Sunday 28 November 2010

300 at last! ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD in Lincolnshire

The Humber Bridge viewed from South Ferriby, Lincolnshire.

Well that's it, 300 genuine British bird species notched up during 2010.... and with over a month to spare too.  After missing out on the Hatfield Moor bird a few weeks ago, I decided to head up to South Humberside this morning for a slightly more reliable ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD.  During the drive across the temperature dropped to a chilly -7oC and the road conditions were pretty scary.  As we approached the River Humber, the snow became deeper and the highways became icier but we had to struggle on.  As we carefully pulled into the layby just west of the huge cement works, an obvious Buteo silhouette graced a nearby chain-link fence, a quick glance through the bins confirmed that it was the species we had hoped for. 

ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD (juvenile) - various dodgy record shots of the obliging bird on some of its favourite perches.

This scarce raptor from Northern Europe showed and performed superbly whilst we dithered in the extreme temperatures.  It pulled out all the stops in order to entertain us by posing upon various perches, taking short flights around the area, hovering in the chilly breeze and even pouncing on unsuspecting prey items.  It may have not been one of the rarest species to reach 300 with but it was certainly one of the most memorable sightings of the year.

Other species in the area included a flighty flock of around 1,000 Pink-footed Geese feeding in the adjacent fields, a Common Buzzard and 2 male Goosander on the Humber.  The only waders of note were the odd Eurasian Curlew, a few Common Redshank and good numbers of Dunlin.

After a quick thawing out session in the car we then drove the short distance to Far Ings LWT reserve.  We failed to locate a drake Smew due to the onset of a severe snow blizzard but a few Bearded Tits were heard 'pinging' around the reserve.  As the weather deteriorated it was time to head west out of the snow before we became stuck for the night.

My beloved 'telesnowpe' and 'snowpak' at Far Ings LWT.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Alvecote Pools SSSI - Return to the Patch!

A mostly frozen Pretty Pigs Pool at Alvecote Pools SSSI - November 2010

A couple of patch MEGAS were reported during the week but with it being horrible and dark when I head to work and with it being even nastier and darker when I finish, there was no I could pay either of them a visit until today.  Initially it was not looking too good amongst the snow and ice.  There was no sign of the female Greater Scaup on a frozen Pretty Pigs Pool and there was just the regular escaped drake Hooded Merganser and the even dodgier Whooper x Mute Swan hybrid to keep me entertained.  There were plenty of Fieldfare and a few Redwing around the Old Orchard and the odd Lesser Redpoll passed overhead.

Hoping that the Red-breasted Merganser was still on Mill Pool, it was this area that I visited next.  There was no sign unfortunately but I was thrilled to eventually locate the female Greater Scaup amongst the Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks in the extreme north-west corner of the lake.  Also in the area were 9 Common Shelduck, a drake Goosander and 6 Common Snipe.  A trio of Little Egrets were also a nice surprise flying north at midday.  Over on Upper Pool there was nothing of note except a female Goosander.  Whilst strolling around Gilman's Pool the MEGA alert sounded on my pager..... there was a drake BAIKAL TEAL in Cambridgeshire..... I needed to make a move!  

'FAKEAL TEAL' in Cambridgeshire

After a quick glance at the road map and clumsy fumble with the old 'fat chav', I calculated that it would take around ninety minutes to reach the Cambridgeshire hamlet of Cambourne from Alvecote Pools.  With a British lifer at stake it was a pretty easy decision to head east, especially considering that a handsome adult drake BAIKAL TEAL would also become my official BOU bird species of 2010.

After a quick call to Steve Richards we decided to meet up on site.  As we raced along the A14 the news filtered through that we were both waiting for, the rare duck from the Far East was still present happily swimming around on Whomping Willow Lake with a few Eurasian Wigeon and Gadwall for company.  This time though the bird was aged as a first winter male, adding a bit more weight to the proper vagrant argument.  I smiled to myself and applied my foot to the accelerator with a touch more force.  Just thirty minutes later as I just entered the village I received a call from Steve.  From the tone of his voice I knew it was not going to be good.  He then dropped the heart-breaking bombshell that the bird was a f*cking hybrid!  I was that disgusted that I did not even pay the little web-footed freak a visit, I turned around and headed back along the A14.


I did not fancy burning my retinas by viewing photographs of this vile individual, however rumour has it that it could well be a Eurasian Wigeon x Northern Pintail hybrid.  Whatever it is, it just goes to show that CAMBRIDGESHIRE BIRDERZ ARE WACK!  You got my back Smestow Gaz?

Sunday 14 November 2010

RED-BREASTED MERGANSER - a NEW Warwickshire tick!

At long last a County 'bitch tick' was nailed today.  This species has given me the run around in Warwickshire for nearly thirty years.  I have missed out on quite a few local Red-breasted Mergansers over the years including one pesky individual that refused to be tempted over from the Staffordshire side of Alvecote Pools in 1995.  This particular bird showed remarkably well at the west end of Shustoke Reservoir this afternoon.

Red-breasted Merganser - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire - November 2010
Photo kindly provided by Dave Hutton

RICHARD'S PIPIT in Derbyshire

With a much needed, tricky 'year tick' up for grabs just a hour away from home, efforts were made to head up into deepest, darkest Derbyshire this morning.   I teamed up with fellow ASBO soldiers of fortune, Steve Dunn and Rich Collis for an SAS style assault on Matlock Moor and the mission proved a great success.  Thanks to us administering a classic 'Pointon Pincer Movement' the target was soon exposed.  The RICHARD'S PIPIT had no choice but to surrender under the onslaught as grassy fields were trampled, stone walls tumbled and a plethora of native British wildlife fled in all directions.

Seriously though, the scarcity from the east proved relatively easy to see in flight and gave us pretty good views.  It was also nice to hear its passer domesticusesque flight call too in order to clinch the identification.  Other birds included the odd European Skylark and Eurasian Siskin as well as good numbers of Meadow Pipit.

Rich Collis is sworn in as the official 'Head of Birder Relations' for the South Yorkshire Chapter of ASBO Birderz.  Welcome aboard Rich!

Photograph thanks to Steve Dunn

Taking into account the dodgy H*use Finch that I had the misfortune to see in Devon and the tricky Empidonax flycatcher that I spotted in Norfolk then you could say that this RICHARD'S PIPIT was my 300th British Bird of 2010.  Due to my strict Catholic upbringing however, I refuse to celebrate until I reach 302..... just to make sure.  I'm sure you'll all understand.

Saturday 13 November 2010

PIED-BILLED GREBE in Greater Manchester

The adventure started last Tuesday was news of a PIED-BILLED GREBE filtered through from the Republic of Mancunia.  The last British twitchable individual was way back in 2001 when one hung around for seven weeks in Cornwall.  The only recent birds relatively nearby though have required a passport to see them as they have all turned up on the Emerald Isle.  Anyway a quick text was sent to my birding comrade Steve Richards to see if he was skipping work to head north.  Unfortunately for him though he had just touched down in Norway with work and would not be able to pay the potential lifer a visit until the weekend.

So with Mike Feely lying drunk and naked on his living room floor with various aviform related pornography strewn about his person, it was just Steve Dunn and myself that made the trip this morning.  Upon arrival at Hollingworth Lake near Rochdale we immediately bumped into a few familiar faces including fellow ASBO birderz Steve Richards and Julian Allen as well as Nick 'Dip' Smith and former Warwickshire bird photographer Steve Seal.  The yank vagrant was initially asleep but after a short while it started to buck up its ideas and performed very well indeed, swimming back and forth along its favourite inlet.       

Upon adding PIED-BILLED GREBE to his British List, Steve Richards (above) became over 'avi-aroused'.  Usually his eyes just bulge with excitement like those of Garry Bagnell upon hearing he's gained promotion to the 'British Birding Premiership'.  On this occasion though poor Steve managed to get his swollen 'ASBO member' wedged within the fork of a lakeside tree.  It took a trio of Lancastrian fire-fighters and a melted Chap Stick to free him. 

PIED-BILLED GREBE - Hollingworth Lake, Littleborough, Greater Manchester.
Both excellent portraits have been kindly provided by Steve Seal

The only other species of note were a distant Peregrine and a marauding Sparrowhawk.  With nothing else to see in the north west of England we headed back to the car park to plan our next move.  We briefly suggested heading up to Northumberland for a SQUACCO HERON but a potential three hour drive soon put us off that idea.  I did suggest heading out onto Saddleworth Moor but Steve hates birding anywhere where you are likely to have kids underneath your feet......  God I'm sorry.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

GREY SEALS in Lincolnshire

It was time to forget about the birds today and concentrate my efforts on a moaning collection of stinking, bloated mammals.  No, I was not heading to work in Birmingham today, we were paying the RAF bombing range at Donna Nook a visit.  The wildlife spectacle of over 3,000 Grey Seals did not disappoint. There is always something to enjoy in a seal colony whether it be bulls squabbling over a particular patch of beach or a cute, little baby being scratched on the head by its attentive mum.  A number of young showed incredibly well in the dunes, including one curious youngster that came within inches.  It is so tempting to give one a quick fondle but it is important you step away.  If the mother smells human scent on a youngster it will quite often abandon it.  

A Grey Seal pup gets some nourishment from its mammy.

Just a sample of the huge Grey Seal colony at Donna Nook.

A recently 'squeezed out' Grey Seal pup..... complete with birth gore.

As well as the seal spectacular the bird life is also pretty impressive along this stretch of the Lincolnshire coast.  Wildfowl included around 450 Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the mudflats and skeins of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead as well as the expected Common Shelduck.  Waders included 25 European Golden Plover, 30 Eurasian Curlew, around 180 Common Redshank, 25 Knot, 80 Dunlin, 25 Sanderling and the odd Turnstone.  Unfortunately there was no sign of any Shorelark or Snow Buntings on this occasion but a group of 40 Twite were great to see, especially as the group surprisingly contained a stunning adult Mealy Redpoll.  Other passerines included a single Water Pipit and a Brambling as well as good numbers of European Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Tree Sparrow.  A probable Lapland Bunting also whizzed overhead at one stage.

The bonus bird of the day was a CATTLE EGRET that we stumbled upon just inland of the car park near the farm buildings.  The bird showed well at times but was quite flighty on occasions.  Eventually though it would return to its favourite cow fields to feed.  All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable day out in the stunning, autumn sunshine albeit with an icy northerly wind thrown in.

A Grey Seal pup gets a back scratch from mum.