Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm dreaming of a white (falcon) Xmas

After an anxious day wondering if the recently found Gyr Falcon at Scurlage on The Gower would still be around for the weekend myself and Kevin headed west early on Saturday morning (19.Dec 2009) planning to get there for first light.
Dan and Wayne were unable to join us both having other committments (the fools !!), we duly pulled into Scurlage just after 8.00am and soon found the location on the minor road to Horton.
A loan birder was already at the site having travelled from Bristol that morning and a quick phone call to Colin Gittins confirmed that we were in the right place.
It was bleedin' freezing but the weather conditions were generally good as we prepared to wait for the bird to put in an appearance.
Gyr Falcon has long been on my list of "must have" birds and is probably on a lot of other birders' lists as well,I didn't go for the last "twitchable" bird in Cornwall so this would be another "lifer" and in Glamorgan as well !!
A large pale plastic owl on the roof of a distant farm building due East had Kevin going for a short while as my feet got colder and the number of visiting birders steadily increased.
The falcon would not go short of food as potential prey was plentiful in the shape of good numbers of Lapwings, Goldie Lookin' Plovers and gulls as well as the more common farmland species.
Each time the large flocks were disturbed the sky was scanned for a glimpse of the majestic raptor.
Plenty of Common Buzzards came and went as time wore on and as the weather started to deteriorate the shelter of Kevin's car was a much welcomed comfort.
The band of rain quickly passed and as the weather improved and the sun came out spirits lifted,still no sign of the bird though.
Mid-day came and went,4 hours we had been standing around and the cold was starting to bite.
John Wilson joined us and Martin Bevan,Phil Hill and Martin Bell moved position from their vantage point further down on the main road.
At about 1.15 pm and after a 5 1/4 hour wait a cry went up and the bird we had all been waiting for put in an appearance overhead as it powered past us to come down in a stubble field just the other side of Scurlage.
I picked up my camera and blasted away but the bird although giving excellent binocular views was still quite distant.
We dived into Kevin's car and with several other birders headed over to the stubble field where the bird had been seen to land,after a short search we headed back to our original location in the hope that the bird would make another "fly through".
We were not to be disappointed and after a superb male Hen Harrier had put in an appearance over the fields (there was also a "ringtail" in the fields behind us but I didn't see it ) another cry went up and this magnificent white falcon powered past us once more,it's shear size and the speed and power of it's flight were awesome as it disappeared over the horizon towards Horton.
A phone call from one of the Cardiff lads (cheers guys) confirmed that the bird had been relocated eating a kill in fields just the other side of Horton and after a frantic mad dash the bird was picked up sitting on a fence post about 100m from the roadside.
I quickly got crippling binocular views but just as I was about to get "that" photo the bird took off again having been mobbed by several crows.

We travelled back to the minor road opposite Bank Farm caravan park and after a chat with a few of the lads decided that we'd had about as good a selection of views as we were going to get and decided to call it a day.

We briefly called into Llanrhidian on the way home but having already seen Hen Harrier earlier and with the feeling that nothing else that day would compare with such an impressive raptor headed for home.

What a day,yes it was a long wait but boy oh boy was it worth it,what a magnificent bird,I just hope it stays on a little longer as I for one would will certainly return over the Xmas holiday.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Severn Estuary:Pom Skua

With Wayne unavailable and Dan concentrating on a couple of BTO Atlas tetrads around Cardiff myself and Kevin headed up to Beachley on the outskirts of Chepstow for the obliging Pomarine Skua which had been feeding well on a sheep carcass on the high water mark for the better part of a week.
An early start got us to Chepstow for the high tide at just after 10.00am and following the excellent directions on Birdguides we were soon trudging across the very wet and muddy path along the estuary.
If ever there was a time when you wished that your wellies weren't in the back of the garage this was it !!
We soon arrived at the small patch of reeds where the bird was feeding and it gave superb close views as it continued to feed on what was now a partially submerged carcass.

My only previous views like most birders' of Pom Skua have been distant views from seawatching places like Strumble Head or from boats,not even a "close-in" view at Strumble could compare with the views of this bird.

With the tide rising rapidly and the carcass becoming fully submerged the bird took to the wing,and whilst we beat a hasty retreat to avoid getting cut off it gave us some excellent flight views as it flew up and down the estuary.

We next headed for the Forest of Dean to try and get Hawfinch for Kev's year list but despite a good search at both Speech House and Brierley we "dipped" miserably.

A call into Aust Wharf between the two Severn crossings on the way home was equally unproductive as the Short Eared Owls which have wintered at the site for many years don't appear to have turned up this year,and so with the weather starting to close in we headed back over the bridge to a soggy wet Wales.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Maesteg Yellow Browed Warbler : Sat 5.Dec 2009

A couple of phone calls Friday night to Dan and Kev confirmed that both were interested in going for the Yellow Browed Warbler at the local sewage works found earlier in the week by local birders Colin Gittins and Paul (Sid) Parsons,this is something like the 4th or 5th found in the valley by Colin and Sid in the 10 years that I've been birding and a tribute to "local patch" work put in.
This was my 3rd for the valley,4th for Glamorgan and 7th in total having seen other birds at Kenfig,Warham Wood in Norfolk,and 2 whilst down at Portland.
I met up with Dan and Geth at the Tylers Arms car park and following Colin's excellent directions we were soon at the location where Chris Thomas and Peter Morgan had already seen the bird which was doing a circuit with a tit flock.
We didn't have to wait too long before the tiny "Siberian gem" was spotted again flitting in the willows just over the sewage works fence.

I'd dipped my toe in the water at the back end of October looking at digital SLRs and finally took the plunge in early November and joined the "long lens brigade".The new Canon 7D was too much of a temptation and so I hooked this up with a Sigma 150-500 zoom for birds and wildlife and the new Canon 18-135 zoom for general use (especially the grand-kids !!)

This was my first chance of trying to photograph a really mobile flitty leaf warbler and I can assure you it is definately not as easy as it looks.

A phonecall from Kev confirmed that he was on his way and following our directions he soon appeared with Gareth Jenkins for company who had also journeyed up the valley for the bird.

They were both soon on it,another "tick" for Kevin's impressive year list.

Trying to photograph the bird was a nightmare as the density of the branches and twigs of the trees played havoc with the auto-focus (even on "spot" focus) and it wasn't long before I switched to manual focus,I didn't get any "great" shots but given the crap light was quite pleased with a few reasonable record shots.

Dan and Geth had to dash off and Gareth and Kev also called it a day leaving myself ,Chris and Peter with our long lenses striving for "that one photo",Ididn't get it and I don't think Chris or Peter had a lot more luck.

Adrian Murch joined us and was soon on the bird and just after Peter left another two birders turned up.

Chris fancied calling into Parc Slip on his way home and so with time on my hands I joined him for a stroll around the reserve.

There was not much on offer but the light did improve for an hour and an obliging Robin and a couple of Redpolls provided good photo opportunities.

The weather started to close in and we got back to our cars just in time,mission accomplished-a really good bird "in the bag",another "lifer" for the Twitchmeister,a Glamorgan "tick" for Dan and I think a "lifer" for Peter,a good morning out and another chance to try out the new camera.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Get the to a Nunnery

Wayne and I went to Thetford last Saturday for a BTO meeting, and it would have been rude of us not have stayed overnight to pay homage to the North Norfolk Coast.

And so it was that we woke up in a B&B in Morston on a cold & Sunday morning. We were accompanied for the day by Rob Chapman - York's BTO Rep and Wayne's mate from the time when he used to live and work oop North.

As is always the case in Norfolk, there were quite a few good birds around to go for. Cley Marshes was heaving with waders - Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe and 20+ Ruff. We scanned through the hundreds of Golden Plovers looking for the American Golden Plover which had occasionally been seen in the area over the previous few days. No joy. It (or another?) was found much later in the day at Blakeney. The ducks (Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall) were pretty much all asleep, but despite checking out every Teal we couldn't find the Green-winged that's been regularly recorded there lately. 3 Marsh Harriers, Cetti's Warbler, a few fly-over Brent and Pink-footed Geese and a flock of c. 30 Bearded Tits were the other highlights.

Walking along the East Bank we saw a few more Beardies and a Reed Bunting and at Arnold's Marsh, Wayne picked out a couple of Spotted Redshank. A 30 minute sea watch on the sea wall delivered some Red-Throated Divers, Guillemots, plenty of Red-breasted Mergansers, a female Common and a male Velvet Scoter. On the beach was a solitary Snow Bunting.

Next stop, up the high speed highway that is the A149, to Holkham. There we were greeted by the sight of hundreds of Pink-footed Geese and, somewhere amongst them, our target bird. A half mile walk west and we were on it - a Snow Goose. We then headed back east to a very busy Holkham Gap where, after a frustrating wait while we waited for them to settle after being continiously flushed by a walkers, we scoped a dozen Shorelark. Equally frustrating was a bird which flew over my head calling which I'm convinced was a Lapland Bunting - we didn't re-find it.

With the light fading quickly Titchwell was to be our last stop. There was nothing new for the day to see on the freshwater marshes apart from a Grey Plover and the humongous amount of earthwork they've done there to move the sea wall back a few hundred yards. The large Parrinder Hide is no more.

Out on the beach we added Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Knot to our day list. While on the sea there were more Red-throated Divers, Mergansers, Guillemots, a couple of G C Grebes, a distant Great Northern Diver and an even more distant, and only seen briefly,possible Slavonian Grebe. 3 Marsh Harriers coming in to roost were the final birds of the day.

A bit of a 'smash & grab' day's birding, but plenty to come home and grip the young Twitchmeister off with! But, the good news for both of us is that we'll be back in Norfolk in December where I'm sure we'll get his UK Life List moving again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brown Shrike (Jeff catches up) !

Having missed out on the jaunt to Staines Moor the previous Sunday I was particularly keen to catch up with the Brown Shrike which as for a lot of birders was also a "lifer"for me and I couldn't let the lads get one up on me could I ?
Whilst talking with "Smudger" (Richard Smith) that well known Glamorgan bird photographer during the week about digital SLRs and "big" lenses (I'm about to take the plunge !!) he mentioned that he quite fancied going for the shrike and a telephone call on Sat 24th Oct reaffirmed his interest.
We struggled to get anyone else interested as lots had already seen the bird and others were unavailable for one reason or another and so early on the morning of Sun 25th Oct we headed east up the M4 hoping that the bird was still there.
We needn't have worried,a quick check with Birdguides confirmed that the shrike had been seen early morning.
My trusty sat-nav soon got us parked up in Hithermoor Road and a couple of birders walking back to their car informed us that the bird had been showing well but distant at the back of the scrub area.
The operative word was "had" as with several Joe Public walkers crossing the area the bird had since gone to ground.
We joined about 30 or so other birders and waited for the shrike to show and waited and waited and wai............................
Five Rose Ringed Parakeets dashed above us and broke the monotomy as did a small group of Redpolls.
We waited and the mood turned to anxious,were we to be disappointed,the bird showed briefly at the back of the scrub !!,Richard got on it quickly - did I,naaaarrrr!
It showed again and I had a good look at it through someone else's 'scope just to be sure of a "tick" before finding it for myself,it was distant but settled and I managed a couple of distant digi-scoped record pics.
The bird disappeared again for a short time and then started to move around the scrub area getting as close as about 70-80m and giving some good 'scope views,still not close enough for some good pics but allowing a few more record shots.
This was an absolutely cracking bird and well worth the 2 1/2 hour wait for a good view,the mood had been a little fractious to say the least with birders jostling for position but with everyone getting a good view the mood soon lightened to one of relief,"lifers" all round for most !
We "filled our boots" with some great views and decided to call time at about 1.15pm and head back to the Jeep for a well earned sarnie and cuppa with a bit of impromptu SLR tuition thrown in (cheers Rich !)
With not a lot else around in the vicinity we decided to head back down the M4 with a call into Aust Warth between the two Severn crossings to check out whether or not the regular wintering Short Eared Owls had started to return.
A small group of local birders who I've seen there before advised us that one had been seen in the past few days and so we gave it an hour or so before abandoning our quest due to the heavy squally showers and heading for home.
A great day out and excellent company,what "Smudger" doesn't know about Glamorgan birding is not worth knowing.
Ok,we had to wait a while but were then teated to some superb views of this "mega" shrike.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shrike Hike

As you've no doubt realised, we haven't been out much lately. It appears to be an annual Birders in Boxers tradition by now to be stuck a). indoors b). in work c). with family* (delete as applicable) during the autumn. You've only just got a better chance of seeing us in the field than an Ivory-billed 'Pecker. We're now a BBRC description species.

It was quite a considerable achievement therefore that three of us (Kev, Wayne and myself) managed to find ourselves on our way to Staines Moor yesterday. We would have been four, but the Boy Birder was ill - he must have been to pass up on a chance of seeing a Brown Shrike.

For "Staines Moor" read "End of Heathrow Runway #1". A nice bit of habitat in a very built up area, but local birders must spend most of their time birding by sight rather than sound because of the constant roar of aircraft overhead which seemed to be taking off at a rate of 1 every 90 seconds.

A typical view while birding on Staines Moor

Despite the noise the Brown Shrike appeared happy enough in its choice of site. It was showing when we arrived and, although it disappeared from view every now and again, put on a good show.

The photo above is a bit distant but I'm sure you'll be able to pick out all the salient ID features in the close up photo below.

I'm sure you'll agree that his is clearly a Brown Shrike!

Having easily bagged the shrike - a lifer for all of us - we had plenty of time to kill. We briefly toyed with the idea of going for the Red-flanked Bluetail at Minsmere. That was slightly out of our range for the day, so where could we go to 'top' "Heathrow Runway #1"? Easy - Didicot rubbish tip.

And so it was that an hour later we were scanning the fields around the rubbish tip for the Azorean Yellow-legged Gull that had been seen there lately. There were plenty of gulls but no sign of our gull amongst them. So we switched our efforts to a pool just oustide the tip. Overhead I counted at least 34 Red Kite which nearly made up for the unpleasant surroundings.

There were a few hundred gulls on the pool with plenty more coming or going. We gave them all a good 'grilling' (well, a light 'toasting' at least) but there was still no sign of the atlantis. On the other hand, there was another gull there which certainly deserved some more attention. Over the next half an hour we gave it a good going over and noted the key features needed to allow us to positively identify it as a 1st winter Caspian Gull. An unexpected lifer for all of us.

Seeing the Brown Shrike was obviously very special. But, somehow ticking this gull, although regularly seen in the UK now, gave me a lot more satisfaction. I'll think I'll be thumbing my Olsen & Larsson more often in future. Oh, and if you're looking for me, I'll be down Lamby Way Tip.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sea Trust Pelagic

Whilst on the Pembrokeshire Bird Club sightings blog early last week I noticed Richard Crossen's post of a few available spaces on the Celtic Wildcat for the last couple of Sea Trust (West Wales) cetacean survey pelagics one of which was going out of Neyland Marina on Sat 19th Sept.
Teresa didn't take much persuading for a day out dolphin watching and a positive resply to my e-mail to Richard meant an early start.
We left Maesteg at 07.00 and quiet roads soon had us arriving at Neyland at 08.30 in time for a cuppa at the marina cafe before meeting up with Richard and his lovely wife Sarah and our fellow participants at 09.00 ready to sail at 09.30.
Unfortunately Cliff Benson was a little "under the weather" and not able to make the trip.
I'd been on several of the GBC Celtic Bird Tours pelagics on the Sabre Tooth before from Neyland so new what to expect although with no chumming and cetaceans being the main target any quality birds would be a real bonus
We were soon underway and once outside the speed restriction area the boats twin 300hp motors kicked in and in just over a half an hour we were out of the sheltered haven and into open water.
Just offshore passing Freshwater West we spotted 3 unidentified cetaceans which I think were Harbour Porpoises but they were a long way off and only gave brief views.
We headed out to survey an area heading into the Bristol Channel towards Lundy Island.
The first couple of hours were quiet and pretty uneventful,we came across a trawler with a host of seabirds gathered around it and hoped that maybe a skua was amongst the throng,sadly they were mostly gulls and gannets.
At between 11.30-12.00 a shout went up and a small party of Common Dolphins were heading towards the boat to "bow-ride",everyone grabbed their cameras and jostled for position as these enigmatic mammals treated us to an amazing display.

This was to be the first of several pods that came to visit our boat that afternoon and it wasn't so much a case of us finding them ,but them finding us !!

About half an hour later another pod of about 20 animals came in and they stayed with us riding the bow-wave for up to 15 minutes giving everyone a really good photographic opportunity.

We steamed on towards Lundy and the weather really opened up into a fine sunny day and soon it was time for the hardier souls amongst us to discard the fleeces and big jackets.

Lundy came into view and although it looked only a couple of miles away I was reliably informed by Nick our skipper (what a great guy !!) that the closest we reached was 11 miles.

Apologies for the sloping horizon but our boat was listing to and fro in the slight swell.

More pods came into the boat at regular intervals and although they brought immense pleasure I think that deep down we were all hoping that the large pod of Fin Whales that had been seen by the lucky few from the boat on 13th August were still in Pembrokeshire waters.

I guess that really was a "once in a lifetime experience" and something that the passengers on that day will never forget.

At mid afternoon we changed course and started to head back slowly to Milford Haven,the weather was truly glorious and the sea probably as calm as it gets,I think even Wayne would have survived this one !!

We started to pick up a couple of good birds and several Manxies were followed by singles of Bonxie and Arctic Skua.

Unfortunately my super-slow focusing Fuji "bridge" camera wasn't allowing me to get the best of shots and I was secretly well envious of the serious photographers on board with their super-fast digital SLRs and big lenses.

A chat with Janet Baxter on the way back to port who was taking some fantastic photos confirmed that I should be looking to invest in a Canon 40D with a 100-400 IS lens,I know I'm going to have to indulge and it's only a matter of when,I'll just have to work my way around Teresa !!

By 17.45 we had docked back at Neyland and a fantastic day had come to an end,okay we "only" saw Common Dolphins but to see them in such numbers and so close to the boat that you could hear them "blow" when bow-riding was unforgetable,I believe the final tally was approx 122 !!

Both myself and especially Teresa thoroughly enjoyed the day and would really like to repeat it next year if places are available.

Huge thanks to Richard and Sarah,Nick our skipper and our fellow passengers for making us so welcome and giving us both a day to remember.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday in Somerset

An early start on Sunday 13th Sept saw me meet up with Kevin in Cardiff and with Dan working and Wayne unavailable with family committments we were soon winging our way over the Severn Bridge to Somerset to catch up with the Spotted Crake which has been at the RSPB Greylake Reserve on the Somerset Levels for a few weeks.
Crakes are a big gap in my UK list and so I was keen to see this bird which has been showing well on what is quite a small pool on the reserve.
We arrived at about 08.30 and after a short walk we joined three other birders who were already on the bird.
The bird picked it's way around the pool sometimes dropping out of sight but when it did re-appear it gave me a good digi-scoping opportunity in quite bright sunlight.
A "lifer" in the bag and with little else around we decided to head for Meare Heath not that far away to pick up a couple of Little Stints that had arrived there the day before and anything else which may have turned up.
We soon arrived at the car park and after a walk along the path running beside the main drain we were soon on a couple of juvenile Little Stints in fresh plumage with the white back "braces" clearly visible feeding on the scrape,unfortunately they were too distant to photograph even at 60x on the scope.
A couple of juv Ruff were a little closer though and I managed a couple of snaps.
As we watched a single Spotted Redshank flew in and fed on the muddy scrape.
We walked to a few other areas of the reserve but it was generally quiet with little of real interest although the sightings book at Noah's Hide where we had seen the Whiskered Tern from a few years ago held notes of Osprey,Hobby and Marsh Harrier all in the same few hours just days earlier and also regular sightings of Otters,unfortunately we saw nothing that made us want to pick up the pen.
With mission accomplished and a "lifer" for me under my belt and little else around in close proximity not even at Slimbridge we decided to head for home.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Pembrey Glossy Ibiss

What's the plural of Ibis,Ibiss just doesn't look right !!
With Wayne unavailable due to family committments an early start on Sunday morning 6th Sept saw me meet up with Dan and Gethin at our usual meeting place at Sainsburys' car park at Junc 36 on the M4 before headed West to try and catch up with the group of 10 Glossy Ibis that had recently arrived near Burry Port/Pembrey.
A pull in at the Harvester at Llandarcy saw us pick up Kevin and within half an hour we were driving down the road alongside the Shoreline Caravan Park where the distant figure of Robbie Taylor taking photos with his snazzy digital SLR and huge lense confirmed that the birds wre still there,more than that they were only some 10m or so from the edge of the road feeding in a small flooded hollow !!
We piled out of the Jeep for a good look at the birds,a quick count confirmed that the 10 were still there.
I had taken the camera hoping to digi-scope the birds at some distance,I hadn't bargained for almost being able to poke them with the end of the tripod and had to "back up" across the road just to be able to get the birds in the frame !!!
A passing jogger put the birds up and they flew to the far side of the field just after Brian Thomas had arrived to join us.
There was a large gull roost out on the sand spit so we thought we'd check it out hoping that the Glossies may have returned by the time we walked back to the car.
The large gull roost held mostly Herring,Lesser and Greater BB and a few Common Gulls but nothing more exotic.
A little further along the spit a flock of about 30 Ringed Plover foraged amongst the shingle.
Eagle-eyed Geth aka "The Twitchmeister" spied a distant Kestrel perched on a piece of driftwood until flushed by some numptie dog walkers.
Unfortunately our morning was cut short as Kevin who was "on call" over the weekend with his job received the dreaded phone call and we had to leave.
A scan of the shoreline on the way back to the car picked out a couple of Med Gulls in the distant group of BH Gulls.
As we arrived back at the car park we were informed by Robbie and Brian that the Glossies had taken flight again and this time were last seen disappearing West in the general direction of Ashburnam golf course but having checked the various sightings pages on the 'net looks like they returned shortly after to give great views.
We dropped Kev off at Llandarcy and a quick call into Eglwys Nunnydd failed to produce any terns although the wildfowl numbers are increasing and Ogmore was similarly unproductive with little there to get excited about.
Geth has yet to see RL Partridge so we doubled back to Tythegston where a scan of several fields also proved unproductive and the only birds of interest were two perched up Common Buzzards and a couple of Stock Doves that flew up off a stubble field.
No "lifers" today even for "The Twitchmeister" but a "Welsh" tick for the four of us.