Tuesday 27 July 2010

CATTLE EGRET in Staffordshire

After missing out on this bovine stalking species on two separate occasions so far this year, it was a stroke of birding luck that a CATTLE EGRET should turn up in my neighbouring County earlier this week. So after a gruelling day at work I raced north up the M6 to Stafford where hopefully I'd connect with an easy localised 'year tick'. As I arrived at Doxey Marshes SWT there was no sign of the bird and even the herd of prime British beef were proving to be rather elusive amongst the rank vegetation. I was beginning to think that the only chance of connecting with this bird would be to 'steak' out the area and wait patiently for it to fly into 'roast' like it had on the two previous evenings.

I was was just beginning to slip into a dip induced a coma when I received a text from my year-listing comrade Stevie Dunn. The bird had reappeared and was now viewable from the track near the main car park on the 'udder' side of the reserve. He deserved a huge 'pat' on the back for letting me know so quickly.

Doxey Marshes Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Reserve
The small white dot near the centre is actually the CATTLE EGRET roosting in a small willow.

As I arrived in position the bird had finished feeding amongst a small herd and had 'mooooooved' to a small clump of vegetation on the edge of a pool. It was here that the juvenile CATTLE EGRET (251) continued to show, although obscured throughout the period I was on site. The bird then flew off to 'roast' in its favoured area at around 8.40pm where it remained until dusk.

juvenile CATTLE EGRET - Doxey Marshes SWT, Staffordshire - July 2010.

CATTLE EGRET in the West Midlands Region
  1. 1987 - adult - Doxey Marshes, Staffordshire - 7th January only
  2. 1993 - adult - Besford, Worcestershire - 25th October to 26th December intermittently.
  3. 1994 - adult - Ansley, Warwickshire - 24th September to 23rd December (same as Worcestershire bird above).
  4. 2008 - adult - Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire - 29th November to 2nd December.
  5. 2009 - adult - Middleton Lakes RSPB & Middleton Hall, Warwickshire - 31st March to 4th April.
  6. 2010 - juvenile - Doxey Marshes, Staffordshire - 25th July to present.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Birdfair 2010 .... Robbing the rich to give to the poor... birds!

So it's that time once more, "Glastonbury for birders!" as some joker once exclaimed. If you're heading to Rutland Water in a few weeks though, don't expect to see Lady Gaga strutting her stuff or the Kings of Leon strumming away. The best you're going to get is some random collection of Africans playing a bit of World Music or the odd South American blowing away at his pan-pipe. The only similarity with the aforementioned Somerset music festival really is the plethora of over privileged, middle-class halfwits milling around the place. This time though the jester hats are replaced with Tilley Hats and 'class A drug cocktails' are substituted with blood pressure tablets and Viagra. It is a fact that more cash is extracted from the silver-haired brigade at this event than Saga Car Insurance and Stannah Stair Lifts combined.

On a more serious note, if you can stomach Penelope from Windsor faffing around, blocking up the aisles with her Scopac or Henry from Thornham waffling on about seeing Shoebills during his last trip to Uganda, then there is some pretty good stuff to enjoy. Some of the lectures are particularly smart. My tip would be to work out exactly which ones you fancied beforehand and stick to the plan. Also make sure you arrive early enough as some of the popular ones get pretty full. One thing you must avoid however is 'Just A Linnet' in the main events marque. Back in the day when 'Odd Billie' hosted the show it was very funny indeed, he really didn't care who he offended along the way with his aviform related sarcasm. He will always be a comedy hero of mine. These days however it's a different story. Instead you will have to put up with the arrogance of former Kajagoogoo front man Chris Pacman and that other TV show presenting, simpleton Mike Bilger for sixty minutes of blatant showing off. Head to the beer tent instead and knock back a few pints of real ale.

Lee GR Evans gets quizzed by a journalist from the I
rish Times r
egarding his peculiar theory that the free states in the south of Eire are part of the United Kingdom. Notice how our dear LGRE is still wearing his deep-vein thrombosis tights after his extensive whistle-stop flying tour of prime Western Palearctic birding sites.

Another reason to head to Birdfair is that you can save a small fortune on birding literature. I tend to make a list of stuff I wanted to buy over the course of the year and use an American Express freshly pick-pocketed from one of the affluent punters milling around the Swarovski stand to pay for the lot. I've also found that the best savings to be had are at the Wildsounds stall but be prepared to shop around for that ultimate bargain. If you grow tired (and envious) of all those making enquires about over-priced foreign birding tours then why not head over to the Art Marquee and immerse yourself in a spot of .... well art.... canvas under canvas style. Please note that it's customary whilst negotiating this particular marquee to stroll around extremely slowly and silently with your hands behind your back. Every now and then pause for a while and nod appreciatively at the artist/photographer/sculptor. If you wear glasses why not add to the effect by lifting your spectacles and squinting at your favourite pieces. If you sport a beard then feel free to rub away at it as though you're pondering an imaginary puzzle.

If you're heading over folks then enjoy yourselves, spend loads of cash and join as many wildlife based charities as you can if you're not members already. No birder should be allowed to embark on a six week tour of the Antarctic unless they are paid up members of the RSPB, BTO, WWT, Birdlife International and their local Wildlife Trust at the very least.

These statistics speak for themselves! See how much the organisers have managed to extract from us over the years.... Tim Appleton (LRWT) and Martin Davies (RSPB) are just like a modern day Robin Hood and Maid Marion! Keep up the great work fellas.

Saturday 17 July 2010


Walton Heath, Somerset.

Today's trip started at 3.00am in Warwickshire with Jules Allen, Stevie Dunn & Mike Feely joining me for another trip down to the south west. We arrived at Ashcott Corner at around 6.00am and it didn't look good. Despite the wind from yesterday subsiding it was raining pretty heavily, not ideal for attracting a secretive, miniature Heron from the shelter of a reedbed.

Loxton's Marsh, Walton Heath, Somerset.
Notice how the end of the rainbow stops at the suspected Little Bittern breeding site.... pure gold!

After getting soaked to the skin we finally caught a quick glimpse of a female LITTLE BITTERN (249) in flight at 7.10am. It then showed a further three times during the next five minutes with it flying off strongly and out of sight on its last appearance. The same bird then returned and showed several times in flight between 8.10am and 8.15am, with it showing perched up in the phragmites briefly. She then went missing around the suspected nest site until 9.00am when she once more flew a short distance several times before showing well perched up for a few minutes. As earlier in the morning the bird then flew off strongly towards another reedbed, hopefully to search for food for any chicks. Whilst at the locaton we did not see the male LITTLE BITTERN that had been present earlier on in the month.

Other sightings included 2 Great Bitterns, 4 Little Egrets, 2 Hobby and a family party of Cetti's Warblers amongst the usual suspects. We then headed over to Noah's Lake but we failed to locate the GREAT WHITE EGRET that has been present in the area on and off for a while. We then searched the cow fields around the area for any lingering CATTLE EGRETS but for the second time this year we were unsuccessful.

'Bug Porn' at Walton Heath, Somerset.
"Go on my son, bang that exoskeleton!"

SPOTTED SANDPIPER in Somerset - my 250th British Bird Species of 2010

Dunster Beach, Somerset.

Whilst lurking around a fast food establishment in Street, news filtered through of a summer plumaged SPOTTED SANDPIPER elsewhere in Somerset. We needed to make a decision, should we head back over to Sharpham to continue our hunt for CATTLE EGRETS or should we make our way over towards Minehead for the American wader with the measles? We decided to take a gamble on the latter despite not receiving any further updates on the rarity's status.

We arrived on site at a little holiday complex of small chalets and initially it didn't look too clever. There were no other birders present and even worse there didn't seem to be any prime wader habitat. A closer inspection of the site however confirmed the presence of a small ornamental lake behind the tennis courts. We then spied a duo of birders nearby who soon put us onto the bird as it roosted on a pile of debris poking up out of the water.

It doesn't get any easier than that really..... SPOTTED SANDPIPER, my 250th species of 'British Bird' for the year 2010.

adult summer SPOTTED SANDPIPER - Dunster Beach, Somerset - July 2010

Please Note: The chalet complex is strictly private but the finder of the bird has come to an agreement with the site manager to allow birders onto the site whilst the rarity remains. The condition is that birders use the pay & display car park nearby only and walk the short distance to the lake. If you intend to visit please approach the water with great care in order to reduce the risk of flushing the bird.

Thursday 15 July 2010

FRANKLIN'S GULL in Staffordshire

Whilst fiddling with this bleedin' blog and with one eye on Emmerdale this evening, I was completely oblivious to a rare Nearctic Gull that had turned up just a few miles from home. I had heard my pager bleeping away in the dining room but I had chosen to ignore it.... well it's the middle of July, it couldn't have been anything too tasty could it? Stevie Dunn was the first kind fellow to alert me that there was an adult FRANKLIN'S GULL at Chasewater. I grabbed my kit and shot off, reaching the reservoir in a record fourteen minutes flat.

Fact of the Day: An amazing 40% of Staffordshire based twitchers insist on wearing 'twat pants' whilst birding during the summer months (see picture below).

From left to right: The Cream of Staffordshire Birding - Gino, Jules Allen, Pezza Perrins, Snapper Richards, Dip Smith, Chopper Jones, The Moorehen.

Luckily the immaculate summer plumaged American Laridae remained on site until I arrived. There it stayed roosting amongst the Black-headed Gulls, occasionally lifting its head and have a quick stretch. A superb 'Staffordshire Tick' and another much needed 'Year Tick' too. Also on site there were up to 7 Western Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the Lesser Black-backed Gulls along with the odd Common Gull. Waders included a few Little Ringed Plover, the odd Common Redshank and a scattering of Common Sandpiper.

Franklin's Gull factoidz
  • Franklin's Gull breeds on marshes and lakeland wetlands from southern Canada to South Dakota and Iowa and in scattered marshland in the western USA.
  • It spends the winter mainly along the western coastline of South America.
  • The species was named after the Lincolnshire born Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.
  • It was originally named Franklin's Rosy Gull after the rosy-coloured hue to its breast in summer plumage.
  • Franklin's Gull is unique among Laridae in that it has two complete moults each year rather than one. This equips it for the demands of the 5,000 mile migration it undertakes.
Franklin's Gull in the West Midlands Region
  1. 2002 - adult - Draycote Water, Warwickshire - 6th November.
  2. 2006 - adult - Blithfield Reservoir, Staffordshire - 9th to 10th August.
  3. 2008 - 2nd summer - Draycote Water, Warwickshire - 16th to 21st April.
  4. 2010 - adult - Chasewater, Staffordshire - 15th to 24th July.

Saturday 10 July 2010


The mammoth trip started at midnight when Pezza Perrins

& Jules Allen picked me up from home in a rather inebriated state. Suffering back and knee pain that evening and with the drugs starting to wear off, I thought it would be a good idea to knock back a few pints of Guinness and wash it down with a cheap bottle of Morrison’s Scotch. It helped with the aches and also worked a trick with handling the long drive to east Norfolk. During the journey we were all also entertained (via the medium of mobile telephone) by an equally intoxicated representative of a major environmental organisation. Her target was to recruit Jules & Pezza as new members but not even the promise of a signed photo could convince the tight bleeders to part with £36.00 per annum.

After a few stops en route we eventually reached the private site at 4.45am and pulled up into a safe spot nearby. The song of Cetti’s Warblers and

Turtle Doves could be heard complimenting the early morning sunshine and the early hirundines. It is quite amazing how such simple nature based stuff can sober me up within seconds.

At 5.00am dead we made our way around to the viewpoint and I immediately heard the distinctive ‘sewing machine’ reeling of a male RIVER WARBLER as I staggered from the vehicle. It was not too long before around 20 of us were watching the bird perched up, belting out its looped repertoire much to the delight of the yawning, bleary eyed ensemble of birders.

singing male RIVER WARBLER - Thorpe-next-Haddiscoe, Norfolk

After showing well for the next twenty minutes or so the bird then became much more elusive until we left the site at around 7.15am. Occasional glimpses of the rarity in flight and of it obscured as it preened and sang amongst a clump of young alders was about the best it got. We therefore decided to head for some scram in the form of my first ever Little Chef veggie breakfast. Nice introduction Pezza.

It was good to see some familiar faces on site like the East Midlands chapter of ASBO, along with my old twitching step-dad John Scullard and the dedicated Devonshire Crew. I am glad you connected on your second attempt lads!

Special shout outs to the kind landowner for allowing a bunch of saddo' twitchers to take over his plot of land for a while. Much respect also to Sir Dick of Filbyshire and his band of merry men (and women) for doing a superb job stewarding the area. We are all most grateful for you all getting up so early in order to keep us all in order. In total over a £1,000.00 was raised for both the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the British Birdwatching Fair project of choice for 2010.

...From Norfolk to Slimbridge WWT

Maaan! Twitching really screws you up!
A sorry scene from the RIVER WARBLER event!
(Photo courtesy of Stevie Dunn)

After filling our faces we then made our way home via the sun-drenched Brecks where we picked up a trio of Stone Curlews at Foxhole Heath. The birds are always pretty distant as this site but reasonable scoped views were enjoyed briefly through the annoying heat haze. Other species on site included a few Eurasian Curlew, a couple of young Green Woodpeckers and good numbers of Skylark and Linnet.

It was then homeward bound for a much deserved nap..... that is until news filtered through regarding a WHITE-TAILED PLOVER still being present in Gloucestershire. Jules and I were up for heading straight down there but an exhausted Pezza was missing his darling, little newborn baby far too much and decided to opt out of the extended trip.

Warning: Never fall asleep with Arch in a car otherwise you'll get 'bitch papped'!
Anthony Worrall-Thompson lookalike Jules Allen becomes the latest victim.

Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire.

After a quick change of pants, a brush of teeth and rinse of the face we then made our way down the M5 to Gloucestershire. Luckily I am a member of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust but poor Jules had to resort to selling some of his elderly mother's antique jewelry in order to afford the entrance fee. We then made our way to the Zeiss Hide where we found fellow West Midlander Steve Nuttall watching the bird. Steve had already grilled his native Belvide Reservoir earlier on in the day in the hope that the Plover had decided to head up the Severn and become attracted to the low water levels of his beloved local patch. The gorgeous WHITE-TAILED PLOVER continued to show constantly if not a little too distantly during our time in the hide. The only other wader of note amongst the Northern Lapwings was a single Common Greenshank.

The view of the Severn Estuary from the Zeiss Hide at Slimbridge WWT.

A few record shots of the WHITE-TAILED PLOVER at Slimbridge WWT.