Monday, March 31, 2008

Fancy That!

Phew, what a scorcher! The weathermen got it wrong again and Sunday turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. We had decided to press on with our proposed trip to the Forest of Dean whatever the weather and I'm so glad we did.

Our first foray was to Brierley for the Hawfinch. Things didn't quite go to plan here. As I made my way down the track, quite slowly and carefully I hasten to add, I flushed a huge flock of Chaffinch from the woodland floor. There were certainly some Brambling amongst them as I spotted them in the trees shortly afterwards, but I have no idea whether there were any Hawfinch present. We waited for them to regroup, but they never came back.

We decided to stroll further into the woods, thereby giving the birds the opportunity to return undisturbed. We heard a Marsh Tit call to our left, then were pretty sure we had one at the top of a tree further along. I wasn't entirely happy to tick it though and knew we would probably get better views later in the day.

Sadly, the finch flock did not return and after an hour we decided to press on. We had intended to stop off at Cannop Ponds, but we ended up at New Fancy View more by luck than judgement. As it was such a clear, warm morning we were optimistic about our chances of seeing a displaying Goshawk. A couple of other birders were up there and it only took a minute or two before we spotted a Goshawk soaring high over Cinderford [lifer 205!] [year tick 134!].

The views were far better than I had expected. You could tell that these were big birds as we had several Buzzards in the vicinity for comparison. Whilst scanning the area, I heard the familiar call of a Raven and we had several over during the short period we spent there [year tick 135!]. A singing Chiffchaff to our right was also a welcome sight.

We had another unsuccessful search for Hawfinch at Parkend, before finally locating Cannop Ponds. We tracked down a pair of Mandarin here, a lifer for my Dad, then had excellent views of a pair of Marsh Tits [year tick 136!] on the feeding station next to the road. We felt it was worth one last shot at Hawfinch, so we went back to Brierley for fifteen minutes, but we were again unsuccessful and finally conceded defeat.

Nuthatch at Cannop Ponds

Marsh Tit at Cannop Ponds

The second half of our day was spent in and around Frampton On Severn. We were keen to locate the Cattle Egret that had been reported and a gentleman at Brierley had given us some information about a viewing platform further down the canal.

We bumped into a fellow birder scanning the flashes adjacent to the canal. I greeted him and asked if he had seen much. To my delight he told us that there was a Garganey in the water. I got the scope up and it didn't take too long to locate the bird [year tick 137!]. An incredible stroke of fortune.

I had been getting really excited about the prospects of seeing this relatively scarce duck over the next few weeks and feel privileged to have ticked it in March. Unfortunately, despite rattling off a dozen photographs, none of the pictures showed the bird in its full glory. This was the best I could manage.



We spent the next hour or two with this chap, who hails from the Isle of Wight. After a decent walk along the canal we eventually reached the viewing platform, which was about the size of a postage stamp! Another birder was already present and we somehow managed to squeeze three scopes into the available space.

The first thing we spotted was something that the gentleman at Brierley had mentioned, a Green-Winged Teal [lifer 206!] [year tick 138!]. I was fortunate to drop onto it almost immediately. There was a bit of debate as to whether this was an escapee from nearby Slimbridge. I suppose you can't be certain, but if there is evidence to suggest it is I will duly strike it from the list. I notice, however, that Slimbridge itself is reporting a Green-Winged Teal on its website. I wonder if this is the same bird?

Shortly afterwards we had another unexpected fillip in the shape of a Spotted Redshank [year tick 139!]. I think these are amazing birds. With due respect to my lifers, I can't decide whether this or the Garganey was the tick of the day. Another good spot here was a Ruff, which my Dad picked up. He's getting better at his waders. We had been told that Little Stint were also present, but we didn't see any. Similarly, the Cattle Egret had been seen from the platform earlier in the day, but it didn't show.

A search for Little Owls a mile or so on from Frampton on Severn didn't reap dividends, but we did have excellent views of a Sparrowhawk perched in a tree in this area. Other nice sightings during the day included Kestrel, Little Egret, Grey Wagtail, Great Spotted Woodpecker and some Common Gulls [year tick 140!], which flew over our heads as we enjoyed a pint at the Bell Inn.

This week's amusing anecdote concerns pork pie. Traditionally, we take out a Dickinson & Morris pork pie when we go birding, which we affectionately refer to as Dicko. My Dad had instead picked up a pie from the Tesco's finest range. It was good pie and I wondered whether Tesco should rename it I Can't Believe It's Not Dicko. Well, I found it amusing anyway.

Finally, I would like to thank Dan Pointon and Kay for their excellent gen, which enabled us to find our way around without too much difficulty and led to some great spots. Couldn't have done it without you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Start Spreading The News ...

The arrival of the Spring migrants meant that some kind of birding excursion was imperative this weekend. However, when I awoke on Sunday morning and saw that it was snowing, I immediately feared the worst. Realising that the roads were clear and knowing that the forecast wasn't too bad, I rang my Dad and we agreed that we would press on despite the weather.

Our plan was to visit Grimley first, before heading to Hartlebury to see if we could track down the Iceland Gull that was seen on the trading estate there on Friday. I was also keen to pop into Shenstone as it was fairly nearby and we had planned to pay a brief visit to Upton Warren, mainly for the Little Ringed Plover that arrived during the week.

We arrived at Grimley shortly after 8:00am. Our main target here was the juvenile Black Redstart, which had been spotted a few days earlier. We scanned the north end of the site for twenty minutes or more, but couldn't see anything. Eventually, we decided to get back in the car and park in the traditional spot by the hay barn. From here we had a walk along the main pool, noting a few Oystercatchers and a Redshank along the way.

As we approached the north end again, we ran into another birder who told us that he had not seen the Black Redstart either. He did, however, mention the littoralis Rock Pipit, a Scandinavian sub-species of the bird we normally see in this country, which had arrived at Grimley on Saturday.

We had a quick look with him for the bird and were lucky enough to get onto it within a minute or two. Birders tend not to treat sub-species as separate ticks, though everyone has their own rules. I go along with the theory that they should not be added to the life list, but I will certainly make a note of it for my own records. I had seen some pictures of this bird on Brian Stretch's excellent Worcester birding website, but they did not really do it justice. In the field, the bird had a beautiful pinkish wash to its underparts and I would recommend that you go and have a look at it for yourself if you can.

Whilst we were looking at the Rock Pipit, we also spotted a pair of Little Ringed Plover [year tick 130!], which made the proposed trip to Upton Warren obsolete.

Little Ringed Plover at Grimley

Shortly afterwards, we managed to track down the three Wheatear [year tick 131!] that had been around for a few days. They are beautiful birds and I never seem to run into them as often as I would like. After a bite to eat we resumed our search for the Black Redstart, but there was still no sign of it. We decided to head off to try our luck elsewhere. We did pick up a Green Sandpiper [year tick 132!] on the way back to the car, however.

Firstly, we payed a brief visit to Hartlebury, but the search for the Iceland Gull bore no fruit. It was always a long shot to be honest. We then continued to Shenstone. My Dad still needs Grey Partridge for his year list, but again we could not find any. Probably better early in the morning. That's when I flushed a pair here a couple of weeks ago.

Shenstone was untypically quiet, but there's always something to see here. True to form, we had a Sparrowhawk cruising low over the field with the Bramblings in it. Our pulses raced when we initially thought it was a Merlin, but common sense prevailed. There was no sign of any Corn Bunting or Yellowhammer, but plenty of Skylarks and a few Meadow Pipits were dotted around.

We felt it was worth one last stab at the Black Redstart, so we headed back to Grimley, noting a presumed Weasel dicing with death on the A449 on the way! My only previous encounter with a Weasel resulted in its untimely death beneath the wheels of my car, an experience that left me feeling pretty wretched. Somebody needs to tell them that playing chicken on a busy road is not a good idea.

Back at Grimley we were encouraged by the sight of several cars parked on the verge. Had there been a positive report whilst we were gone? It turned out that it had been seen, but had once again disappeared. After some more unsuccessful scanning, we took a walk along the cliff. Still no sign. Back with the small group of birders that had formed, we gave it one last shot and were just about to concede defeat, when I spotted something on the deck in front of us.

As I was getting the scope on this bird, I thought I heard someone confirm my suspicions. I was just beginning to congratulate myself, when I realised everyone else had their scopes pointing in a different direction. Sure enough, there it was, the Black Redstart [lifer 204!] [year tick 133!] and I never did find out what my mystery bird was. I had a swig from my hip flask, swiftly followed by a second from my Dad's. We've decided that lifers are worth two nips now that we've joined the 200 club! If we ever get to 300, we'll be catching the bus home!

Third time lucky! Black Redstart at Grimley

Next week, I'm hoping to go to the Forest of Dean to see if I can get hold of a Goshawk amongst other things and I have my eye on a Garganey that has turned up in Hereford this week. Read about it here in due course.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Garden Warbler

Spring seems to be arriving earlier each year, but as any birder worth his salt will know, tracking down Sylvia Borin at the moment might be pushing it. My cryptic heading instead refers to the first Blackcap to visit my garden this year. They are pretty rare visitors to the garden, but I usually manage to note one or two each year, particularly during the colder months.

The wet weather last weekend put paid to any plans to go birding, so I have had to get my fix in and around the garden once again. Fortunately, there was plenty to see, so I thought I'd knock up a quick summary of events.

First off, there have been many visits from a pair of Goldcrests over the last couple of weeks, and I was finally able to get a couple of reasonable pictures of one of them after many frustrated attempts.

Sit still!

Goldcrest in the fir tree

As you may recall, there is a white-winged Jackdaw that hangs around with the regular Jackdaws near my house. I call him Chalky. What I haven't yet told you is that there is another unique individual with a mottled belly. I call him Dapple, and he turned up in the sycamore tree this week. The picture I took doesn't really do Dapple justice, but photo opportunities are few and far between, so you take what you can get.


Other sightings this week included a pair of Mistle Thrush feeding on the front lawn yesterday morning, a flock of roughly 100 Starlings in the field opposite the house earlier in the week and a pair of Buzzards patrolling the same field a few days later.

The resident Goldfinches, assisted by several Siskin and possibly a few Greenfinches, demolished the niger seed this week. In the end, the Goldfinches were reduced to impersonating Chaffinches when they had to resort to pecking at the scraps on the ground. Don't worry - the feeders were dutifully refilled today!

Goldfinches on the deck

Good Friday generally marks the beginning of the gardening season for me. Consequently, the damson tree was pruned to within an inch of its life today. I made sure that I left plenty of perches for the birds, however, and I hope the lack of cover won't deter them from coming to the feeders.

It was reassuring to see Wing, the lame Chaffinch perched on the tree later today. He's been seen quite a few times in the last week or so and he's almost beginning to feel like the son I never had!

Wing visits the damson tree

I'm ready for my close up now ...

That's about all, but I think a Sparrowhawk flew across the field this afternoon. Similarly, I'm almost certain that a Raven went past the back garden earlier in the day. I was in the kitchen, spotted it flying past and immediately rushed out to see if I could hear it calling, but it had gone. It could have been a Carrion Crow, but it seemed to have that shaggy throat thing going on, which made me wonder. I still need one for the year list actually.

As for up and coming birding excursions, I hope to get to Upton Warren on Sunday morning, but the weather may play a part in this. I am really keen to catch up with the likes of Common Sandpiper, Sand Martin, Little Ringed Plover and Wheatear, plus there is always the chance of a Garganey turning up somewhere nearby. I've only ever seen one, at Upton Warren on 1 April 2007, and I would really like to catch up with this striking duck again this Spring.

Following that, there is a trip to the Forest of Dean pencilled in for Sunday 30 March, specifically for Goshawk, a potential lifer, but with the added attraction of possible Hawfinch and Marsh Tit. Then I have a day off work on Friday 4 April, which I may spend at Upton Warren again.

The prospect of seeing all these aforementioned birds, plus the imminent arrival of the warblers and other Summer visitors is making me all twitchy!

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I've just returned from an excellent morning's birding in the Wyre Forest. This is an area that I have yet to fully explore, but slowly and surely, I am building up my knowledge of some of the best birding sites that the forest has to offer. I think this will become more important as Spring approaches [if it hasn't already!] and Wood Warblers, Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and the like begin to arrive.

My main aim today was to explore the area around Lodge Hill Farm and Dowles Brook. I couldn't even find these places the last time I was here, but armed with some excellent info from a couple of my birding buddies [you know who you are!] I had more success this time.

First spot of note was a Green Woodpecker along the old railway track, closely followed by a Yellowhammer up in the trees to my left and a few Song Thrush singing away. After a short walk I reached Lodge Hill Farm and made my way up to the bridge that crosses the road.

 The bridge at Lodge Hill Farm

There was plenty of good birding to be had here. In the trees and bushes that line the road there were Bullfinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Brambling, Redwing, and the more common birds such as Great Tit and Robin. The bird I was really hoping for was Hawfinch, but I knew that the chances of getting any were slim even at the best of times. I scanned the tops of the surrounding trees without any joy. A Greater Spotted Woodpecker was noted flying over.

After about half an hour, I gave up on the Hawfinch and headed off in the direction of Dowles Brook. I didn't have to walk too far before I picked up a pair of Dipper.

A Dipper on Dowles Brook

A pair of Dippers

A little further down the brook I spotted a pair of Mandarin [lifer 203!] [year tick 128!], a bird that I had convinced myself didn't exist, having dipped on them a few times in the last year. I take it all back. They do exist and although they look like escapees from someone's collection of exotic wildfowl, they are tickable. They are certainly amazing looking birds and it was nice to finally see them.

So they do exist after all ...

After noting a pair of Grey Wagtails in the same area [beautiful birds], I headed back up the path and into Knowles Coppice. A few Greater Spotted Woodpeckers were seen, but little else of interest. As I left the coppice and rejoined the old railway line, something made me decide to stop for a minute or two. Suddenly, to my right came the call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and, seconds later, there it was on the branches of a tree not too far away from me [year tick 129!].

After enjoying a good butcher's with the binnies, I reached for the camera and was able to get off a few shots. This was only the second time I have ticked this bird, although I did have a close encounter with one at Whitacre Heath a few weeks back. Never mind the year tick, this felt like a lifer and I will definitely be having a wee dram tonight to celebrate.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - a brilliant year tick!

Back of the net!

I spent some more time back on the bridge at Lodge Hill Farm and picked up some birds on the tops of the trees away to my right. I am currently without-scope and had difficulty identifying these distant creatures. I borrowed a fellow birder's binnies, which offered slightly greater magnification, but it was no good. Were they Hawfinches? Probably not, but I'll never know for sure. If I had to stick my neck out, I'd say they were Brambling. The only other spots worthy of mention were a Sparrowhawk cruising overhead whilst birding from the bridge, and the distant 'cronk' of a few Ravens, though these were never seen.

It's been a cracking start to 2008. Long may it continue!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Familiar Faces

It's been an exciting week for birds in the garden and around the neighbouring area. As mentioned last week, a pair of Lesser Redpolls showed up in the damson tree on Sunday, albeit for a matter of seconds. As if this wasn't good enough, a female Brambling turned up on Monday. This is the first record of this species in the garden. The bird hung around for 10 minutes or more, allowing me to take a few photos.

Female Brambling in the fir tree

Still in the fir tree

Brambling in 'Seed Valley'

On Thursday afternoon, I noticed Chalky, the white-winged Jackdaw, perched on top of the oak tree opposite the house, with another of his kind and a pair of Mistle Thrush. He has been spotted in the field today too.


Another individual who stands out from the crowd is Wing, the lame Chaffinch. Sadly, Wing is not very good on his feet and has a habit of fluttering about on the ground using his wings to support him. I remember seeing a female Chaffinch at Whitacre Heath a few weeks back with a similar problem.

Wing tends to sit for long periods in 'Seed Valley', the area underneath the damson tree where seed falls from the feeders. He seems to be able to fly alright, but he just has trouble perching anywhere. Poor thing.

Another tick from the house this week was a male Pheasant in the field on Friday morning. My neighbour told me that he had had a Pheasant in his back garden recently. Maybe it was the same one. You don't see too many around here.

I'm planning a trip to the Wyre Forest in the morning and will report back in due course.

Until then, happy birding!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Back In Time

I managed to grab a quick hour's birding at Shenstone early on Sunday morning. I've been studying for an exam on 11 March, but unable to resist the urge to get out in the field I took my nose out of my books and headed for a favourite spot of mine.

Shenstone is a small village between Bromsgrove and Kidderminster. It is a reliable site for Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge, relatively scarce birds around these parts. On arriving at about 7:30am, I opened the car door and immediately felt as though I had travelled back in time to England as it might have been in the 1950s.

The first sound that hit my ears was that of a number of Skylarks happily singing away in the fields to my right and it only took a matter of seconds for me to pick one out with the binoculars [year tick 125!]. Next came the familiar song of a Yellowhammer in the trees lining the road. Not a year tick, but wonderful birds all the same.

A stroke of luck next when I flushed something from the undergrowth. I thought it might be a rabbit at first, but a pair of Grey Partridge [year tick 126!] appeared and promptly scuttled off into the field to my left. A Green Woodpecker was noted grubbing around in the grass further up the road. A scan through the trees and fence posts for Little Owls was unsuccessful. They remain a noteable absentee from the life list, but I'm sure I will run into one somewhere this year.

As I reached the junction of Heath Lane I suddenly heard a Corn Bunting singing. I guessed it was probably in the large tree in the field to my right, as that's where I have seen them before. True to form, once I had a better view, I could see it perched on top [year tick 127!].

I carried on down the lane in the hope of latching onto the Chaffinch and Brambling flock that has been seen here in recent weeks. Unfortunately, fog prevented me from seeing much at all the last time I was here. Not today though. I soon located the flock and had nice, if distant, views of the Chaffinches and their smartly-attired relatives, plus Pied Wagtails and Fieldfares in good numbers.

I had a slow walk back to the car and noted the more usual species, including Long-Tailed Tits. In keeping with the mood of post-war England, however, I wondered whether I should note them down as Huggen-Muffins. At least, I think that's how they used to be referred to. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

In a similar vein, I was tempted to add Windhover to the list when a Kestrel appeared over the nearby woodland. Maybe the next time I visit Shenstone, I should wear a demob suit and arrive by Morris Minor!

Once back home and in the noughties again, I was discussing my excursion with Mrs Telescope when two Lesser Redpolls appeared in the damson tree. They were there for a few fleeting seconds and then they were gone. I've had a few in the garden before, but they are rare visitors and these are the first ones I've seen this year.

All in all, a brief, but excellent visit to 1950s rural England. And I still had change for a fish supper!

Four Go Mad In Devon [4 of 4]

Day 4 of 4 - Cheddar Reservoir / Slimbridge

The last day of the trip, but there was still birding-a-plenty to be getting on with. A phone call to the long-suffering Mrs Telescope on Sunday evening confirmed that there was a Red-Necked Grebe at Cheddar Reservoir. The King Eider in North Devon was a twitch too far, but the reservoir would only involve a minor detour, so we thought it was worth a shot. There was talk of trying for a Short-Eared Owl at Aust Warth, but eventually we came to the decision that a few hours at Slimbridge would pay greater dividends.

Before all of this, however, my Dad and I made an early morning visit to Exminster to try for a Woodlark. It was a long shot and, somewhat predictably, there was no sign of them. To be fair, I think they breed in this location and they may still be on their wintering grounds. Either way, they weren't there so far as we could see. We had a pleasant surprise, however, when we picked up a pair of Chiffchaffs merrily singing away [year tick 116!]. Another reasonable tick so early in the year.

We left Budleigh Salterton at 10:15am and arrived at Cheddar Reservoir about an hour later. It's a two mile walk around the reservoir, which isn't too bad when compared to the veritable behemoth that is Draycote Water. The sun was in our eyes at first, which made scanning tricky, but having sifted through a number of Great Crested Grebes we felt happy that its rarer relative was not amongst them.

As we made our way around the water's edge, I suddenly noticed something that got my birding senses working overtime. It looked like a diver, but disappeared from view very quickly. When it broke the water again I was able to identify it as a Great Northern Diver. Not a year tick, but it was a great moment. We had no idea that it was there, although I later found out that it had been around for a couple of weeks. Self-found birds! You just can't beat 'em!

Further round I picked up four Scaup [year tick 117!], two drakes and two females, plus a pair of Goldeneye. Birds like divers and the rarer ducks used to have to be pointed out to me, so it was personally very pleasing to be picking them up on my own. Without wishing to sound big-headed, I reckoned I must be getting the hang of this birding lark.

They say pride comes before a fall, so you can guess what happened next - a birder travelling in the opposite direction told us that the Red-Necked Grebe had been seen on the opposite side of the reservoir about an hour ago. Of course, that was where we had started our search, so we hot-footed it around the path until we could get a decent view of the appropriate area.

Almost instantly, I had a grebe in my sights that looked promising. It was still a bit distant, though, so there was another mad dash to get a better vantage point. Then there was no doubt. Red-Necked Grebe [lifer 201!] [year tick 118!] fell, meaning that we had bagged five grebe species on the trip. Nice work!

Onwards and upwards to Slimbridge, where we got easy ticks in the shape of Bewick's Swan, White-Fronted Goose, Golden Plover and Barnacle Goose [year ticks 119, 120, 121 & 122!], plus a Water Rail and the second Peregrine of the trip. Sadly, my camera had packed up at this point so I have none of my famously blurred record shots with which to illustrate these sightings.

Peregrine pic courtesy of Dave Lyons

A quick dash to the Zeiss Hide got us nothing better than a Gadwall for the trip list, so we made our way back towards the Holden Tower. It was from the hides along the path to the tower that we picked up a couple of Ruff [year tick 123!], before beginning the daunting task of picking out the Bean Goose amongst the sizeable flock of White-Fronted Geese.

Ten minutes in, we were joined by a youngish lad, who almost immediately claimed to have located the lone goose. We were able to get in the right area fairly easily due to the fact that the bird was only about twelve geese or so in from the right. After an agonising ten minutes or more, the goose stuck its head up and we finally got good enough views to see that it was indeed the Bean Goose [lifer 202!] [year tick 124!]. The hides were closing at this point so we packed our scopes away for the final time and headed for home, not before we'd had our last swig of whisky though!

Looking back, it was an amazing weekend. I knew three lifers in some shape or form would surely fall, maybe even four or five if we were really lucky, but to get seven was incredible. Passing 200 lifers courtesy of the Long-Billed Dowitcher was a special moment. Although there are a few relatively common species that I still need to see, it is inevitable that any lifers now are going to be pretty good birds. Equally, lifers are going to become more and more scarce in accordance with the law of diminishing returns, but I'm looking forward to the birding challenges ahead with nothing other than excitement.

Until next time, happy birding!

Four Go Mad In Devon [3 of 4]

Day 3 of 4 - Bowling Green Marsh / Beer / Woodbury Common

Before I begin waxing lyrical about Sunday's birding, I should mention our close encounter with another potential lifer on Saturday night. Ivor had told us that Tawny Owls had been calling from the trees near his house, and as we were heading into Budleigh Salterton for a few pints and some food that evening, we were sure to listen out for them.

Sure enough, one called from the branches of a tree just as we passed underneath it. It couldn't have been more than 10 to 20 feet above us. I have certainly never heard them call as clearly as that before. Unsurprisingly, we couldn't locate it in the dark and a shameful attempt to flush it with the flash from my camera proved ineffective.

Sunday morning didn't start too well. The first thing I did was crack my head on the sloped ceiling above my sleeping bag, leaving me with a red mark on my forehead and a passing resemblance to Harry Potter. Undeterred by this blunder and a spot of resultant dizziness, I headed for the shower. Unfortunately, Leapy's decision to take a steaming hot bath the previous night meant there was no hot water, so I was forced to wash beneath an icy torrent. Needless to say, I was in and out within a minute. My nipples are still recovering.

After a quick breakfast, me and my Dad headed off to Bowling Green Marsh. In our opinion, the early tide meant getting there before 8:00am, which we managed, but Leapy and Ivor had elected to join us later on. There were many birds present including Dunlin, Wigeon, Snipe, Avocet, Knot and Bar-Tailed Godwit. I also picked up Black-Tailed Godwit [year tick 111!] in good numbers.

Waders at Bowling Green Marsh

We were, of course, looking out for the Long-Billed Dowitcher that has been frequenting the estuary for some weeks now. There was no sign of it over high tide, and as the waders began to move back down the estuary, we felt that we might be better off at the viewing platform further down the road. Leapy and Ivor had arrived by this point and we were within minutes of heading off, when a chap to our left suddenly spotted the Long-Billed Dowitcher at the rear of the marsh [lifer 200!] [year tick 112!].

Long-Billed Dowitcher - lifer number 200!

Where's that whisky

We'd done it! 200 birds on the life list! There were a few slaps on the back and, needless to say, a few more swigs from the hip flask. It was a lifer for Ivor too, but Leapy had twitched the bird at Bittell Reservoir in Autumn 2006. Nevertheless he was suitably pleased for us, being the top bloke that he is.

Next up, we headed to Beer. One of the birders at Broadsands on Saturday had told us that there were three Black Redstarts there. It sounded too good to be true and unfortunately it was. We were there for over an hour and saw no sign of them. On a more positive note, several Fulmar [year tick 113!] and a Peregrine [year tick 114!] found their way onto my year list, the latter powering over the waves, before perching on the cliff face. A fine sight.

Last, but by no means least, we paid a visit to Woodbury Common in the hope of finding a Dartford Warbler. It took us about two minutes to track one down [year tick 115!], mirroring the success I had with these great little birds on Aylesbeare Common last April.

Although we managed a walk down the Otter Estuary afterwards, there were no more year ticks or lifers to be had. The rain closed in and we pronounced the birding over for another day, one that I will remember for a long time to come.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Four Go Mad In Devon [2 of 4]

Day 2 of 4 - Dawlish Warren / Broadsands / Exminster

I woke up with a thumping headache on Saturday morning. We had tucked a fair bit of wine and whisky away the night before and I was paying the price. Still, there was birding to be done, so I popped a couple of Ibuprofen and washed them down with a cup of tea.

We headed to Dawlish Warren first. We quickly ticked a Rock Pipit [year tick 93!], before noticing a small group of fellow birders by the sea wall. They kindly pointed out what was around, mentioning that the long-staying Surf Scoter had been seen off Langstone Rock that morning. We set up the scopes and picked up Slavonian Grebe, Common Scoter, Eider and Red-Throated Diver [year ticks 94, 95, 96 & 97!] without too much difficulty.

After much scoping, Leapy finally thought he had a contender for the Surf Scoter in his sights. It was quite distant, so we upped scopes and headed further down towards Langstone Rock, where we could get better views. The bird eventually showed well enough to confirm that it was indeed the Surf Scoter [lifer 197!] [year tick 98!]. Sadly, my attempts to digiscope this bird failed. I was still feeling pretty rough at this point, but the combination of another lifer and a slug of whisky from my Dad's hip flask perked me up no end!

A walk through the reserve revealed it to be fairly quiet. Once we were on the dunes, however, we were greeted by the welcome sight of many waders in the bay adjacent to the golf course. Grey Plover, Dunlin and Bar-Tailed Godwit [year ticks 99, 100 & 101!] were duly recorded, along with Knot [year tick 102!], a bird that I dipped on in 2007. Nice to get that one under the belt. Finally, a pair of Stonechats [year tick 103!] revealed themselves on the walk back to the car.

Next up, we travelled down the coast to Broadsands. The target birds here were Black-Necked Grebe and Cirl Bunting. More seawatching ensued. First up was one of my all time favourites; a fine Gannet [year tick 104!] cruising over the water. Then I picked up something far out to sea. It certainly looked grebe-like, but it was diving frequently and travelling some distance under the waves, which made it hard to keep tabs on. I was almost certain that it was a Black-Necked Grebe, but I was wary of letting my heart rule my head.

I took a break from the scope and had an unexpected surprise when I noticed a Shag [year tick 105!] in the bay below us. I had previously dismissed this bird as a Cormorant without looking at it properly. A lesson to be learned there, I'm sure.

Back on the scope, I was still struggling to identify the speck on the horizon, but I did pick up a Razorbill [year tick 106!] for my troubles. Then we realised there was something else just in front of us. No need for scopes with this one. Binoculars revealed it to be a Black-Necked Grebe [lifer 198!] [year tick 107!]. The hip flask was produced once more.

Black-Necked Grebe at distance

We had no idea where to start looking for Cirl Bunting, so we asked a fellow birder if he had any gen. He told us to head for the car park, where a canny birder had put down some seed, which the birds were reportedly happily tucking into. Sure enough, once we got down there, there were the birders, there was the seed and there were the Cirl Buntings [lifer 199!] [year tick 108!].

Cirl Buntings at Broadsands

These little beauties were both me and my Dad's 199th lifer. We had hoped to hit 200 together, but had thought that we would have to wait until a trip to Scotland in May to achieve this. With our next port of call being Exminster Marshes, plus the fact that he needed Cattle Egret and I didn't, it looked like he might just pip me to it.

Exminster Marshes was reasonably quiet, save for a few trip birds. Certainly no Cattle Egrets about, though a Cetti's Warbler was worthy of mention. Scanning the Exe estuary got us our first Avocet of the trip [year tick 109!] and plenty more waders, but it was the bird that appeared as we made our way along the canal and back to the car that took first prize. Ivor thought it was a House Martin. Leapy said it was more likely to be a Sand Martin, but when it flew back in front of us, it revealed itself to be an extremely early Swallow [year tick 110!]. A fitting finale to a memorable day ...

Four Go Mad In Devon [1 of 4]

Day 1 of 4 - Dartmoor / Exmouth

On the morning of Friday 22 February, I headed off to Devon with my Dad, Dave 'Leapy' Lyons and Dave 'Ivor' Thomas. It was to be an intensive birding weekend, with trips to Dartmoor, Dawlish Warren, Broadsands and Bowling Green Marsh planned. We also intended to hit a few sites on the way back to Birmingham, although Ivor would not be joining us for these as he was staying on in Devon for another day or so.

We had a great run down the M5 and arrived in Budleigh Salterton before 8:30am. The car was quickly unloaded and without further ado we headed for Dartmoor. At about 10:00am we arrived at the Warren House Inn area, where a Great Grey Shrike has recently taken up residence. The weather was a little inclement, which made viewing tricky, but on Leapy's advice, we headed off the road towards the valley opposite the pub. Once we had a reasonable vantage point along the valley, I quickly located the Great Grey Shrike [lifer 196!] [year tick 83!] perched on top of a small bush. We didn't have great views and the bird took off shortly afterwards, but fortunately we all managed to get onto it.

After a bite to eat and a swig of whisky to celebrate the lifer we headed off to Fernworthy Reservoir. I didn't know too much about this site, but it was quite nearby and from what I could gather, it had a reputation for attracting some good species. True to form, within a few minutes of arriving we heard the distinctive calls of Common Crossbill. They revealed themselves moments later on the top of a stand of larches to our left [year tick 84!]. Definitely one of my favourite birds and a nice year tick. A short walk down the road revealed little else, so we decided to head off.

Common Crossbill at Fernworthy Reservoir

The next site on the agenda was Steps Bridge. I had seen reports of Marsh Tit and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here recently and I also understood that it was a reliable sight for Dipper. A scan from the bridge revealed nothing, but we did get a Grey Wagtail [year tick 85!] along the river. On the way back, however, Ivor had a second scan from the bridge and got us our Dipper [year tick 86!]. Another great bird in my opinion.

Next up was Dunchideock, a small village where Little Owl is regularly reported. In fact, I had been told that this bird was 'virtually guaranteed' - dangerous words in the birding fraternity. Finding the village was hard enough, let alone the owl. We never saw it, but one of the locals kindly 'gripped us off' by showing us a photograph of it perched on the roof of the village hall, not ten feet from where we were standing. He said it tended to show at dusk, but we weren't prepared to stand out in the cold any longer and made our way back to Exmouth.

A quick walk along the seafront and marina got me some regulation year ticks in the shape of Oystercatcher, Great Black-Backed Gull, Red-Breasted Merganser, Brent Goose, Turnstone and Redshank [year ticks 87, 88, 89, 90, 91 & 92!]. A Black Redstart had reportedly been in this area in the last few days, but we failed to locate it.

The birding finished for the day, we headed back to the house for pizzas and red wine. A brilliant day. We only hoped that our success would continue ...