present on the lagoon and at least 2 Goldeneye were still present.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Serins at Gunners Park, Essex

Serin's are one of those birds that if you're in Europe, they become part of the surrounding landscape. In the UK, it's a different story. Many reports are fly overs on the South coast or strung for Siskins! I prioritised a Flambrough Serin two years in Autumn over a Western Orphean Warbler (which luckily I got back 4 days later - could've gone horribly wrong though!). The views I got a couple of years ago of the Serin were atrocious and I'd have been better off waiting for this one, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Unusually, there has been two male Serins over-wintering at Gunners Park in Essex which have proved very popular with the locals and people across the UK. Many have made the journey down to acquire close views of these vibrantly coloured finches. However, the birds haven't always been easy to see. They have been known to spend some considerable time away from their favoured location probably within the adjacent housing estate.
On arrival, there were a small group of birdwatchers already with the bird locked down. That was easy! Although locating the bird was a little trickier. The birds spent most of their time in a weedy scrub next to the roadside and surprisingly difficult to see. After 10 minutes or so, one popped up in front of us and undiscouraged by us, kept feeding away giving super views.

During our time there, they moved around the small area next to the pond but were always on view allowing some good photo opportunities. With it's distinctive yellow rump, short stubby bill and bright yellow body feathering, the bird was difficult to miss and easy to relocate.
Home to four Parrot Crossbill for a couple of weeks during the influx of autumn 2013, Gunners Park has always been a decent site for passage migrants with regular Wryneck, Yellow Browed and Barred warbler migrants most years. A place worth bothering with you have a little time on your side and you're down that way!  

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