Saturday, 23 January 2016

Patch bird race - 23rd January 2016

 The view south from Hall Hill towards West Keal and part of Lincolnshire Aviation Museum runway at East Kirkby (along with the two biggest bodies of water visible from the patch boundary
Speaking between friends recently, we've all adopted inland patches this year of which the is relatively limited habitat and therefore pose little potential for finding anything good. With this in mind, not many people would persist, but considering how many times we've all been on twitches to unlikely locations and think 'How on earth did someone find this!?', perhaps it's the way forward to adopt a #CrapInlandPatch. 
To spur us on to get out into the field and cover it, we've decided to do occasional bird races to compete against eachother to see what we can pull out of otherwise nondescript locations. As you may have read below, my new patch is my new village and surrounding farmland. I started today with a patch life list of 62, so I thought a target of 55 for the day was both ambitious and achievable. 
I got up early on and headed SE from the house and onto the highest point in the area - Hall Hill to the south of the village. From here you can see across most of the patch and also directly south as far as the Wash on the extremely flat landscape. There's two relatively large bodies of water just south of the patch boundary and here I picked up Coot, Lapwing and a patch tick of 4 Tufted Ducks. Also from here you can see the whole airfield at Lincs Aviation Museum, which I'm looking forward to seeing the Lancaster and Dakota working in the Spring. Peregrine and Sparrowhawk were picked up here which certainly can never be guaranteed on bird races! I went onto see a further 4 sightings of Sparrowhawk of at least 2 individuals. By 09:00, I was on 40 species.
Next I headed to the north east of my boundary, which meant heading 'off piste' along the road to East Keal and then north to Wheelabout Wood. I joined back onto my patch along the public footpath here and managed to pick up Teal and Mallard on the ponds at Bunker's Plantation. Standing next to Wheelabout Wood, hoping for Nuthatch (my nemesis), I was alerted to the sound of another nemesis, a Jay, which called three times, followed by a familiar sound in an unfamiliar location. A Kingfisher was calling from inside the woodland along a small stream running within - Two patch ticks. In addition, Lesser Redpoll, Skylark and Great Black-backed Gull were all good to get here. Having avoided breakfast in order to get out, I headed back to home for lunch on a startlingly high 58 species.
Follwing lunch, I headed to Sow Dale, which is an area of fields and woodland running along a small brook only a few hundred metres from the house. I'd not visited here before as I've always had the dog and they're not allowed in due to sheep stock. In here I picked up a couple of flocks of Siskin and flushed THREE Woodcock, which was great to see. That was me on 60, which I really wasn't expecting. I headed south again and past the castle, looking at the fields. I was over the moon to pick up a Chiffchaff feeding in a tiny brook just south of the castle. 
It slowed down enormously after this, It ended just after dusk with a calling Tawny Owl seeing me finish on 62 species for the day and 65 species for the year. Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Golden Plover were the only birds not to crop up again despite a lot of time spent vis-migging.

All in all, I was over the moon with 62 species from my 'Crap Inland Patch'. My last patch birdrace was at Brockholes in November 2014 and I managed 75 species, so considering the multitude of habitats there, I should be very proud with my humble replacement! 

Let's see what the year brings!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Old Bolingbroke - The new patch #PWC2016


2016 is a new year and I'm in a new location, with hopefully a new job starting very soon. With this in mind, I had to find myself a new patch. There's plenty of great sites within short driving distance of our new house in south Lincolnshire, such as Kirkby on Bain, Frampton Marsh and Gibraltar Point, however with the new dog, I'm walking her almost every single day in our village, so I'm basically patching this whether I like it or not. It means I can get my birding fix, without spending any money and for a currently jobless birder, this is perfect.
It may not be much, but it's a new county and a good one at that, so there's always potential for something juicy. As of today, I'm on 61 species for the year and with the Patchwork Challenge scoring system, all are 1 pointers  bar a flyover Peregrine. It's mainly farmland, with some small woodland plantations and a couple of barely accessible ponds and streams. Waterbirds are thin on the ground, but so far have 2 ducks, a goose and 3 species of wader. Old Bolingbroke is just inside the wolds and to the south of us is nothing but flat, so the two small hills in my PWC boundary must surely hold vis-migging potential.
Speaking to a few mates who also have inland patches in area without too much promise have decided to have our own little mini league for 2016, to see who can find the most interesting local rarity. For the Greater Manchester birders, that might be something as simple as Yellow Wagtail!

I'm given to understand that Turtle Doves and Corn Bunting are in the area and there are recent records of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the village, so I'm extremely hopeful for something good to turn up if I put the effort in  and go green this year in my birding.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 in short - It was Excellent!

2015, for me was excellent. I got my first job as a post graduate doing what I love and travelling the country seeing areas I would never normally go. With that, I got my own car and therefore my mobility greatly improved, as well as my bank account, which aided me in travelling the country in pursuit of new birds.

  • Prior to 2015, I had only been birding in Norfolk once (and only visited one further time with family), so with friends, this year I visited East Anglia 6 times and got to know arguably the best county for birding a lot better. 
  • I did my first major day twitch by heading to Bryher on Scilly for the Great Blue Heron (plus the Tresco Black Duck for good measure) with Scott and Liam. This experience was manic, but fantastic all the same!
  • I also went with Jonnie and Matt to Aberdeen to see the Harlequin Duck on the River Don, which was absolutely one of the best birds of the year just because of how tame it was and the most unlikely of locations. 
  • As a stand out day, just before Jonnie left to go to Norway, we woke up at Spurn and immediately went into panic stations as a Laughing Gull was found at Kilnsea Wetlands. Later a Marsh Warbler was found and then ringed and we enjoyed incredible views of a Bee-eater flying around catching insects at Church Field. That really was an awesome day!
  • The avian highlight of the year was almost definitely the Hudsonian Godwit at Meare Heath next to Ham Wall, Somerset which is a bird I really never actually expected to see and I was amazed as how good it actually was in the flesh. 
  • I spent a week on the Scillies and did a pelagic every day of my stay. I didn't get my hoped for Wilson's Storm-petrel, but everything else was fantastic and I learnt an awful lot. 
  • For the first time I visited Asia as I went on holiday to Turkey and although it wasn't a birding holiday, I got some fantastic species and some superb lifers, just around the confines of the hotel. 
  • That brings me onto how this year was of course important for me because I met Danni. We first met at the Red-throated Pipit near Stockport, but this was all too brief. Pretty much the following weekend, Danni, Jake, Scragg, Aidan and I visited the Cairngorms where Danni and I really hit it off and having a chat whilst sat in the sun on Mt Cairngorm watching a very tame pair of Ptarmigan will stay with us forever. Since then, we have been away on holiday to Turkey, moved into a house together in Lincolnshire and as of tomorrow, we are getting a dog called Tia! It's been fantastic and this beats all the other birding experiences without a doubt. There'll always be other birds, but I think I've got something much rarer.
I ended 2015 with a life list of 366 after seeing 25 lifers, including a few well overdue species I've always missed:
Hudsonian Godwit, Harlequin Duck, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Great Blue Heron, Black Duck, Pacific Diver, White-billed Diver, Red-footed Falcon, Gull-billed Tern, Ring-billed Gull, Melodious Warbler, Ortolan, Red-throated Pipit, Little Bunting, Golden Oriole, Cirl Bunting Serin, Wryneck, Red-flanked Bluetail, Ferruginous Duck, Black Stork, Greater Yellowlegs, Crag Martin, Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Marsh Warbler, 

Whilst travelling the country a lot more, I was able to accumulate quite a decent yearlist and by July I had already beaten my previous best and got over 250, One of my main highlights for the year was being able to go back through my life list and revisit certain species I saw quite early on and not since, birds I had only ever seen once and poorly as well as different plumages of certain species. Certain species that stand out from this are:
Quail, Rose-coloured Starling, Wilson's Phalarope, Olive-backed Pipit, Short-toed Lark, Richard's Pipit, Sooty Shearwater, Bean Goose, Lapland Bunting, Crane, Green-winged Teal, King Eider, Pallid Harrier and Spoonbill
I ended the year on 302 species with my last 5 yearticks being: Golden Pheasant (Wolferton after about the 100th attempt!), Grey Phalarope (Cley) Long-eared Owl (Marton Mere), Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck (Both Caerlaverock)
As a group, we finished the year in the Crown and Anchor pub at Spurn all dressed up nicely and reminisced in what was a fantastic year! Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Scillies in October 17-24th October

The 2nd and 3rd week of October are traditionally the best time to visit Scilly. A group of us NGBs stayed at Mincarlo in Hugh Town for a week with high hopes of a few rarities from across the pond. With the exception of a Hudsonian Whimbrel on Tresco which left the day after we arrived and a Spotted Sandpiper also on Tresco for a day, the wasn't a single American bird found during the week.
I managed 1 lifer in the form of Ortolan, plus yearticks of Short-toed Lark, Blyth's Pipit and Olive-backed Pipit. I missed out on Common Rosefinch, Hooded Crow, Balearic Shearwater and Long-eared Owl for the year, but no lifers were missed which was good.
It was a bit quiet on the bird front, but the great thing about Scilly is even when birds are a little thin on the ground, it's a stunning place with loads of great people, so it was still a fantastic week.

In addition to the birds we started up a great tradition again and played the locals on the Garrison a game of 11-a-side football. Following on from tradition, the locals beat us 4-0. It sounds like we got thumped, but two of the goals were conceded within a couple of minutes in the first half due to Matt, our star centre back, going off briefly and a sudden gap in structure at the back opened up. The third goal was a very unlucky own goal from a corner and the third was a well worked goal by the locals. We had some trouble getting up the pitch so our number of chances were very minimal. A really enjoyable game however and definitely the start of a continuing tradition. See you next year!
Short-toed Lark - Its good side
Short-toed Lark - the side with the hugely exposed terital
The Turning circle at the airport proved to be a favoured haunt for our group
A 'bacon sandwich'
adult Spoonbill at Stony Island
Great flight views
I've hardly ever seen the colourful chin before!
1st winter Kittiwake from the Pelagic
Common Dolphins pretty much stole the show
They were a nightmare to photograph for me, but eventually got a few nice shots

They were bow riding for about 3 hours! Amazing experience
3 Puffins (don't worry, there was a third lone bird...) was a well overdue Scilly Tick and I think even a plumage tick in winter plumage!
A second 'Blyth's' Pipit turned up and was re-IDd from photos later on as a Richard's. Scott and I were there for just after dawn the following day and got nice views in awful light. It was regularly flushed by the incoming Skybus and landed next to the Short-toed Lark which was superb to see.
A picture is 1000 words!
The best photo I could manage of the Richard's Pipit in the early morning light.
A trip to St. Martin's was warranted with the presence of an Ortolan near Middle Town. We gave it a good couple of hours to no avail and as we were half way across the island, someone had picked it up in a field nearby to the original site, so we ran across the island proving just how unfit we all are!

The other star bird on St. Martin's was an Olive-backed Pipit, but with three ticks on the bird's face, it was looking very unwell and could hardly fly and regularly closed its eyes. It was not reported the following few days and it's easy to assume what happened to the stunning bird.


The bird I spent most time with was the Blyth's Pipit on Peninnis head which favoured three stone walled fields. Eventually I was rewarded with great views, but in the low light, photography was hard. To be able to compare Richard's and Blyth's on the same day was wonderfully educational though. It's a shame the Blyth's was hardly ever heard calling though as the Richard's was very vocal.





There was several Jack Snipe seen, mainly at Lower Moors and the above photo was taken near dark at Lower Moors. It carried it feeding as if we weren't there in typical Jack Snipe fashion
Great views of Common Snipe were also wonderfully photogenic
Black Redstarts were all over the place with a handful of males and this 1st winter bird which was seen a couple of times on the buildings and patio around our accommodation!



 A couple of Short-eared Owls were seen across the islands and I picked this bird up flying west over Bryher.
Stonechats were everywhere
Often reasonably approachable too
Turnstones provided great photographic opportunies at Porthcressa
As did this Meadow Pipit
One thing you can't escape on Scilly is House Sparrows. EVERYWHERE
 The Scilly subspecies of Speckled Wood was out in great numbers along with Small Copper, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Peacock.
The Scillonion 3

 Blyth's Pipit Twitch
Short-toed Lark twitch