Monday, 30 August 2010

CITRINE WAGTAIL in Derbyshire

Ogston Rez, Derbyshire - It's where dreams are made... trust me!

After a few hectic days of scouring two of the top birding sites the English east coast has to other, it was inevitable that the best rarity of the bank holiday weekend would turn up less than a hour from home. After enjoying a cracking night's sleep I had a relaxing day of 'crystal making' with my daughter India planned. All that changed however when news filtered through of a possible CITRINE WAGTAIL just up the road in Derbyshire. After receiving permission from my darling, little, nine year-old, arrangements were made to head north with Snapper Richards & Jules Allen. Unfortunately for my year-listing brothers Mike Feely & Stevie Dunn, they had made the decision to head over to Norfolk for a sea-watch. Whilst a first for Derbyshire strutted around just nine minutes away from where he lives, Stevie was sitting a long 135 miles away scouring Blakeney Point for an elusive Short-toed Lark. He was not a happy chap at all.

Upon arrival at Ogston Reservoir we found a large group of birders assembled along the west bank. Unfortunately though, there had been no sign of the elusive eastern vagrant for nearly two hours. I persuaded the lads to head down to the public hide where we could scan in comfort and wait for the bird to appear from the lush vegetation that bordered the original shoreline. A number of Pied Wagtails of differing sexes and ages could be seen occasionally, along with the odd Yellow Wagtail but nothing out of the ordinary could be detected.

Wagtail Watch UK - A birder's view from the Severn Trent public hide (of dreams).

Undeterred, we continued to scour the west bank hoping that the rarity would appear. Every now and then a flock of Linnet would drop into the area and disturb the feeding wagtails. It was during one of these finch raids that something interesting popped out into the open briefly. Surely it was the bird? After a short while it appeared once more, a juvenile CITRINE WAGTAIL (267) heading towards first winter plumage. After teasing us for another hour with a series of brief appearances the bird eventually showed out in the open albeit a touch distantly where it fed along the waterline. Overall the bird resembled a juvenile Yellow Wagtail but with a number of subtle differences. A striking, broad supercilium could be seen to 'rams horn' around the ear coverts. The bird also showed pale lores along with an all dark bill as well as broad whitish double wing bars. There was also no sign of a yellowish wash to the under-tail coverts. The bird also seemed to be proportionately longer tailed and longer legged than the other wagtails on site.

Twitching legend Dipper is welcomed into the brotherhood of ASBO Birderz - East Midlands Chapter. He gained not one but two ASBO stars by a) rebelliously blowing smoke rings at the sign above and b) by cleansing the public hide of misery with his barking dog trick.... pure genius!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

They call me mister plover lover.... mmmmm! KENTISH PLOVER in Leicestershire

Whilst heading across South Yorkshire late on Saturday afternoon I received a call from Mikipedia Feely. He asked if I'd seen my pager. I hadn't. He then proceeded to drive a verbal stake through my heart by announcing that there was a probable K*ntish Plover down in Leicestershire. This is a species that has evaded my precious British List for nearly thirty years. The amount I have missed over the years is well into double figures, the most hurtful of which was in my home County of Warwickshire in 1993. I turned up a day too late. The most recent dip was earlier this year when a crowd of us drove all the way to Kent to see a female strutting around a nudist beach on the Isle of Sheppey. Once again I was a day late.

I had big plans for Saturday night so there was no way I could head over to Leicestershire immediately. The only choice I had was to delay our planned trip to the North Norfolk coast and head over to Eyebrook beforehand on the Sunday. No doubt I would be a day late yet again as the dreaded K*ntish Plover is a species of bird with extremely itchy feet. Later that evening the identification was confirmed. To make matters even worse I received a text from Stevie Dunn a while later to say that he'd connected with the critter. How could he do this to me?

After a pretty restless night I awoke early on Sunday morning and everything was a little hazy. Should we bother with Leicestershire at all? I wasn't sure if I could take the pain of missing another, especially one that had been pottering around a neighbouring inland County. Later that morning I stood looking at myself in the mirror of a bathroom at some random service station on the A1. I felt a degree of self-loathing for letting some feathered, little freak make me feel so low. It was at this stage that my phone rang. It was Shropshire's premier pie connoisseur Mike Stokes..... and he was currently watching the bird. Twitch on folks!

This is me trying to remain calm under immense 'plover pressure' at Eyebrook Rez.

After what seemed like a fortnight we finally reached Eyebrook and we piled out of the car without delay. Frenzied scanning of the shoreline commenced. There were plenty of Ringed Plover zipping around the water margins along with the odd Little Ringed Plover but where was the K*ntish Plover? I walked further along the road to gather gen. My heart sank when some old fellow sensitively explained to me that it had flown off less than ten minutes ago. I was gutted. I was desperate. Every plover I spotted I attempted to twist into something a little more 'kentish'. My mind was racing. Suddenly through my bins I picked up a Ringed Plover chasing something smaller. The pursued plover dropped to the mud in submission and squatted down facing away from me. I caught a glimpse of its gentle face, it was smaller billed, it was also slightly paler on the mantle than the bullying Ringed Plovers. It had to be the Kentish, I deserved it to be the Kentish, surely it was the Kentish. My head began to spin. At this stage a calm and collected Katie Thorpe grabbed my equipment and panned further right. Whilst my bird sat tight, looking more like a juvenile Little Ringed Plover, Katie had located a pale ghost of a plover species, pacing around at much closer range. Her bird was definitely a juvenile KENTISH PLOVER (263). Much love Miss Thorpe. Thirty years of hurt was finally over and my biggest British 'bitch tick' was now out of the way forever. I was ecstatic. The bird continued to show well throughout the morning but would become obscured by the vegetation at times.

A 'red-haired birdette' tries out the new invisible tripod prototype by Manfrotto... whilst Quasibirdo (behind right) fails to do his troublesome back problem any favours.

Other aviform highlights included a handsome Pectoral Sandpiper (264) as well as 14 Dunlin and 10 Common Snipe. An Osprey also flew over heading west gripping a huge fish. With British Bird number 442 in the bag and with a couple of nice year birds added too, we then made our way east to Norfolk.... but that's whole different story.

Kentish Plover - Eyebrook Reservoir

COMMON CRANE & SHORT-TOED LARK in Norfolk

After all the excitement in Leicestershire earlier on in the day, it was time for an afternoon of proper birding on the north Norfolk coast. The first stop however was the new visitor centre at Cley NWT. During a sudden downpour it made sense to grab a brew and a slice of cake and view this magnificent reserve from the comfort of the cafe. Marsh Harriers hunted over the reedbeds, Sandwich Terns dropped in to rest on the scrapes and Avocets busily fed around the pools.

As the rain subsided and the sun started to peek through the clouds we heard that a Common Crane had just dropped in at nearby Salthouse. The last of the tea was guzzled, our bins were grabbed and off we sped. As I zoomed east along the coastal road I could see a large bird flying towards the car in the distance. It had to be the crane. We pulled over adjacent to where I thought the bird had dropped down. As we pulled our gear from the boot the bird appeared once more, an elegant Common Crane (265) took flight and struggled to gain momentum as it battled against the gale force north easterly winds.

We then returned back towards Cley where Nadia Shaikh relocated the crane showing well in a field just north of the road. Our delight turned to despair however when we noticed that the unfortunate bird had the lower part of its right leg missing. Studying the bird through the scope the wound was obviously pretty fresh and it was tragic to watch as it struggled with its recent injury. Soon afterwards the bird continued its laboured journey west along the coast.

The famous Cley NWT reserve viewed from the Beach Hide.

As the strength of the winds increased we took the decision to stroll the short distance along the beach to the hide overlooking the Cley NWT reserve. There was plenty of hot wader action to be witnessed and we soon logged the following species: Avocet (12), Ringed Plover (6), Black-tailed Godwit (10), Ruff (juvenile), Knot (2), Curlew Sandpiper (6), Dunlin (25) and Sanderling (2).

We then decided to brave the elements and try a bit of sea-watching. Despite the ideal conditions for viewing passing seabirds it is always pretty frustrating in Norfolk. Everything seems to pass by as distant as it possibly can. Northern Gannets streamed past in their hundreds along with good numbers of Northern Fulmars and Kittiwakes. Sandwich Terns were also quite numerous along with the odd Arctic Tern occasionally. Unfortunately I failed to pick up anything more scarce than 2 Great Skuas and a single dark phase Arctic Skua. Another skua species that was too distant to clinch for certian was probably a dark phase Pomarine Skua.

It was time to stretch our legs and what could be better exercise than a stroll up to Blakeney Point? Admittedly we did not get too far as I managed to pick up an interesting call amongst the swirling winds. I knew that there had been a Short-toed Lark in the area recently and so we decided to hang around in hope that it would appear. After a few brief flight views of a small, pale lark species I eventually tracked the bird as it landed on the shingle ridge close to a footpath. A Short-toed Lark (266) then appeared in front of me briefly before flying off yet again to disappear amongst the dunes.

Short-toed Lark - Blakeney Point, Norfolk - August 2010
Photo kindly provided by Penny Clarke

The rolling waves of the North Sea viewed from a blustery Cley beach.
Photo by Adam Archer

A cracking day ended with fish and chips in Wells and a quick 'kerb crawl' around the 'Wolferton Triangle' for Golden Pheasants. Needless to say we did not see any at all.... I'm starting to write this species off for my year list bearing in mind I've dipped then about five times in recent months.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Peep Show.... NO Peep Show!

This afternoon I decided to forget watching United play Fulham on TV and head north to Belvide Reservoir for a precious year tick. After checking with Steve Nuttall that the bird was still present I was on my way. Upon arrival a young Tawny Owl could be heard calling near the car park over the background noise of Kings of Leon playing live in concert! It was the second day of the V festival at nearby Weston Park. Upon entering the Scott Hide I discovered fellow ASBO birder Steve Richards scanning the shoreline. Within seconds I was enjoying an immaculate juvenile Little stint (261) feeding with a couple of Dunlin. Also on site were 13 Black-tailed Godwits, 9 Greenshank, a Common Sandpiper, 4 Ringed Plover and 3 Little Ringed Plover as well as 6 Common Tern. There was also a juvenile Black-necked Grebe present but it swam out out view just before I arrived. We then headed back up towards the car park to locate the Owl. There were two youngsters perched up high in the tree tops but only brief flight views were obtained.

At this stage my enjoyable Sunday afternoon in the sunshine was turned upside down. Just after 5.00pm news came through that the adult SEMI-PALMATED SANDPIPER had returned to Alkborough Flats in Lincolnshire. A few minutes later MEGA ALERT wailed away to inform us that a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER had been located at Patrington Haven in East Yorkshire. With a possibility of nailing two prime waders for the price of one I had to make a move but with daylight running out fast I had to move quickly. Steve was tempted (I could tell by his bulging blue eyes) but I couldn't convince him to join me on my mad dash up north.

Whilst driving up the A38 I listened to the United match on 5 Live. They were 2-1 up and even better, both top notch shorebirds were still present. Life was good! Soon afterwards my luck began to change. Firstly that greasy-haired Cameo lookalike Nani missed a penalty for United, then during injury time the jammy Cottagers equalised. Fulham 2 United 2 - two precious points dropped!

After a quick stop off at Potteric Carr to pick up a couple of budding RSPB twitchettes (and a stray dog) I sped over to Alkborough as the sun was sinking in the western skies. Upon arrival I received a text from Mike 'Mikipedia' Feely to say that him and Stevie Dunn had connected with the SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER just before it had flown off. B*STARDS! At least I could console myself with excellent views of only my second British SEMI-PALMATED SANDPIPER.... wrong! Despite grilling the flats as well as various channels and pools until dusk we failed to relocate the pesky peep! It was the straw that broke the camel's back, I vowed there and then to throw in the towel..... year-listing was for complete losers anyway!

Taking the positives out of the heart-break, a stunning Lincolnshire sunset was enjoyed as was an impressive nature reserve that I'd never visited before. On the bird front there were 4 Little Egrets, 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 19 Ruff, 3 Common Redshank, a Greenshank, a Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper present around the Flats.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

BIRDFAIR 2010 - Rutland Water

Despite being warned by a handful of anonymous, cowardly birdboredom.net boot-lickers to keep well away this year, I decided to attend this year's BBWF anyway. I've taken a fair few beatings over the years for my cheek and it would have been a welcome 'brawl tick' to have gone a few rounds in the corner of a marquee whilst a crowd of khaki clad pensioners looked on. Needless to say I survived the whole day completely unscathed.

There never seems to be any inbetweeny kind of weather at Birdfair, it's either drier than a Courser's foot or it's wetter than the under-belly of a Sandgrouse with thirsty chicks to quench. This year it was mainly soaking, so much so in fact that I completely ruined a gorgeous pair of gleaming white, limited edition, Adidas shell-toe trainers whilst strutting around in mud, the quality of which would have made a Dowitcher grin. Never again will I put vanity above practicality.

So why do I put myself through this every year? Well the main reason is to pick up a few bargains whilst contributing to one of the most worthwhile wildlife charities there is. This year I snaffled up a couple of books out of the thousands on offer. The first was Bird Migration by Ian Newton, a book to savour during those long, dark November evenings. The second was the superb Tales of a Tabloid Twitcher (a review to follow) by Stuart Winter. Another good reason to attend is to catch up with a few pals who you haven't seen in a while and to take part in a spot of 'folking'. This hobby is like 'birding' but instead, the aviforms are replaced with interesting homosapiens. There is no place like it for an afternoon of people watching.

POW! The REAL Batman graces Birdfair!
Photo by Ms Nadia Shaikh

Whilst enjoying Birdfair forget the dozens of bird tour companies who will be happy to take thousands of 'queens heads' from you for them guiding you to a hard to find endemic in some war torn Country. Cast aside those firms that try and flog you overpriced, yet poorly designed outdoor clothing. Shun those greedy optical companies who still fail to realise that the Worldwide economy is still very much f*cked up and that most hard-working birders are totally skint. The real stars of Birdfair are the numerous charities that fight hard for your money and their heroic volunteers that turn up every year to spread the word about their precious organisations. Take the fellow in the photo above. This particular wildlife soldier spent three days soaked to the skin whilst dressed up as a giant Chiroptera, all to help further the cause of the Bat Conservation Trust.

So after a thorough hobble around the various giant tents and a quick nap in the car it was time to catch up on a bit of 'hot feather action'. A quick drive down to Manton bridge immediately produced a new year tick in the form of a pair of Osprey (260). From this excellent viewpoint we also spied a couple of Common Shelduck, 12 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Common Greenshank, 7 Ruff, 2 Green Sandpiper and 4 Common Snipe.

A magnificent Osprey taking part in a spot of fish watching at Manton Bridge, Rutland Water.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in Nottinghamshire

During our time on the Isles of Scilly, the two Nottinghamshire residents that I was with had a little calidris niggle at the back of their minds. Whilst we were leaving Penzance last Saturday news filtered through that a Little Stint at Lound had been re-identified as something a little spicier - an adult BAIRD'S SANDPIPER. Would it linger until we got back to the mainland? Probably not knowing our luck!

adult BAIRD'S SANDPIPER at Lound, Nottinghamshire.
Photo blatantly thieved from Stevie Dunn.

I eventually hobbled on site during mid-afternoon to find both Mikipedia and Nottsferatu already on site at the Chainbridge Lane viewpoint. Within seconds I was watching my first ever adult BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (259) in Britain, all my previous sightings being fresh autumn juveniles. The bird showed well if not a little distantly during our visit. Before we left a Black-tailed Godwit flew in followed by a Dunlin as a useful comparison species. It was great to see plenty of Northern Lapwings at this impressive site too. On the other side of the lane I eventually found a group of 20 Red-crested Pochard amongst a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks.

BAIRDS SANDPIPER fact file
  • This species was named in honour of the impressively named Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823 to 1887) who was for many years the Secretary of the famous Smithsonian Institution in the States.
  • Research shows that in the Autumn adults take a narrow migration route through the Great Plains of the USA whilst juveniles take a much broader front and are much more likely to appear on both the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts. This explains why sightings of adult birds in Europe are much rarer than those of juveniles.
  • It is suspected that some birds cover over 4,000 miles non-stop during migration.
  • Once young birds develop mantle feathers that are capable of repelling rain and snow their parents abandon them and start their southward migration. Without the competition for food from the adults they mature more rapidly and around a month later they begin their migration too.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Wayne Rooney Acting All Scilly! - Day 4

In order that we could afford to escape from the 'Unfortunate Islands' we decided to raise funds by creating a bit of beach art. Needless to say it was not really appreciated by the posh, Scilly tourists.

After the hassle of packing away our camping gear and spending another small fortune on a 'Half English Breakfast' we decided to cheer ourselves up with a bit of birding. At this stage however I was in agony with my injured foot so progress was pretty slow. The first stop was at Lower Moors where the highlight was a couple of
Willow Warbler.... yes it was really that bad. We did however scoop a News of the World exclusive when Wayne Rooney and his mystery lover were spotted in the Hilda Quick hide there.

Wayne Rooney (left) checks out a juvenile Moorhen at Lower Moors. Disturbed by the lack of good birds an angry Wayne took his frustration out on his new woman (right) by repeatedly slamming down the hide flaps on her fingers. Notice how her digits are all swollen and check out the blackened nails (Common Kestrel as opposed to Lesser Kestrel). Good luck for the rest of the season Wayne!

Growing tired of Lower Moors we then made our way over to Tolman's Point for a bit of a sea-watch.... when will we ever learn? Needless to say that it was just as mind-numbingly terrible as all of the other times we had tried it. Apart from the usual Gull species and Gannets we managed just a single Manx Shearwater. There were a nice pod of around 20 Harbour Porpoise to keep us entertained though as well as 2 Bottle-nosed Dolphins and a single Ocean Sunfish.

'Ankle Agony' off Tolman's Point, St Mary's.

Bored by sea-watching notice how I fell asleep and tragically crushed an elderly lady in the process.... and Jesus how tight are my Craghoppers?!

And so we made our way back to Hugh Town where we boarded the Rustonian III as quickly as possible for our journey back to Penzance. As we approached Land's End our run of rotten luck continued, firstly a LESSER YELLOWLEGS had been found on St Agnes and secondly a Great Shearwater has been spotted off Penninis, St Mary's. Trying to block out the disappointment we decided to concentrate on the seabirds passing by the boat. In total around 25 European Storm-Petrel were seen along with 2 Sooty Shearwaters, around 120 Manx Shearwaters and a single Great Skua amongst the usual Gannets and Fulmars. The highlight however came as we were passing Tater Dhu lighthouse when I picked up three small Shearwaters flying towards us, one of which I quickly identified as a Balearic Shearwater. This was a lifer for Mike and a new year tick for Stevie. I am sure I detected a slight smile from them both. As we approached Mousehole we all then picked up a new year bird as a dark phase Arctic Skua flew west.

So to sum it all up the trip was pretty disappointing as the birds go but bloody hell did we have a great time! If someone else was picking up the bill I would definitely do it all over again tomorrow.... perhaps without the broken foot though this time.

Attempted suicide on the Scillonian III - I will never visit these Islands again.... well until October that is!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Unfortunate Isles - From Sea Watch to Bay Watch! - Day 3

An old Clipper navigates The Roads on its approach to Hugh Town harbour.

After last night's festivities in the Scillonian Club where we enjoyed a fair few drinks, live music, ridicule from a drunken local and free power to charge our mobile phones, it was a struggle to wake up too early this morning. There was another pelagic planned for today but this time Bob Flood had advised us that instead of the usual tactic of drifting off Poll Bank the Sapphire was going to infiltrate an armada of French trawlers that were positioned north east of the Islands. None of us could summon up too much enthusiasm for the trip based on yesterday's sightings but dare we not go? It was a huge gamble but in the end the decision to stay on St Mary's and save a combined £135.00 was unanimous.

So after an expensive breakfast we made our way up to The Garrison and decided to find our own seabirds off Morning Point. The trouble was that the conditions for sea-watching were not ideal, zero wind in any direction and glorious sunshine. Around the Point family parties of Sandwich Tern were resting on the rocks during low tide along with a few Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstones. Further out at sea it was not too long before I spotted our first Basking Shark of the day.

Sea-watching off Morning Point, St Mary's.... sea is pretty much all that we watched!

Who needs Johnny Depp when you've got Archie Sparrow on the case?

With nothing more to interest us than the usual Laridae, a 1st winter Kittiwake and a distant Manx Shearwater it was little wonder that our concentration started to wain. Whilst Mike and I enjoyed butterflies and macro moths and discussed the unique biology of the plant Anagallis arvensis, Stevie filled up his time by scoping semi-naked posh women sunbathing aboard their yachts. Kids hey? It was time to clear our minds of birds and make the most of our time on St Mary's. It was time for a dip in the sea.

An arty shot of a pretty wooden rowing boat on Porthcressa Beach.... check out the rich folks in the distance.

Heading back to camp to retrieve our swimming gear we made our way to Porthcressa. Whilst strolling down to the beach a Hummingbird Hawk-moth was spotted feeding on a Buddleia near the old coastguard buildings. It is always a cracking, little creature to connect with during the Summer months. Within seconds of hitting the beach I was in the water with no hesitation, quickly followed by Mike. After the initial heart stopping shock of the bitterly cold Atlantic Ocean it is amazing how quickly your body aclimatises to its surroundings. I looked around for Stevie but he was nowhere to be seen. He soon confessed to having a phobia of the sea but after a bit of coaxing him around he eventually summoned up the courage to take a paddle. It was amazing to think that he had never even dared do that before in his thirty odd years on this planet. Despite him shrieking like a petrified Alan Carr as a bit of seaweed brushed past his leg and despite his camp little Julian Clarey style run back to the beach, we were both very proud of him indeed. Kids hey?

A pleasant afternoon was topped off watching an impressive Manchester United beat the rent boys in the Charity Shield followed by a new Scilly tick - Common Swift. A mixed flock of around 30 birds gathered together with around15 Barn Swallows near the football pitch briefly before dispersing and continuing their migration south.

Now comes the horrible bit and proof that the curse continued. News eventually filtered through regarding the pelagic that we ignored. The good news was that no WILSON'S PETRELS were spotted again however the bad news for me was that a single Great Shearwater showed well for a while. This is a species I have always failed to connect with in British waters so I was slightly gutted... but then again I had saved myself £45.00.

The Beastie Birders - Licensed To Ill....No Sleep Til Bedtime!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Scillonian Curse Continues.... from Pelagic to Paraplegic! - Day 2

I awoke all snug in my cosy sleeping bag this morning to snatch a phrase of comedy gold. From the pitch next to me I heard Stevie pouring his heart out to Mike. There had been a shower of rain during the early hours and whilst Mike and I were well protected in our Blacks 'double skin' tents it was a completely different story for the unprepared Mr Dunn in his Happy Shopper special. Everything inside his tent was as soaked as his tear stained cheeks. He even ranted that he had already had enough and was going to forget the pelagic and head back to Cornwall later that day. Kids hey?

HMS Sapphire - the favoured mode of transport for our pelagic trip off the Scilly Isles.

The comfortable surroundings on board the Sapphire.

With a WILSON'S PETREL being seen from last night's pelagic we were all pretty positive about our trip out to Poll Bank on this fine Saturday morning. Salty seaman Bob Flood gave us the itinerary for the day and it was then full steam ahead out of Hugh Town harbour. From St Mary's we took a route north of St Agnes and then slipped south between 'Aggie' and the island of Annet. It was here that we enjoyed our first highlight of the trip as a Basking Shark fed unconcerned around the boat for a while (see below). It was great to see the look on the face of self-confessed 'jawsaphile' Stevie Dunn as he added a lifer to his 'fish list'. in the same area a number of Atlantic Grey Seals loafed around on the rocky islets.

What lurks beneath...... the dorsal fin of a magnificent Basking Shark breaks the surface of the Atlantic Ocean just yards from our boat.

Once away from the islands we continued at pace through the choppy waters towards Poll Bank. At this stage I had a quick chat with one of our 'chummers' for the day, former Staffordshire birder and Belvide regular John 'Higgo' Higginson. Whilst discussing the love life of fellow ASBO birder Ian Moore and the recent FRANKLIN'S GULL at Chasewater I received the shock of my life as a medium sized Whale species breached well out the water just ahead of the boat. Unfortunately only a few of us on board caught a glimpse of the huge beast and the identification was not clinched. It was during this period of rough seas that I made the mistake of standing up to see if I could relocate the mystery cetacean. This coincided with the crest of a huge wave hitting the underside of the boat and knocking me off my feet. For the rest of the journey I was in pain with a suspected twisted ankle.... but I didn't complain too much.

As we arrived in position it was time for the part of the pelagic experience that every birder dreads, the 'chumfest'. The fishy mixture that was thrown off the back of the vessel for the seabirds was not too bad, however the festering concoction that was bagged up to attract the Sharks was an entirely different story. Imagine opening a hundred tins of Whiskers cat food, throwing it into a bucket, then leaving it out in the sun for a month... well that is nowhere near as bad as this stuff whiffed. It is what I imagine hell to smell like. To make matters worse guess what loser opted to buy a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich from the Co-op before we boarded?

As the stench increased so did the number of birds flocking around the Sapphire. Joining the usual Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a few Gannets as well as a small group of Fulmar. Soon afterwards our first charismatic European Storm-petrels were attracted to the bait, doing their walking on water trick close by. It is just one of a million types of different bird behaviour that is always awesome to witness. Despite the Petrel numbers increasing there was still no sign of a WILSON'S PETREL amongst them. Our attention however was soon drawn to a rather bent looking fishing rod and an angler struggling to prevent himself from being pulled overboard. After about ten minutes of hard graft a gorgeous Blue Shark was finally hauled out of the sea and slammed down on deck. The writhing, streamline of pure muscle fought back hard at it's two burly handlers but after a short while it was measured , tagged and released back into the Ocean completely unharmed. At the same time a Sooty Shearwater drifted by, our one and only of the whole trip.

'Higgo' puts in the boot in order to calm down an angry Blue Shark!
This beast measured 72 inches in length and was estimated to have weighed around 48 pounds.

As we drifted along we at last picked up our first year tick of the trip as an adult Grey Phalarope flew in. The bird fed on the chum slick for a short while before continuing its journey south. The only other species of note were a couple of Great Skua, the odd Kittiwake and a few Manx Shearwater but another highlight from beneath the water suddenly appeared. It lifted my spitits no end as a trio of Common Dolphin played with us for a good forty minutes, 'bow riding'. It was an amazing sight to witness and no video footage or photographs can ever convey the feeling of privilege you receive when such a beautiful wild creature decides to interact with you in this way. As we headed back to St Mary's our second Basking Shark of the trip was encountered just outside Porthcressa Bay. So all in all a pretty disappointing trip aviform wise but when you get to experience some of the other natural delights Britain has to offer then who cares? Not me!

Three Common Dolphins helpfully escort us back to the Islands.
Pure class!

STOP PRESS: My stumble onboard the Sapphire resulted in a four hour stint in the A&E department at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton on Wednesday night. The diagnosis is torn ankle ligaments and I will be out of 'birding action' for around THREE weeks. How will I cope?

Blue Shark being landed off Isles of Scilly.

Here is a short clip of the aforementioned Blue Shark being hauled onto the deck of the MV Sapphire.....

Starring John 'Higgo' Higginson as 'the tail grabber'.

Co-starring Archie as the coward in the green jacket keeping away from the teeth.

Jaws footage kindly provided by Mike 'Mikipedia' Feely

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Mysterious Scilly Curse - Day One

After an expensive week of Carribean style weather on the Isles of Scilly last October and with nothing other than a Radde's Warbler to get excited about, I had vowed to stay clear of this archipelago for a while. Well that is until this pair of reprobates (see below) managed to twist my arm in accompanying them on a quest to add a few more year ticks to our mindless 2010 lists. Now fellas, have you ever been in love with a girl that just doesn't love you back, well that's the kind of relationship I have with the scheming, gold digging, slut of the Scilly Isles. No matter how doting and faithful I am to her, all she does is rip me off and take the piss out of me in front of my mates..... but despite all this I really do still love her..... tragic ain't it?

To be honest the omens were pretty bad from the start. This year has become the worst ever for WILSON'S PETREL in the south west approaches since records began and nobody is really sure why. Even so I was still pretty confident that we would connect with at least one of these amazing seabirds of the Southern Hemisphere. I have encountered the species many times before on the Scillonian III pelagics but I had always longed for a more intimate experience onboard a smaller vessel where the decks are not as crowded and the views are so much closer.

Mike 'Mikipedia' Feely & Stevie 'Nottsferatu' Dunn took into their mucky breakfasts in the famous Sullivan's Cafe in Penzance.

As we departed a mist shroaded Penzance harbour our spirits were high. Soon we were watching our first Great Skuas of the year from the busy deck of the Scillonian III followed quickly by a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, another year tick for all three of us. After another short while the first European Storm-petrels of the trip were logged bombing through the peaks and troughs of the choppy Atlantic Ocean. It was all looking pretty damn good. I could not have been happier.

Stevie Dunn attempts to remain focused whilst small children throw up around him.
Nottsferatu can be identified by the diagnostic Betaware egg cup used as a makeshift eye-piece protector and the distinctive Gok Wan style 'man bag'.

Around midday we docked into St Mary's harbour and the realisation that we had nowhere to stay that night finally hit us. We headed up to The Garrison Campsite knowing that they were fully booked but we needed to give it a try. Needless to say my charm and sophistication worked like a dream on the lovely ladies at reception and they agreed to have us for the night on the condition that we made NO noise after 11.00pm.

The ASBO Birderz base camp on The Garrison, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly.
Notice Stevie Dunn's limited edition blue Lidl tent, originally designed as a temporary shelter for stray Yorkshire Terriers.

After pitching up and knocking back a nice mug of brew we decided to have a quick stroll around St Mary's as opposed to opting for a mini-pelagic later in the afternoon. Around Penninis we saw the odd Linnet and a few family groups of European Stonechat but as expected it was all pretty dead on the bird front. We then headed around to Old Town and through Lower Moors but once again there was not a great deal to see except for a Moorhen and a Grey Heron. As fatigue set in we opted to head back to the campsite early and get ready for a night on the Town. As we neared the Co-op a pager message came through.... there was a SQUACCO HERON over at Porth Hellick. What a stroke of luck! We quickly ordered a cab and sprinted back up to The Garrison to grab our scopes. About 30 minutes later we were dropped off and happily skipped our way towards Porth Hellick Pool to grab a cracking year tick and also a top notch Scilly tick too. It was here that we bumped into Will Wagstaff. "Is it still about Will?" I cheerfully enquired "Yes it is..." he replied "...but you do know that it's a Grey Heron don't you?" WHAT!?! Apparently a local had found a random Heron all hunched up in the reeds and had misidentified it. Unbelievable! At this point Stevie Dunn started to become irate especially as he had paid the £6.00 taxi fare. To make matters worse we also dipped a trio of Common Crossbill that had been knocking around the pine trees in the area earlier on in the day. Around the Pool a Common Kingfisher was nice to see as were 2 Green Sandpiper and at least 6 Common Sandpiper but none of them were enough to calm down the 'Tibshelf Hooligan'. It was a long, long walk back to camp from Porth Hellick that evening and to add insult to injury a WILSON'S PETREL was spotted from the pelagic we had decided not to bother with. The mysterious Scilly curse had kicked in and it was to get much, much worse.....

Check out these magical stone piles that we found between Penninis and Old Town Bay on St Mary's. I suspect witchcraft..... maybe the same twisted souls are responsible for casting the evil Scilly curse upon the ASBO crew?