Sunday, December 28, 2008

Birding Review Of The Year 2008

One thing's for sure - when I spotted my first bird of 2008, a Robin in my garden at 7:54am, I couldn't have imagined that I would end up with so many birds on the year list and so many new species under my belt.

I set out this year with the aim of focusing on quality, not quantity, but once I came back from Scotland in May with 199 birds, it seemed reasonable to try to keep the momentum going and post a good total for the year. I definitely aim to try to beat this total at some point in the future, but not next year, as I'll explain later.

Anyway, here's how the year panned out:

January, February & March

The first month of the year saw me add 76 species to the year list, but no lifers were to be had. My Dad and I had a full and enjoyable day at Upton Warren on 5 January, where we lucky enough to see Jack Snipe, Bittern and Little Egret. A visit to Draycote Water a couple of weeks later meant we were able to add Lesser Scaup to the year list, along with Smew and Great Northern Diver. The remainder of the month's ticks were pretty standard fair.

The Firecrests at Alvecote Pools ensured the first life tick of the year in February, and what beauties they were. The Mealy Redpoll at Upton Warren a little over a week later was also another nice one to clap eyes on.

Later in the month, I went to Devon with my Dad, Dave Lyons and Dave Thomas. We had an unbelievable amount of good fortune here and I bagged seven more lifers in the process, most notable being the Long-Billed Dowitcher that brought both mine and my Dad's life lists up to the 200 mark. Managing to see five species of grebe during our stay was also a highlight, as was what might well be my earliest Swallow for many years to come. Many thanks to Dave Thomas for putting us up for a couple of nights.

In March I unpicked my first bogey bird of the year, when I spotted Mandarins in the Wyre Forest. Later that morning, I had a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker there too. I paid several visits to the Wyre during the year and it has firmly established itself as a favourite place of mine. I will definitely be back in 2009, although I suspect I might be paying as much attention to the butterflies as the birds this time!

The Black Redstart at Grimley almost eluded us on 23 March, but we heaved a sigh of relief when we bagged it at the eleventh hour. The Scandinavian Rock Pipit was also there that morning. I don't tick subspecies, but even so, what a great little bird to see.

On 30 March we spent a day in the Forest of Dean and added Goshawk to the life list, though I hope to get better views at some point in the future. Later that day we visited Frampton On Severn and had an unexpected double in the shape of Garganey and Green-Winged Teal, the latter being another lifer.

The tally had reached 140 as the month drew to a close.

April, May & June

On 4 April I had a day to myself and set out on what was to be one of the greatest birding days of the year. After returning to the Forest of Dean to see Hawfinch, I had a go for my second Great Grey Shrike of the year and was treated to crippling views. My favourite bird of the year? Quite possibly. Two more Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were seen later that day when I popped into Bittell Reservoirs on the way home. Magic!

Another bogey was unpicked when some fine gen from Pete Walkden got me my first ever Little Owl. Two days later, I was on holiday in East Anglia where another four lifers fell, including Bearded Tit and Nightingale, although my glimpse of the latter was brief in the extreme! Solid year ticks in the shape of Woodcock, Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Twite were also on offer, leaving the total for the year at an impressive 177 at the end of the month.

On a negative note, Grasshopper Warbler was heard at Holkham, but not seen - the first of several elusive birds this year. Also, we dipped on Golden Pheasant at Wolferton, despite hearing them call.

My first ever Yellow Wagtail at Draycote Water was another memorable and beautiful bird. Also at the end of the month I had a great morning's birding, life-ticking Little Gull at Upton Warren and adding Lesser Whitethroat to the year list, before a quick visit to Shenstone resulted in the first of many Cuckoos that I saw this year.

May saw me visit the Wyre Forest again with Max, Kay, Dave Lyons and my Dad. We had a good morning despite a couple of soakings. Kay life-ticked Wood Warbler and we also saw Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Redstart and Tree Pipit.

After a couple of failed attempts, I finally bagged Black Tern for the year at Upton Warren. Another elusive Grasshopper Warbler was heard that morning too.

Next up was the great big Scotland trip and a week's worth of intensive birding. We knew there would be lifers, we knew there would be year ticks, but I still get emotional when I think about the quality of some of the birding we did up there. Seeing Velvet Scoters at Gullane Bay sticks in the mind, as does the Long-Tailed Duck at Gosford later the same day. Just when we thought things couldn't get any better, we stumbled upon Temminck's Stint at Musselburgh.

One of the funniest moments of the year was when a Spotted Flycatcher popped up whilst we were enjoying drinks on the balcony at our hotel one evening. Birding at its best!

Other memorable spots during our stay were Hen Harrier, Hooded Crow, Black Grouse and Black-Throated Diver. Seeing Ptarmigan up on Lochnagar was also a special moment, probably my second favourite spot of the year, all things considered.

I ticked Scottish Crossbill too, but there is always that sense of lingering doubt as to whether it was or it wasn't. I am happy to keep it on the list based upon what I saw, although I appreciate that identification is difficult without analysing calls.

Either way, the year list took in 199 species once we had returned.

Apart from the birds, it was great to see Red Squirrels and Arctic Hares during our visit.

Onto June, where a Turtle Dove at Throckmorton became the 200th tick of the year. A great milestone and a super bird to see relatively close to home.

Whinchat, Chough, Puffin and Black Guillemot were all nice ticks in Wales, but the highlight of the month was seeing the Nightjars on Cannock Chase. Thanks to Richard and his friends, Pete, Kay and Max for a memorable evening. We had another Woodcock that evening too, plus a few Cuckoos and a Hobby. A great night.

Halfway through the year and the list stood at an impressive 206 birds.

June also saw the birth of Worcestershire Source. Many thanks to everyone who contributed news to the site in 2008. Please continue to support us and help the site to grow. Thanks also to Kay who has done a fantastic job keeping the news flowing over the last six months.

July, August & September

A Great Skua on Criccieth beach was an unexpected bonus. It took some sorting out mind! My first experience of skuas of any kind. Hopefully I might get more in 2009.

A Tawny Owl spotted from my garden at the end of the month was equally surprising and equally as welcome. Another bogey bit the dust.

Two lifers in the shape of Red-Necked Phalarope and Yellow-Legged Gull ensured that the year list kept ticking over, although doubts were cast over the identity of the latter.

The highlight was perhaps seeing the Silver-Washed Fritillaries in the Wyre Forest in July. This kick-started my interest in butterflies and dragonflies, so in many ways may have been one of the most important moments of the year.

At the end of September, I was fortunate enough to see my very first Badger, during our holiday in Devon.

October, November & December

A few enjoyable twitches to Buckinghamshire resulted in two life ticks, Ferruginous Duck on 12 October, and Ring-Necked Duck on 26 October. Both were great little birds. The Shore Lark at Upton Warren was an unexpected year tick and a smashing bird for the Midlands, taking the total to 216.

A bona fide Yellow-Legged Gull at Stubber's Green in November was nice to see, meaning no more sleepless nights regarding the potentially dodgy tick earlier in the year!

There were still a few birds to be spotted as proven by the Whooper Swan, Purple Sandpiper and Merlin in Wales, but there was also disappointment when we failed to find Snow Buntings at Pensarn.

A fine Smew on 1 December at Bittell Reservoir was a good tick on a local patch. Five days later, we had a second stab at Caspian Gull at Stubber's Green. The debate continues to rage as to whether we saw a second-winter Caspian Gull or not. I have elected not to tick the species for the time being.

Then, just as it seemed the birding year had drawn to a close, there was the small matter of seeing my first Waxwing near Upton Warren. A fitting way to finish.

Final tally, 220 birds on the year list, including 38 lifers.


So, onto my plans for the coming year. As I stated in an earlier entry, the focus is very much going to be on patch birding. At least once a month, I intend to walk the lanes of Wythall and the surrounding area compiling a list of all the species I can see. I've set myself a target of 75 species, but bear in mind this will take in at least a couple of excursions to Earlswood Lakes. Basically, if I'm birding on foot and I see something, it will make the list.

Aside from this change of direction, I have some other personal goals that I would like to achieve. They are:

To find a Pied Flycatcher in the Wyre Forest.
To photograph Silver-Washed Fritillaries in the Wyre Forest.
To see a Corn Crake in Islay.
To see pure Rock Doves on Islay.
To photograph a Kingfisher to a reasonable standard.
To see Golden Oriole and Montagu's Harrier in Norfolk.
To add at least 5 butterfly species to my life list.
To photograph the Little Owl in Hopwood properly.
To photograph an adult drake Smew.
To walk my patch at least once a month.
To see Tree Sparrows at Shustoke Reservoir.
To see Nightingales at Paxton Pits.

No doubt at some point I will feel inspired to have a pop at my own record of 220 species in a year. I'm sure this could be easily beaten if I put my mind to it, but I will probably wait until I can get back to the highlands of Scotland before I do so. The birding up there is just in a different league.

Until then, the emphasis is firmly on quality, not quantity, and I am really keen to devote more time to butterflies and dragonflies next year.

Whatever your goals are, or even if you don't have any, have a great New Year and enjoy your birding. Because when all's said and done, that's what it's all about.

This is Reg The Birder logging off until 2009.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Waxing Lyrical

Just when I thought the binoculars had been hung up until the New Year, what should happen? A sizeable flock of Waxwings take up residence at Webb's garden centre, just a short hop down the M5 for yours truly.

I'd been optimistic about my chances of seeing this bird during the winter and was happy to wait until they paid a visit to one of my local patches before dashing off to see them.

As it happens, I didn't have the fortune to see the flock of 20 birds or so that has been present for a couple of days, but whether you see one bird or one thousand, you still only get one tick for your list, so I was happy to have the pleasure of watching a single Waxwing feeding on the berries at the entrance to Webb's for half an hour or so this morning [lifer 231!] [year tick 220!].

Waxwing at Webb's Garden Centre

Waxwings are such beautiful birds that even Mrs Reg was happy to tag along. Also present were my Mum and Dad, and birding friends Cat and Chippy. Fellow Bird Forum regulars Pam, Emma and Matt were also there and it was nice to meet them for the first time. Special thanks to Pam for allowing me to take the above picture through her scope. It was your scope, wasn't it Pam?

I took the scenic route back home, mainly to avoid the heavy traffic in and around Bromsgrove. This meant passing the home of the Little Owl that I like to see when I can. My luck was in today. See if you can spot him in the following picture:

Spot the owl competition

So, the binoculars have been hung up once more. I really can't see myself doing any more birding now until 1 January 2009, so I've got a whole four days off before another year list begins!

Before that, however, there's the small matter of my review of the birding year, which will be published in the next few days.

Monday, December 15, 2008

To Be Or Not To Be ...

That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the Lapwings and Sparrows of outrageous fortune, or to stand in the freezing cold on a Saturday afternoon at Stubber's Green trying to sort out a Caspian Gull, with only a flask of coffee and a scotch egg to keep you going.

If Shakespeare had been a birder, perhaps this is how Hamlet's soliloquy would have turned out?

Anyway, as promised, I made the return journey to Stubber's Green this weekend with my father, and Kay and Max to see if we could strike gull gold and locate the Caspian Gull that had eluded us at the beginning of November.

For Kay's take on events, please pay a visit to her blog.

Despite the rain and the freezing cold, we managed to stick it out from about 10:45am until about 1:15pm, but failed to spot anything other than the normal Black-Headed Gulls, Common Gulls, Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and Great Black-Backed Gulls. Although Common Gulls are not always easy to spot in the Midlands, these are essentially your classic five gulls that you expect to see without having to put too much effort in.

Other birds present were Lapwing, Pied Wagtail, Little Grebe, Canada Goose, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Starling. Again, all par for the course. A Red-Breasted Merganser was around early on, but had flown by the time Kay and Max joined us. Also, four Goosander flew overhead during the morning.

That was about as good as it got, until just as we were turning our thoughts to leaving, Kay spotted a dark-eyed, clean-headed gull on the water's edge. On closer inspection we agreed that it showed enough features of a Caspian Gull to be worth photographing and I reeled off a few record shots before the bird took off and headed north, possibly to nearby Chasewater.

The suspicious gull

We were optimistic that we might have found our target bird, although we felt this was a second-winter individual and we were aware that the Caspian Gulls seen at Stubber's Green recently were older birds. For those that are interested, there has been some lively debate around the bird's identification here.

The general consensus seems to suggest that it is not a Caspian Gull, but a Herring Gull. Definitely worth a shout, however, and credit to Kay for spotting the bird.

After Stubber's Green, Kay and Max were off to look for Waxwings in Codsall, but with feet like blocks of ice, I decided to head home instead.

And so my birding for 2008 is at an end. I had planned to include my review of the year in this blog entry, but I think I will hold that back now for a couple of weeks.

Therefore, can I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. Have a good one, and don't eat too many mince pies!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Have I Got Smews For You?

Just a quick blog entry to bring you up to date with events. On Monday I paid a visit to Bittell Reservoirs. I'd decided upon this location a few days earlier, but news of a Smew at Lower Bittell Reservoir on Sunday added a little spice to proceedings.

There is a good collection of wildfowl at the site now that winter is here. The first-winter drake Smew showed on Shrub Mill Pool after a short while, and there were good numbers of Goosander present, mainly drakes. I also noted a drake Pintail on the other side of the causeway, but I couldn't locate the Common Scoter that has been around for a week or so.

I managed to get a picture of the Smew. At best, it was disappointing. At worst, it was frickin' awful!

Smew at Bittell

I took a walk up to the upper reservoir, but was disappointed by the fact that the path through the woods was extremely quiet. Things improved once I reached the end of the path, as there were good numbers of Redwing about, then I spotted a further five Pintails on the reservoir.

Redwing at Bittell

What I'd really been hoping for was to find my own Waxwing. A pair of these elusive winter visitors turned up in Stourbridge last week. Surely it's only a matter of time before more come our way? I don't really want to twitch them unless I have to. I'd much rather see them on a local patch if I can. Here's hoping.

Next Saturday, I'm off to Stubber's Green again to see if I can spot the Caspian Gull that evaded me a few weeks back. That, I think, is probably going to be my last birding excursion of 2008.

I'll report back on that in due course, at which time I think I will also be reviewing the birding year and declaring my goals and objectives for 2009.

Until then, happy birding!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spellbound In Wales

Until last Saturday I could count the number of Woodcocks I had seen on one hand and still have two fingers left over. My first was at Titchwell in February 2007, where I had crippling views of one just off the path by the visitor centre. My second was also in Norfolk, in April this year, and my third was on Cannock Chase in June, when I went looking for Nightjars with Kay, Max, Pete and Richard 'The Producer' Powell.

I was back in Wales last weekend and although the main reason for the trip was to help my Dad with some work in the garden, there were, unsurprisingly, a few birding matters to take care of. First up, as daylight fell on Saturday we drove up to the Glasfryn Estate, whose Pheasants have found their way into my Dad's casserole pot on a number of occasions over the years. Earlier this year, my Dad found out that this is a prime spot to watch Woodcocks coming in to roost and it promised to be a spectacle not to be missed.

With the kind permission of the resident gamekeeper, we parked up as it was getting dusk and waited. Before too long our first Woodcock flew over. In a short space of time we counted about seven, but it quickly got too dark to see properly so we called it a night.

Sunday saw us completing most of the jobs in the garden, which meant that on Monday afternoon my Dad and I were able to get down to Porthmadog for a spot of seawatching. We positioned ourselves on the headland not too far from where I had my Great Skua sighting in July.

There was an enormous flock of Common Scoter on the sea. There must have been something better amongst them, but they were a tad distant to sort out easily and it was frightfully cold, so we weren't too keen to spend any longer than we had to exposed to the Welsh elements. We clocked a few Great-Crested Grebes and Red-Breasted Mergansers on the water, plus a Red-Throated Diver, then headed back to the car.

My Dad had seen Water Pipits off Porthmadog Cob in March and we were keen to see if we could find any. Sadly we were unsuccessful. A Little Egret, a Grey Heron, some Ravens and a few Redshank were the best we could manage. Finally, I bagged a guaranteed year tick when we popped down to Prenteg to see the Whooper Swans [year tick 217!] that arrive like clockwork each winter.

Tuesday had always been pencilled in as our birding day proper. A comprehensive itinerary had been prepared and shortly after 8:00am we were on our way to Rhos-On-Sea, quite simply one of the best places to see Purple Sandpiper at this time of year. These scarce waders didn't disappoint us - there they were, on the rocks with many Turnstones, Redshanks, Ringed Plovers and a few Dunlin [year tick 218!].

You can get really close to the birds at high tide here. So much so, that my attempts at digiscoping were hindered only by the fact that I needed to be further away from them! A few shots follow.

Schlurple the purple ..


Ringed Plover

Turnstones and Redshank

More Turnstones and Redshank

Next stop, Pensarn. This is reported to be a veritable mecca for Snow Bunting. Indeed, I thought it was another lifer in the bag, but maybe it's still just a bit too early for them to be around in any great numbers? We had a lengthy walk up and down Pensarn beach, but couldn't manage anything better than a Redshank or a Turnstone.

Pensarn .. devoid of Snow Bunting

Aber Ogwen was our next port of call. We scanned the estuary and noted some nice birds, namely Goldeneye, Goosander and Little Egret, then found our way to the hide overlooking a small pool. Another Little Egret was poking around in the shallows and there were a good variety of common birds on the feeders. Shortly before we left, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Marsh Tit both showed up. The latter was a very pleasing day tick.

The Spinnies

We spent the last few hours on Anglesey. Firstly, we checked out Llyn Coron. This is a lovely little spot. We didn't worry too much about the lake itself, concentrating on the wonderful habitat that borders the road. Scrubland and dunes to the left of us, and stubble fields to the right. Here we were able to tick Goldfinch and Chaffinch in good numbers, and Stonechat and Reed Bunting too. The relentless cronking of many Ravens served to remind us that we were on the outskirts of Newborough Warren.

Llyn Coron


As the sun dropped in the sky, we relocated at Maltraeth. This is a prime spot to see raptors coming in to roost, and we were optimistic of bagging an owl or two, plus a Hen Harrier if we were lucky. We had not long found a decent place to view from when my Dad spotted something perched on a post out on the estuary. We both had a good look at it through the scopes and quickly identified it as a female or juvenile Merlin [lifer 230!] [year tick 219!]. Magical!



Merlin .. magic!

The Merlin was flushed by a Raven within a few minutes, but reappeared on another post a little bit later. This time, a Carrion Crow saw it off and stole its perch, but once again it returned and showed well for a few minutes. I'm glad we saw the Merlin. We hadn't had that much luck during the trip, but this made it all worthwhile.

Only a few weeks to go to now until the end of the year and I think I'm just about birded out! I remember feeling like this when I went to Slimbridge last December and I had been fortunate enough to see the American Golden Plover. It just sort of felt like the birding year had drawn to a fitting end. I have, however, a couple more things pencilled in before I can hang the binoculars up until the New Year.

More about that in the next instalment of Eye To The Telescope ...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Little Beauty

Inspired by last week's outing around my local patch, I decided that more of the same was in order this weekend. I was keen, however, to walk a bit further this time, taking in some of the excellent farmland habitat around Hopwood.

Initially, I took a similar route to last week and was pleased to see that the gulls had once again taken up residence in the flooded field along Station Road. A quick scan revealed them all to be Black-Headed Gulls, with no sign of a Mediterranean Gull amongst the throng.

The woodland that connects Tanners Green Lane to Barkers Lane was full of activity last week, but as dead as a doornail this time round. I guess a week is a long time in birding! The fine, but persistent drizzle probably wasn't helping matters as Barkers Lane was also quiet. I did note three Fieldfares, however - a bird that I didn't see last week.

When I reached the magic field along Hill Lane the weather was beginning to improve, so I considered it worth the excursion to Weatheroak Hill and into Watery Lane, which contains the excellent habitat that I mentioned earlier. Just for fun, I had hit the record button on my camera as I made my way towards the tree that is known to contain a pair of Little Owls. Sometimes one of the birds will perch obligingly on one of the prominent lower branches, but I was disappointed to see that it wasn't there.

Suddenly, I caught a bit of movement and saw the owl land on a branch higher up the tree. I reached for the binnies, but the bird had disappeared. The camera was still recording, however, so I made a mental note to check the video carefully when I got home. I managed to analyse the film for the first time today and was pleased to see that I had caught the owl on camera. The picture isn't brilliant, but I have ringed the little fellow for your benefit.

Little Owl

Also in this area I saw a couple of Yellowhammers, two Sparrowhawks, a small flock of Chaffinches and a flock of over a dozen Pied Wagtails. Good numbers of Fieldfare were also about and a single Redwing was spotted high in a tree.

On the way back up Weatheroak Hill, I stopped to take a picture of this old windmill, which is up for sale.

Wythall bird observatory

I reckon it would make a cracking bird observatory, though you wouldn't get much change out of £600,000 if you were thinking of buying the place.

I've really enjoyed birding my patch these last few weeks and I think it's time to reveal one of my goals for 2009. I aim to get out and bird the lanes and fields of Wythall at least once a month, occasionally taking in Hopwood, where the Little Owls reside, and Earlswood Lakes, which are about two and a half miles from where I live. All of this birding will be done on foot, and any birds that I see will be added to a specific patch list. I've set myself a target of getting 75 different species on this list. Also, I'll be doing my bit for the environment by using the car less.

I'm also pulling together some other plans, which I will reveal in the New Year, but there is definitely going to be a shift away from getting lifers and year ticks and more emphasis on specific goals, not all of them birding related I hasten to add.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, there are still six and a bit weeks left before 31 December 2008 and I'm off to Wales on Saturday where I hope to be ticking Purple Sandpipers, Snow Buntings, Water Pipits, Whooper Swans and more. As ever, a trip report will follow upon my return.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back To Basics

What is your local patch? Is it the reserve that's nearest to you? Maybe it's a local reservoir? I live very close to Earlswood Lakes and Bittell Reservoirs, but as good as they are and as much as I enjoy birding them, I can't describe them as my patch. Upton Warren is only about 20 minutes drive down the motorway and is a truly magnificent place to watch birds, but it too doesn't fit the description.

I started birding properly about five years ago now. I used to go out on a Sunday morning and walk down to the Texaco garage on the A435 to pick up the Sunday Times, making a few detours here and there to see what I could see in the lanes and fields around Wythall.

Looking back, I now realise that this was an excellent way to prepare for more intensive birding later on, as I became really familiar with the calls and songs of our more common species. That's why I think of Wythall as my patch, specifically anywhere that I can get to without having to jump in the car.

If I include garden birds, I reckon I must have seen in excess of 60 species in the last few years. No, I'm probably not going to see any mega rarities whilst I'm out and about, but that doesn't bother me in the slightest. What I like is the familiarity of the place and knowing what's worth looking out for based on past experiences.

This weekend I spent a couple of hours walking my patch. It made a pleasant change from the recent glut of twitching that has been going on, and it was a chance to begin focusing on my goals for 2009. More of that in a later post, but until then here are a few pictures and notes from my walk.

The flooded field

I don't normally go this way, but the flooded field along Station Road has held a few gulls lately, so I considered it worth a look. Turns out there was nothing there, but I had already added Woodpigeon and Blackbird to my list, and Jay and Magpie soon followed in the fields behind me. The woods that lead onto Tanners Green Lane yielded nothing.

Tanners Green Lane

In view of my diversion, I joined Tanners Green Lane further down than normal. A lone gull was spotted in the adjoining field. A short walk back towards the A435 revealed it as a Black-Headed Gull.

The pond

Always worth a look in this pond. I had one of my first ever Great Spotted Woodpeckers here and the odd Mallard and Moorhen have been seen in the past. Nothing today, however.

The woods

These woods link Tanners Green Lane to Barkers Lane. They were particularly fruitful today, yielding Blue Tit, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Goldfinch, Treecreeper and Long-Tailed Tit. A Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Dunnock turned up further down the path. A Common Buzzard was heard, but not seen.

Barkers Lane

This lane borders more good woodland. Something caught my eye from with a holly bush laden with berries. After a short wait, a Redwing eventually gave good views. I'd been hoping for that one. A Sparrowhawk drifted over the adjacent fields shortly afterwards and a Mistle Thrush and a pair of Carrion Crow were spotted in the fields further along. A Lesser Black-Backed Gull also flew overhead.

The hedgerows along the A435 often hold Bullfinch in winter, but there were none today. A few years ago I think I had a Waxwing along here too, but I was an inexperienced birder at the time and never certain enough to tick it. I'll be looking a bit more closely this winter!

The magic field

There's a field in Wales that I call the magic field. Well, guess what? I have one in Wythall too. It holds Lapwing in the breeding season and sometimes Skylark and Yellowhammer. Today it failed to live up to its reputation and produced a single Chaffinch.

Chapel Lane is normally abundant with House Sparrows, but I didn't see a single one today. I wonder where they all went to? A dozen Black-Headed Gulls were seen in the fields near Beckett's Farm.

Pearl Group plc

This is where I work. In the grounds I could probably have added Nuthatch to the list. It does throw up some good stuff from time to time, most notably a Red Kite earlier this year.

Wilmore Lane

A Pied Wagtail was seen in Wilmore Lane, then more Redwing and some Bullfinches in Brick Kiln Lane. The woods further down were unusually quiet. At the right time of year, these can hold Chiffchaff and Siskin. I think this is where the local Muntjacs reside too.

Back home

Out of Brick Kiln Lane and back onto the Alcester Road. Home is just a few hundred yards further on. A really enjoyable morning's birding and I've walked just over three miles, which is about the only exercise I get.

I really must do this more often ...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Here Come The Gulls

Some people don't like gulls. Come to think of it, some birders don't like gulls, which tells its own story really. The winter months, however, bring a few scarcer species into our country, so if you're prepared to brave the cold, now is a good time to consider becoming a larus lover.

It's inevitable that at some point I will pluck up the courage to immerse myself in the dubious pleasure of a gull roost at one of our reservoirs. As a kind of preparation for this daunting task, my Dad and I headed to Stubbers Green yesterday morning to see if we were ready for the challenge. This site is pretty reliable for Caspian Gull and Yellow-Legged Gull and both seemed a distinct possibility according to recent news.

As you may recall, I've had a bit of experience with Yellow-Legged Gulls. The first time I thought I had one was in Wales last year, but unsatisfactory views denied me a life tick. When I went to Slimbridge in September, I photographed what I believed to be a Yellow-Legged Gull and confidently upped my life list accordingly, but then somebody threw doubt upon the bird. Whilst I remained pretty sure about its identification, I was keen to see another one, perhaps when more well-versed gull fans were present.

As it turns out, this is exactly what happened yesterday. For starters, Kay and Max had joined us for the morning and Steve Jones, one of the guys who went to Islay with us in 2006 also came along. Also present was a chap called Martin, who is responsible for the enjoyable blog Blurred Birding. Martin's knowledge of gulls was very impressive and it was he who eventually spotted a third-winter Yellow-Legged Gull amongst the more usual species.

Yellow-Legged Gull

It was nice to get this confirmation tick under my belt and my Dad was doubly excited as it was a lifer for him. I saw him reach into his bag and expected him to produce the famous hip flask, but was a little taken aback when he produced a small yoghurt pot. For a moment I thought he'd given up the drink and resolved to get some good bacteria inside him instead, but lo and behold the bottle contained a mixture of whisky and ginger wine. The smell of Christmas filled the air as we toasted the sighting.

Unfortunately, the Caspian Gulls never showed, but it was an enjoyable morning nonetheless. There was plenty to laugh about when the birding got a bit quiet - Kay treading on my Dad's pork pie, Max's all too brief impression of Richie Benaud and an impassioned discussion regarding kebabs spring to mind. Okay, so there was no pork pie in my Dad's bag, but we had Kay going for a few enjoyable minutes.

With feet that felt like blocks of ice, we headed home around midday. I'm sure we'll be back at some point to look for those Caspian Gulls again. I certainly felt like I learnt something from the experience and I can now think about that gull roost with a bit less trepidation. I must get some warmer underwear though.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Groundhog Day

You may recall that I headed down the M40 a couple of Sundays ago to add a scarce duck from the aythya family to the life list. Well, it was definitely a case of history repeating yesterday when I did the exact same thing.

It's funny how things turn out sometimes, isn't it? On the way back from Calvert Lakes after our successful twitch, my Dad and I had been remarking upon the fact that we had now seen most species of duck that regularly turn up in the United Kingdom. One omission, however, was the Ring-Necked Duck, which obligingly appeared at Foxcote Reservoir near Buckingham a few days later.

We simply couldn't turn down the opportunity to go and have a look for it. And when Kay caught wind of our plans she was keen to tag along too. Another pair of eyes to help in our search was more than welcome and after a few frantic phone calls, emails and texts, my Dad arrived at my house at about 8:00am and Kay was dropped off by her other half Max shortly afterwards.

The journey down was notable for a few things. Firstly, at least five Eddie Stobart trucks passed me on the motorway, their names unfortunately eluding me in the mist and rain. Drat! Secondly, my directions had been pulled together rather hastily and we got a little bit lost in Buckingham. After driving around the town a few times until everyone was dizzy, we finally got our bearings and found the reservoir. Well-signed it isn't!

Once in the hide we began our search for the uncommon duck amongst the more familiar species. Kay latched onto a suspect within minutes, but after a careful inspection the bird was dismissed. This happened a few times over the next hour or so, but eventually, the Ring-Necked Duck popped up on the far side of the reservoir [lifer 229!] [year tick 216!]. Once we were on it, it was unmistakeable and we had good views, albeit distant ones, for about half an hour.

There was a good variety of waterfowl on display. Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Northern Pochard and Ruddy Duck were all present. I love Northern Pochards, so much harder than those southern poofters. Also on view were Great-Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, a Cormorant, and what we believed to be an albino Pheasant. I actually thought it was a Little Egret until I had it in the scope.

After a sandwich and a celebratory swig from the hip flask, which Kay politely declined, we headed home. There was a moment of panic when I managed to get my car stuck in some mud, but after a bit of nifty manoeuvring we negotiated our way back to the M40 without too much bother. I had a bit more success with the Eddie Stobarts on the way back - Amy Elizabeth and Maggie were added to the list.

An enjoyable and rewarding morning's birding.

I had planned to talk about my birding at work this week, but the duck hunting has put paid to that for now. However, I will leave you with a picture that I took in the grounds during my break last Wednesday.


I first found this chap on Tuesday, but didn't have my camera with me. I took the camera to work the following day and struck lucky. Being new to butterflying, I have only seen one Comma before, so it was nice to have the opportunity to snap this beauty.

Plans are now afoot to have a go for the Caspian Gulls at Stubbers Green next Sunday, so expect another episode of Eye To The Telescope soon afterwards.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Shore Thing

Reg The Birder became Reg The Builder yesterday. In an effort to put the final touches to the bathroom and kitchen, shelves were erected, mirrors were hung and curtain poles were fixed to walls. I hasten to point out, however, that at no point did my builder's bum put in an appearance, and only one cup of tea was consumed. If I'm to embark on a profession in the building trade, I clearly need to buck my ideas up!

Despite being a virtual prisoner in my own home, I had one eye on BirdGuides during the day to see if anything good was about. When I saw reports of a Shore Lark at Upton Warren later in the afternoon, I initially dismissed it as an error, but a check of the Worcestershire Source emails revealed that this was no blunder. Before heading off to Mrs Reg's mother's for fish and chips and the X-Factor, I called my Dad and asked him if he fancied having a look for the bird first thing in the morning. As you might expect, he didn't need asking twice.

Arriving at Upton Warren this morning, we bumped into Gordon Greaves on our way to the hide and were dutifully informed that the bird was still present and showing well. The hide was pretty full and there were a lot of people coming and going during the hour or so that we were there. Not quite up to Wilson's Phalarope standards of course, but certainly the largest gathering I have seen there since that hallowed day.

Anyway, the bird was indeed showing well [year tick 215!] and I proceeded to take a few record shots, which follow.

Shore Lark

Shore Lark next to a Common Snipe

It was great to see this bird so close to home. Our only previous experience had been at Holkham Beach in February 2007. Having failed to see them when we went to Norfolk earlier in the year, I had abandoned all hope of adding one to the year list, but it seems that nothing can be taken for granted in the world of birding.

We travelled to the Moors Pool afterwards to see if we could train our scopes on one of the Bitterns that arrived recently. Once again, we caught up with Gordon Greaves and with his help, our quarry was quickly located in the reeds to the left of the West Hide, but see if you can spot it in this photograph. Trust me, it's there!

Spot the Bittern

Shortly afterwards, the Bittern became a bit more showy and fortunately I was ready and waiting with the camera.


Great to see such good birds just a short hop down the M42. Here's hoping a few more drop in between now and the end of the year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Aylesbury Duck ... Well, Nearly

Sometimes, being a Midlands birder can be a tad frustrating. If you're a regular visitor to the BirdGuides BirdMap then you'll be familiar with their system of placing white and grey squares over a map of the UK to denote any bird sightings of note. Sadly, the centre of the map has been somewhat bare in recent weeks. By stark contrast, the south and east coasts seem to have had more squares than a Star Trek convention.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating somewhat, but that's sometimes how it feels when you're slap bang in the middle of our green and pleasant land. On the other hand, this does have its advantages. When Wilson's Phalarope turns up on your doorstep, it feels like all of your Christmases have come at once. And when you finally make it to the seaside, the treasures on offer can make it feel like your birding in a different country.

That's why I'm not adverse to the odd twitch here and there, and that's why after a hastily drawn up battle plan, my Dad and I headed down the M40 to Calvert Lakes to see if we could find the Ferruginous Duck that has been around for a week or so. Calvert Lakes are about ten miles from Aylesbury as the crow flies, but close enough to excuse the waggish pun that is today's title, I think.

Things didn't look too good when we arrived. It was a bit misty this morning, and the intriguingly titled Crispin Fisher hide faces east, meaning the sun was in our faces first thing. A cluster of ducks formed a flotilla in the centre of the pool, most of which were impossible to identify. Fortunately, a few more were away to our left and these were quickly identified as Pochards. We understood that the Ferruginous Duck might be associating with the Pochards, but we failed to spot the odd quacker out despite a few sweeps of the scope.

A Muntjac passed in front of the hide, a welcome distraction during our surveillance. A few small dragonflies were zipping around too, but only a Rudder Darter was successfully identified. We stuck to our task, however, and over time more ducks made their way into view. Eventually, the Ferruginous Duck appeared as if from nowhere, much like the shopkeeper used to do in Mr Benn [lifer 228!] [year tick 214!].

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck with Pochards

Once we were on the bird, we enjoyed good views for a further 15 minutes or more, but there was little else worth hanging around for so we headed off. There was a bonus on the way home when a flying raptor caught my eye. Something told me it was more than a Buzzard and we quickly identified it as a Red Kite, then my Dad spotted a second bird perched on a dead tree. The opportunity to get a decent photograph was too much to resist, so we parked up and went for it. Believe me, this is a great picture by my standards!

Red Kite

A Kestrel also flew into view and perched on the telegraph wires, but my attempts to capture this were sadly blurred and deemed worthy only for the Recycle Bin.

Well, I had thought the birding year was grinding to a halt, but suddenly things are looking up again. Plans are afoot to have a go for the Caspian Gull at Stubber's Green soon, followed by the possibility of the gull roost at Chasewater, and another trip to Wales is on the cards in November.

I've also seen that a couple of Bitterns have turned up at Upton Warren today. You know what? Being a Midlands birder ain't that bad after all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Birds On Film

I was watching the 1986 British classic Withnail & I the other day. This was only my second viewing and it's been a number of years since I saw the film for the first time, certainly well before I immersed myself into the world of birding.

Anyway, for those not acquainted with the movie, the titular characters head to the Lake District to spend a damp and drink-fuelled holiday in a cottage belonging to Withnail's Uncle Monty. As they emerged from the cottage during one scene, I was pleased to hear the distinctive song of a Redstart burst forth from the television.

Withnail and I

This reminded me of another film that I watch at least once a year, Whistle Down The Wind. This is the one where three kids discover a bearded fugitive in their father's barn and assume he is Jesus. Towards the end of the film, the kids and all of their friends run down a country lane on their way to see the bogus messiah, when all of sudden a Sedge Warbler pipes up. Its rambling warble never fails to bring a smile to my face.

He's not Jesus ... he's just a fella!

Then there's The Great Escape. A whole scene is dedicated to the art of birdwatching here. Donald Pleasance's character, Blythe, waxes lyrical over Bonelli's Warbler and the Masked Shrike, even going so far as attempting to reproduce the song of the former. He then goes on to tell us that the shrike impales his foes on the spikes of thorn bushes. Brilliant!

I expect all birders occasionally indulge themselves in their art whilst watching the telly. It's actually an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the songs and calls of our feathered friends. Eastenders is particularly good for Magpies, whilst Emmerdale often throws a few Chaffinches or Greenfinches into the mix. Any programme set in a decent bit of habitat can reveal any number of beauties. That's whay I like watching stuff like Wainwright's Walks, you just never know what you're going to get, although it's often just a Chiffchaff.

Anyway, if you stumble across any other avifauna captured on celluloid, please drop me a line. Perhaps we could start a list?

Talking of lists, I added a new application to my blog about a month ago - ClustrMaps. This handy little tool tells you who's looking at your blog and where they come from. If you're interested in using it yourself, a search on Google will steer you in the right direction.

Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people that had visited Eye To The Telescope. I've currently rattled up 287 visits, though I appreciate that not everyone who passes through always stops for long. Maybe some of it is down to people visiting the site to see if there has been an update. Who knows?

Anyway, I was then interested to see that some of my hits have come from the USA, Canada, Brazil and, a bit closer to home, Scandinavia. Wow!

I'm amazed that people outside of Britain are tuning into my tales of me wading through the watery fields of Coombe Hill Meadows, or my doomed attempts to find Pied Flycatchers in the Wyre Forest. Amazed and very, very flattered. Quite how anybody in Hawaii can relate to any of this beats me!

If you are a regular reader of my exploits, please drop me a line. It would be great to know a bit more about you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Feels Like Devon ... [2 of 2]

Friday - Dawlish Warren NNR

It took us no time to get down to Dawlish Warren on Friday morning. Birding was put on hold, however, as we planned to walk into Dawlish to have a mooch around the shops. Before we set off, we upheld a long-standing tradition and had an ice cream in Dawlish Warren.

It must be said that these are no ordinary cornets. They come with a magnificent spiral of flavoured sauce that winds its way through the ice cream like some sweet helter skelter from heaven. You can choose what flavour sauce you have. I always go for butter pecan, whilst Mrs Reg tends to have strawberry. Only a brave few opt for the blue goo.

Ice creams finished we set off along the sea wall. Despite not intending to do any birding until later in the day, a small group of Turnstones greeted us as we arrived in Dawlish.


We walked down to Dawlish Warren NNR later in the afternoon to try and catch up with some waders at high tide. There was a large flock of Oystercatchers present, but with patience I picked out a few Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. A small party of Brent Geese were in the estuary, plus the usual Greater Black-Backed Gulls and Cormorants. Later, a flock of Curlew arrived, carrying with them a few Black-Tailed Godwits. Apart from a few Linnets and a Stonechat outside the hide that was about it. On the sea itself, a number of Gannets and winter-plumaged Sandwich Terns were spotted, and there were more Dunlin and Ringed Plover on the beach, with a few Sanderling amongst them.

Dunlin with Oystercatchers

Saturday - Bowling Green Marsh / Aylesbeare Common / Woodbury Common

It was impossible for us to coincide our visit to Bowling Green Marsh with the high tide, so our chances of seeing anything really special were greatly reduced. Apart from a Ruff and two Black-Tailed Godwits, there was little else worthy of mention. Further along the estuary I spotted a few Redshank and Greenshank, then another Black-Tailed Godwit, which posed obligingly for the camera.

Black-Tailed Godwit

Black-Tailed Godwit

Yes, you've guessed it ... Black-Tailed Godwit

After lunch we visited Aylesbeare Common where we caught up with many more Dartford Warblers - the place was alive with them. We also saw a few Stonechats, and a party of Ravens and Common Buzzards sailed overhead giving the occasional cronk or mew respectively.

Aylesbeare Common

We then travelled down the road to Woodbury Common. There were less birds here, but during our short walk we saw another large dragonfly that again evaded identification due to its unwillingness to stay in one spot for more than two seconds, then a Fox Moth caterpillar, a Brimstone butterfly [lifer!], a Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and a Common Darter. Not a bad little haul.

Fox Moth caterpillar

Small Tortoiseshell

On Saturday evening we watched The Island on ITV1, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Whilst the film itself was largely forgettable, I was glad we watched it for two reasons. The first reason was Scarlett Johansson. The second was that because we stayed up so late we spotted a Badger [lifer!] outside our lodge. Mrs Reg had spotted a few of these when she was here in May, so we had been optimistic about our chances of seeing them during our stay. If only Scarlett Johansson had appeared from the bushes too!

As we waited for the Badger to put in another appearance, a Tawny Owl began calling in the trees outside our lodge. What a great way to end the day!

Sunday - Exminster Marshes / Dawlish Warren NNR

After a fine Sunday lunch at The Swan's Nest near Exminster, we had a walk along the canal to the Turf Lock pub. There were stacks of dragonflies along the path, but identification again proved to be difficult. Ruddy Darter and Migrant Hawker were noted successfully, but I suspect a few potential lifers escaped me.

Further along, a Kingfisher appeared in a tree, presenting me with my first photograph of this species. Don't think it'll be winning me any awards though!

Caught in the act

Migrant Hawker


Once at the Turf Lock pub I spotted a Peregrine way up in the sky over the estuary, then we had superb views of another [or maybe the same one] on the way back to the car park.

Later that afternoon we headed back to Dawlish Warren NNR for another walk around, specifically to try to see some Great Green Bush Crickets. These were tricky to spot amongst the foliage, but with a bit of persistence we managed to track a few down and were able to get some good pictures of them. A Small Copper butterfly was also seen.

Great Green Bush Cricket

Great Green Bush Cricket

Small Copper

We ended up walking to Warren Point where more of the smaller waders were seen, then we trudged the mile and a half back to the lodge. It had been a blazing hot day and we had walked about seven miles all in all. I think I'd had a bit too much sun and went to bed with a thumping headache that night.

We came home on Monday and passed a plethora of Eddie Stobarts on the way back. I won't name them all here, but I will tell you that I have now seen 50 different trucks this year. Woo hoo!