Wednesday 31 December 2008

31 December 2008 - Blairgowrie, Scotland

Other 'garden' birds seen this break included: Bullfinch (2), Treecreeper, Tawny Owl, Goosander (1 male), Whooper Swan (6+), Tree Sparrows (2+).

All very nice.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

30 December 2008 - Blairgowrie, Scotland

Hightlight of the day was a very fast Stoat that ran across the garden from heather bed to heather bed. I was pleased to get any shot of it - and this is the better of the two!
It's head was still brown but it had got most of the white, ermine, winter coat.

Friday 26 December 2008

26 December 2008 - Blairgowrie, Scotland

One Red Squirrell performed well from the back window as it managed to eat and hide half a kilo of peanuts - super little chap.

Thursday 25 December 2008

25 December 2008 - Glenshee, Scotland

We decided on taking the wee lad, Max, up to Glenshee so that he could have a white Christmas. En route - several Red Grouse coming down to the side of the road, presumably to take grit.
We went back up a few days later to get some better pictures - but poor whether hampered a repeat performance.

Sunday 7 December 2008

7 December 2008 - Larkfield Lakes

A small reward for taking the little 'un out, in the form of a Redshank which flew overhead calling - acceptable for a Sunday afternoon.

Several Chiffchaffs seen and heard - including two from my front door. Other window sightings of late include: Gadwall (first thing in the morning these are feeding on the waters edge right by the car park), Shoveler (as per the Gadwall), Pochard (1), Green Woodpeckers, Jay, etc , etc.

Thursday 13 November 2008

13 November 2008 - In bed!

Chiffchaff calling and then a short burst of song - and all from the bed. No, it's not like finding a crippler, but I have to take my small bonuses when I can at the moment.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

12 November 2008 - West Hythe

With no news on the Green Heron for a couple of days, I managed to slip out the house and shoot down to West Hythe to see if I could have another look at this superb bird for Kent (my views in October had been far from great).

With the weather looking fantastic, I gathered all camera gear and stepped out.

Was the Green Heron there? Was it buggery! Still, if I'm going to have to dip anything, I guess I've got to be happy that it is a bird I've already seen a couple of times in the UK.

Bits seen today included: Redpoll, Siskin, Kingfisher, Grey Wag, Sparrowhawk and, for the less serious minded, this Muscovey Duck - clearly having recently arrived from the feral population near Ely...

Perhaps of more interest was the presence of several Common Darter dragonflies still on the wing - I looked for vagrant Amur Falcons to feed on them, but without success.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

11 November 2008 - 3.15am & another bed tick

Tawny Owl heard calling continuously for 15mins while I was on nappy and 'settling' duty. Seemingly not far from from the house and assumed not to be across the lake from where I live. Another new bird for the house and this one even adding itself onto the list of bed ticks - nice (though I would have preferred to have been sleeping at the time!).

Thursday 30 October 2008

30 October 2008 - East Malling, Kent

Had my first Fieldfare of the Winter at work today as I popped in to office for a couple of hours. Junior Baldie didn't see it as he is still lounging around being pampered by midwifes and nurses - nice existance Junior, but you need Fieldfare for your 2008 list, your kent list and your flippin life list! And your Western Pal list and World lists are both going to look a bit odd if you haven't got Fieldfare on them.

29 October 2008 - Maidstone Hospital

'Junior Baldie' arrived at Maidstone Hospital today. Weighing in at 8lb 6oz, the little lad and his Mum had done well to avoid the peak Autumn migration season - something that I realy shall be eternally grateful for.

With the Green Heron still in Kent, perhaps I should get him off to a flying start. No, that won't work - he'd only rebel against something that was forced on him. No, I'll play the old reverse psychology game, force football upon him and not tell him about the great natural history al around him - that'll get him birding! We'll see.

Sunday 26 October 2008

26 October 2008 - West Hythe, Kent

The Good Lady Wiff is getting more uncomfortable as due day approaches (the 28th Oct according to the medical profession). There was clearly only one thing for it - hop in the car and pop down to West Hythe to have a look at the Green Heron.

With the weather being somewhat grotty, I tried to play a clever game and leave it till late in the day in the hope that the rain would have passed over - it hadn't.

We arrived, eventually, only to be met by some rather drowned looking folk who hadn't seen the bird. Undeterred I walked ahead of the rather slow wiff and sure enough - no sign of the Heron. When the Good Lady eventually arrived, we hatched a wee plan and I duly set out along the footpath behind where I assumed the bird would be. The Good Lady whistled to let me know the bird had come out. Walking back to her possition, sure enough, the Heron was on her side of the canal (the other side fom the reeds) and was now showing along the bank from the dam.

In the fading light, I walked along the toe-path and had the bird down to 10 feet as it walked towards me.

Prints available £1.50 + P&P.

In all honesty the views were rubbish - even at that distance, owing to the fading light. I may well try and pay homage to this super little chap on another occasion - perhaps it'll be our childs first twitch! Perhaps it is better to have the thing delivered first - though that does make it sound like a large sofa!!!!!

For slightly better pics of the Green Heron click here.

Saturday 25 October 2008

25 October 2008 - South Foreland valley, St Margaret's

I joined The Beareded One for a ringing session in South Foreland vally, St Margaret's. Despite half a dozen nets up, we failed to catch an Eastern-crowned Warbler or a White-throated Robin! Shame, but at least we hadn't gone to Wales for a dip on the Little Blue Heron which we had seen earlier in the month in Ireland.

This female Green Woodpecker was one of the highlights of this morning's efforts.

I tails of woodpeckers are really quite amazing structures. Stiffer than a bishop in a brothel, the tail feathers are used as a prop when the bird is climbing a tree.

Lots of crests in the valley.
Also seen: Swallow 25+, Brambling (2+ heard), Siskins, Redpolls, Mipits, Peregrines (males and female together), and stuff.

Friday 24 October 2008

24 October 2008 - The armchair

Only thing of note today was a call from Zebedee to say that the Azorean Gull seen by my good self and Adrian Teapot in Cornwall on the 12 October, has been 'officially' split and accepted as a British first by Lord Lee.

Can't argue with that...... And at least this unilateral decision making is quicker than the BOURC.

This photo of the gull kindly supplied by Adrian Teapot now that he has finally returned from Abberton Reservoir. Rumour has it, he actually lives in one of the hides at Abberton - there, and I thought he lived under a stone.

Armchair ticks - love em!

Sunday 19 October 2008

19 October 2008 - Sheffield Park, East Sussex

An afternoon visit to Sheffield Park in East Sussex was, er, pleasant. Shed loads of people wandering around, lots of noise, etc.

Colour of the Autumn foliage was pleasant.

Various mushrooms put in an appearance.

All very... pleaseant.

Can we go home now?

Monday 13 October 2008

12 October 2008 - Larkfield Lakes

A late afternoon walk, around larkield Lakes, with the Good lady Wiff produced this juvvy Great-crested Grebe in one of the ditches. 'Confiding' is probably the word as it searched for grub, seemingly unconcerned by the presence of admirers - well, onlookers. I was tempted to jump in and grapple the grebe in order that I could release it on one of the main lakes - but eventually I thought better of it.

Teasle - dunno what else to say about it. Just after taking this shot we had excellent views of a Hobby catching some of the last Odonata of the season - nice.

And finally, no blog that including this area is complete without a few shots of the Water Voles. For better shots, have a look at Steve's blog!

Sunday 12 October 2008

7-9 October 2008 - Ireland & Cornwall

The recent Cretzschmar’s Bunting twitch had been fun, great fun in fact. A day or so later, after the event, I wrote things up and smiled to myself at Steve Nunn’s subsequent comment that he had been exhausted just reading the account of the journey to North Ron and back. This next twitch proved to be a lot more arduous than a simple trip to the Orkney Islands. Indeed, it is only three days after returning that I am OK enough to write this account of events.

Saturday 4 October 2008 brought the improbable and unconfirmed news of a possible Little Blue Heron in Co Galway. Brilliant – the only downside was that the bird had been seen and photographed on the 22nd September and not looked for since.

Not looked for since? Doubtless there was a good explanation though I’m buggered if I know what it is. Probably relates to someone, a non-birder perhaps, taking a few holiday pictures and only showing them to a birder upon their return to civilisation. I went to bed that night, not expecting there to be any further news of the beast.

Sunday 5 October 2008 – woken to the sound of mega-alert on my pager. Co Galway, immature LITTLE BLUE HERON, 5mls NE of Clifden and 1ml West of Letterfract.

This would be easy, it’s still early in the day, book a flight to Ireland, hire a car, see the bird, fly home and be in the office on Monday morning. At least that would have been the plan if RyanAir had reasonable flights available on the same day of travel (which EasyJet does do – but don’t fly to the Republic of Ireland) and if the roads in Ireland were fast enough to allow for reasonable progress to be made on the highway. I was thwarted at every attempt to book something and owing to a meeting on Monday, there was nothing else to do but organise ‘Team To-be-sure’ for Tuesday. Well, the bird had been present 13 days already to the sense of urgency wasn’t quite the same as chasing a Pacific Swift!

Just too damn excited to sleep on Monday night resulting in just two hours kip before being picked up by The Bearded One and Zebedee at 4.55am. Stansted Airport Medium Term Car Park seemed the easiest option as we’d be returning to our vehicle later that day. At departures we met Killian Sidwell and his mate Charlie (famed for his stunning pure white locks on the top of his bonce!). On board we met several other hopefuls including John the Dentist who was to be the sixth member of the team.

Arriving at Shannon Airport a lengthy stop at Hertz to claim a pre-booked Ford Galaxy was frustrating and resulted in our late departure north for the bird. All aboard, we set out for Galway then Letterfract. It doesn’t look far on the map and as the crow flies (Hooded, of course – this is Ireland) it shouldn’t take long. Something like two and a half or three hours later and there it was – a distant white speck on the horizon. Scopes up and the white speck suddenly appeared as a white blob – hidden behind a rock. When it wandered out, it really did look different from a Little Egret (I won’t describe the thing as this blog really will take an age to write).

Eventually, we headed off in search of further rare stuff that was undoubtedly lurking in the coastal gardens. Finding nuffin, we started on our way back to Shannon, stopping only for a final view of the heron. To our great surprise the heron had decided to feed by the road and was now viewable to 80-90 yards – superb.

A proper rally drive across some very minor roads, thanks to the sat nav on my phone, was exciting – for me, as the driver, at least. For the passengers it was a stomach churning experience that they could probably have done without.

40 minutes from Shannon Airport and our flight home the day took a turn – mega-alert on the phone. SCARLET TANAGER in Co Cork, 10mls WSW of Castletown Bearhaven at Garinish.

A dream come true or a flippin nightmare? We certainly didn’t know the answer. We couldn’t get there that day. Could we change our flights? Was it easier to fly home via Cork tomorrow?

To cut a very long story short – after several calls home and discussions within the crew, John the dentist would return home and the rest of ‘Team – To-be-sure’ would change flights and extend the car hire. All was sorted. Adrenalin rush was high.

As we set out, now joined by Glennnn the Roof, we got the news that the bird had flown inland and hadn’t been seen again – bollocks!

We decided to head for Co cork and get a B&B after a couple of hours of driving. Elated at the Heron we knew we weren’t going to see the Tanager – we had a beer and went to bed.

Morning dawned; we breakfasted – or would have done if our host had done a simple breakie for simple birders, but no, we had to have the full works. Scrambled eggs with infusion of lavender oil, tomatoes oven baked in the juice of some local weed – this was all very nice but taking ages. We hadn’t been in a hurry until we got the unexpected news that the Tanager had been refound – probably by birders not stuck in their overnight B&B deciding on which one of 35 herbal teas to drink!!

The trip down to Garinish took a flippin age – we went through some of the most beautiful countryside that any of us had ever seen, but these roads were narrow and winding and I, Captain Baldie at the wheel, was in a hurry.

Eventually, and I did get bored of telling Charlie that we still had 25 minutes to go, we arrived on sight. An easy park (cos we parked where we shouldn’t have done) and in a small garden somewhere in Co Cork, we were reunited with several of yesterday’s Heron twitchers and some familiar faces from back home.

Also in that garden was a spanking immature male SCARLET TANAGER. Two ticks in days – life doesn’t get any better. We watched, we reminisced over the past 24 hours and we laughed at our good fortune.

It was James Hanlon, who quietly shattered that lovely Scarlet Tanager moment – unconfirmed news of an Empidonax flycatcher species in Cornwall, Land’s end to be precise!

We knew couldn’t get there the same day. But did it really exist or was it a hoax? What was it – a Willow or an Alder Flycatcher? Would we ever know the true ID without trapping it? Would they trap it? Would it stay?

No it wasn’t a hoax and whatever it was, it was a first for Britain. We could do nothing about it, so instead we searched for lepricorns.

A sedate drive back to Shannon enabled a few snaps to be taken of the countryside. During this journey we all plotted our next 24 hours…

Arriving back at Stansted ‘Team – To-be-sure’ split up. Everyone duly headed for home to sleep and pack then travel the next day to Cornwall. They had to do this cos they were heading for Scilly afterwards – and having started on a one day twitch, no-one had any spare clothes, etc.

My lack of toothbrush and clean trollies didn’t deter me – I had to work on Friday, so had to get back on Thursday night, so had to travel directly from Stansted to Land’s End through the night with Glenn. Now most can make the journey in 5 hours to the site from Stansted and we expected to be on site at 3am to grab a couple of hours kip. Glenn’s automobile topped 35mph climbing up some of the hills resulting, albeit with a couple of short stops to top-up our petrol and red bull, in our arrival at 6.55am – just as it was getting light!

Half an hours sleep later and we left the vehicle for Nanjizal. The night had been clear – would the bird have flown overnight? No, in the early minutes of daylight it was found – brilliant! Though you can’t tell Alder from Willow in the field (only by call or in the hand), we all knew that we were witnessing something never before seen in the British Isles.

A rumour of a Yellow-throated Vireo in a near-by valley was too good to be true – the resulting stampeed failed to locate the reported vireo. Who knows what it was?

I changed vehicles and was now with Adrian Teapot – who had kindly offered to transport me back to Kent. I say, transported back to Kent, actually we went via every possible field, valley, tea shop and car park within a ten mile radius of Land’s End and were still only 2 miles away from our starting point when, eventually, at 4pm we started the drive home.

We had seen a juvvy Rose-coloured Starling, or Pink Stink as some prefer to call them, and a second-year Azorean Yellow-legged Gull near St Something.

It was while watching the gull that the news came through that the flycatcher had been trapped and it’s ID confirmed as Britain’s first Alder Flycatcher – life had just got better!

Thanks to Adrian, I got home to the very understanding, and lovely, and heavily pregnant Good Lady Wiff, at about 10pm.

Eight hours sleep in four days; two flights; six hard drives, no clean trollies - had it all been worth it? To be sure!

Monday 29 September 2008

29 September - East Malling

A lunchtime walk produced lots of nattering but little of natural history note - the Ivy was covered in insects large and small - this Red Admiral probably the most impressive. Quite a few other butterflies on the wing still - Holly Blue, Speckled Wood, etc, so hopefully a few pics still to come. A Brown Argus on site a couple of days ago was so worn I surprised it could still fly.

Caterpillar spp legging it across the path. Smart, parhaps not pretty, but just smart, I shall await suggestions on the ID.
Only other record of note today was a Nuthatch calling for the second time in a few days - it's been a while since we had Nuthatches regularly on site, so perhaps this is the start of more records.

28 September 2008 - Blue Bell Hill

A slight change of scenery - Blue Bell Hill. And looking over almost all of Kent from this vantage point, I tried to pinpoint Adam, Steve & Warren as they went in search of something to brighten their day. This Stonechat refused to allow me anywhere near it - and it certainly wasn't like finding it on your local patch like all the above mentioned folk have done recently no doubt.

This grasshopper has done its best to show all of its features and still remain unidentifiable in my mind.

Dark Bush Cricket - located by its short calls - totally different to the calls of Roesel's seen a day or two ago.

26 Sept 2008 - East Malling

After recent travels, back to reality. A lunchtime walk at work produced what I think to be an Earthstar. I must head up to the attic to see if my old mushroom book is up there.

More Spids - Whate-crossed Garden spid? Certainly, we're heading for that time of year when pic os spiders webs can soon be taken.

Roesel's Bush Crickets - giving himself away with his long drawn-out calls.

Now I'm guessing that this is a Myathropa florae - on account of the pale areas on the thorax.

Common Darter - catching the last of the summer's rays

Wednesday 24 September 2008

20-22 September 2008 - North Ronaldsay

The week 15-19 Sept was always going to be difficult for me with meetings around the country from Monday to Friday. Thus, when news broke on Thursday evening of an American Redstart at Mizen Head, Ireland, I was in no position to make a move west to catch a glimpse of the little gem. This, I have to say, was a great shame for me, as I’ve ringed hundreds of Am Redstarts in Jamaica and I’d dearly love to see one on this side of the Atlantic.

It was during a meeting on Friday 19 September that mega-alert broke news of a Cretzschmar’s Bunting on North Ronaldsay. By the time I was out of the meeting, it was doom and gloom on the phone to birders and plane charter companies – seemingly this was one bird and one island too far.

Early Saturday morning and the surprising news (given the clear skies) that the bird was still present. By 8am I’d drawn a blank – though trying, my final low point was when Pete Davies phoned again whilst birding in sunny Essex to ask if I’d made any progress, “No I f**** hadn’t”, I gave up completely.

Five minutes later and inspired by Pete’s comment and a conversation with Adrian Teapot, operation ‘We must be barking’ was put in to place:

Drive to Guildford – collect Zebedee
Drive to Warwick – collect Neil Howzat and Tony Sheepdog
Drive to John O’Groats – meet the six other lunatics
Go as foot passengers on the ferry to South Ronaldsay
Climb aboard a pre-arranged minibus
Drive to Kirkwall
Board a fishing vessel and power out to North Ronaldsay

Shortly after 2pm on Saturday, with my stomach in knots, I kissed the Good Lady Wiff goodbye and drove away from home, due West to Guildford. By 4am on Sunday morning we were in the car park at John O’Groats (for a nice nights kip on to gravel), at 9am we had all met up and were aboard the ferry and enjoying fabulous numbers of Tysties, Bonxies and Gannets.

Our minibus arrived at precisely the same time as we docked and sped us via the superb White-billed Diver to Kirkwall. At 10.30am we were all aboard the MV You’ve-Got-to-be-Joking and bound for North Ron. Eventually, after many false alarms, North Ron appeared on the horizon and slowly made its way towards us.

We’d phoned the obs in advance, the staff of which met us at the harbour and transported us (past Evan and Heard) to Sangar – the temporary home to a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting!

Or at least, it had been home to a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting – but not when we arrived. The little sod wasn’t to be seen and all reports pointed to it having flown north about 30 minutes previously. 45 minutes later, there was still no sign…. Surely not – not all this way just to dip it!!!!!

I had left the others an found a Yellow-browed Warbler when, distantly, I watched as the group that I’d organised make a concerted move – a telephone call confirmed it, they were watching the bird - and I wasn’t!

As I ran back, the group split up – the bird had flown. This was going to be even worse – I faced a return trip with nine people having seen the bunting, but not me!

Thanks to Alex Lees, however, my worst nightmares did not become a reality – he relocated the bird, yet again, exactly where he said it would be and apparently shortly after two folk had just walked the same patch.

TICK! (picture by Simon Chidwick - cheers mate!)

Saying ‘good bye’ to North Ronaldsay and retracing our footsteps was all done with big smiles all round. Docking back in Kirkwall we split up to go to our various hotels and B&Bs – several pints, glasses of wine and gin & tonics later our heads hit our pillows.

Heading back to the ferry the W-B Diver was distant, but Twite put on a little demonstration for us. A few pictures taken at John O’Groats and we were off – 770 miles back to The Good Lady Wiff (if you have to go via Warwick and guildford!!!).

Going as a group, staying together, going the distance safely and seeing a great bird – this was surely one of my most enjoyable twitches ever. But please, not another twitch for a while!

Wednesday 17 September 2008

16 September 2008 - East Malling Research Station

Little of note today until I had to leave the office and talk on the mobile for 10 minutes. As I wondered around the site nattering, my attention was drawn to a familiar call above me. Concluding the call, I looked up. Sure enough a Pied Flycatcher was calling and flycatching from the top of the purple beech tree that I was near. Nice bird for the site - to my knowledge a 'first'.

Monday 15 September 2008

15 September 2008 - Airways over East Malling

Operation 'Honey Buzzard', and armed with scope, bins and camera a quick lunchtime session with Adam and Adrian to gaze up in to the skies over East Malling Research Station.

Two distant Sparrowhawks and then..... an Osprey!!!!!!!!!!!

Far to far away even for my 'low quality assured' images but I was really pleased with the find, particularly as I had invited an audience to join in.

At 5.30pm Adam I ventured up to Holly Hill to look for Honey Buzzards but succeeded only in finding 38 large aircraft, 57 small aircraft (possibly various species for a really keen plane spotter), 3 hot air balloons, 1+ helicopter. Adam really excelled himself this evening and even called a paraglider - genious!

Sunday 14 September 2008

14 September 2008 - The airways over Larkfield Lakes

With just so many Honey Buzzards being reported down the East coast of Britain - this was surely going to be THE day for raptors over the house. Could I really find a Honey Buzzard for the house list? With chores to do for the impending arrival of 'Junior Baldie' in to this world, I volunteered to sort the cot out that had been loaned to us from elder sister.

Of course, whilst outside cleaning said item, I could scan the airways for large flying objects - Item No. 1 wasn't quite what I was looking for, but at least shouldn't present too many ID problems.

Item 2 was a Grey Heron, doing its best to look broad-winged as it headed south - and if you half closed your eyes and ignored the long neck and ruddy great legs trailing behind it, you could kid yourself, you'd found a raptor (OK, perhaps not).

Back on the the plane front, several of these also flew South on broad wings. ID was of little difficulty and could be separated from raptors on call.

Get in on the game were several Starlings.

And Racing Pigeons...
And Woodpigeons....

BH Gulls - Not trying to look like raptors.

About 50 Swallows logged - all heading E/SE. It was about this time that news came on the pager 'Kent Osprey flew south over New Hythe GPs at 10.58am'. Bollocks - I'd missed it. I was pleased that one had been seen - I felt justified in spending ages scanning the sky. But a bit gutted - I moved to the upstairs bedroom to get a better view of the the sky - ready for the Honey Buzzard that was surely about to appear...

Cormorant - several of these chaps put in a showing and tried to look big and dark and vaguely interesting - apart from the fact that they were Cormorants!

Immature Herrings Gulls - hundreds of these were seen over the day, all shouting 'Check me out' as they tried to look more raptor-like than the Cormorants. There were hundreds of large gulls - and today, I hated every one of them!

And then at 1.30, miracle of all miracles, an Osprey came over from the NW heading due South-East. Total elation after missing the one early - a wonderful rush, I called to The Good lady Wife, we ran out to the front door to get better views - we searched and then slam went the front door! Bollocks, again!

After gaining entry to the house, I then found this Hobby circling overhead - the latest record this year.

A Sparrowhawk then put in an appearance (and actually looks more interesting in this picture than it did in real life). But certainly no Honey Buzzards.

And then, miracle of all miracles (and a slightly bigger miracle than had already occured earlier) at 2.48 a much higher Osprey circled overhead, very slowly tracking South-East.

To have two Ospreys from the house is, in my books, pretty damn good - that three Ospreys flew over the site today is excellent. I assume the Steve Nunn got the first...