Slavonian Grebe – Cleethorpes Country Park – 4th February 2017

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I was up on north Lincs this morning and due to the lovely weather, thought I'd have a shot at getting some nice photos of the Slavonian Grebe wintering on Cleethorpes Country Park. It did not disappoint in the ten minutes maximum I was there! I'd have stayed longer but my camera ran out of battery.
Slavonian Grebe - January 2008 - Barrow, Clitheroe, Lancs
I've come along a lot in my photography over the last few years and you'll see my last attempt at Slavonian Grebe photography from January 2008 in Barrow, near Clitheroe, Lancs. The weather and equipment certainly helped me, but even so. Always nice to show improvement!
http://zacswildlifeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2008/01/slavonian-grebe-barrow-lodge-sd740381.html

Taiga Bean Goose armchair – Cantley Marshes – 30th Januray 2017

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 I will start this off with a little confession. Previously, I've neglected Bean Geese for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and most embarrassingly, as I follow BOU rules for species listing, the two 'races' of Bean Geese aren't split so hasn't seemed all that important to know which is which. Secondly, I have in the past looked into the ID of Taiga from Tundra and I found the ID criteria a little ambiguous to say the least purely because they all seem variable and there are often birds that turn up that are in 'no man's land' and often get ID'd confidently as both by some observers.

This winter, I have been over to Norfolk a few times, with the main attraction being the adult Red-breasted Goose that I saw at Docking in late December. Within the main goose flock there, I saw up to 7 Tundra Bean Geese, Todd's Canada Goose, 4 Barnacle Geese and 15 European/Russian Whitefronts. I have found it really rewarding sifting through Pinkfeet flocks in the same way I find looking through gull flocks. I came away from this with an added interest in Bean Geese due to how seemingly similar yet entirely different they are to Pinkfeet. I remember seeing one individual you could pick out with the naked eye because it was so all over dark. The orange legs also really are something else, and even seeing an orange-legged Pinkfoot was nothing in comparison to the carrot legged pulses I had a growing fondness for.

It was to my great interest when the BOU officially declared they will be adopting the IOC world list as their official guidelines for the British Bird List meaning we will lose Lesser Redpoll/Mealy Redpoll as two species as well as Hudsonian Whimbrel/Eurasian Whimbrel. In contrast, we will gain Two-barred Greenish Warbler (split from Greenish), Daurian Shrike/Turkestan Shrike (Isabelline Split), Eastern Yellow Wagtail/Yellow Wagtail, Stejneger's Stonechat/Siberian Stonechat, Thayer's Gull/Iceland Gull and Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose. Whilst reading this, I lost out to both of the lumps and I have gained Stejneger's Stonechat and hopefully the Eastern Yellow Wagtail I saw on Scilly. One glaring omission for me was Taiga Bean Goose and I felt somewhat ashamed of that, especially considering how regularly I've been to Norwich in recent years with Danni and the regular flock that visits Buckenham/Cantley marshes.

By January 10th, the flock often have already departed, presumably to Netherlands or southern Scandinavia(?), but they had been reported quite recently, so Danni and I went to Buckenham last weekend. Sadly, there were no Beans or even Whitefronts to be seen, so we spoke to a local birder and he told us about how to view Cantley. Following his instructions, I got us to where I assumed he meant which was a random farm track and not even close to where he meant, but I got out and started scanning the bit of Cantley I could see. I managed to pick up several Whitefronts and a few pinks, but nothing that looked like a Bean. I, having assumed this was the right place, left confident that they must've disappeared. It was only later that night that I saw a Birdguides report that the flock of 6 were still there. Nightmare!

The monday morning came and I left Lincolnshire early to get to Cantley, but I got stuck in mammoth traffic in pretty much every town and village along the way, so it wasn't until 11:45 that I arrived on Burnt House Lane.

Almost straight away I was aware of the presence of c1000 geese which sounded different to what I'm used to and I was in awe at 350+ White-fronted Geese in amongst the pinkies. Whilst walking across the marsh when the flock took flight, I heard a much deeper honking which alerted my attention as 5 bean geese flew low over my head. I managed to get them in the scope and my first thought was how short, thick necked they looked and reasonably stubby billed. Listening to Xeno-canto, I surmised these were Tundra Bean Geese and I watched them fly off towards Strumpshaw.

I walked all the way round to the far side of the marsh, regularly stopping to scan the geese and could only spot the occasional Egyptian Goose in the Whitefronts/Pink-feet. After some prolonged shooting from the nearby woodlands, the whole flock took flight and headed east towards the coast. I thought I may have missed out on seeing Taiga for another year, but had one last scan before I walked back to the car. Half way out in the middle of the marsh, I spotted a group of grey geese all sat down by a gate. I noticed straight away there was orange on the bill and some had a surprising amount of orange there almost looking like immature whitefronts. I thought that alone made them very promising. There was something about the one I could see best however which was sat down with a narrow band across the bill and what appeared a shortish neck. I thought my first Taigas would be much more obvious than this and I was worried they were Tundra. Aside from the extensive orange bills to some, I wasn't getting a massive impression of anything different. They started to wake up a bit and waddle around. It was only then that I managed to notice how some of the birds did indeed have very long, thin necks almost swan-like. The bills were variable to say the least, but some had strikingly long bills which were accentuated by the lack of a protruding lower mandible, so they looking thin based too. Occasionally a hybrid Canada Goose would wander by and their large size would be evident. The whole flock all had darker heads than their body which is something I hadn't previously seen on Tundra.

 I managed to get a picture of a flapping wing which shows how long winged they looked and also the greyish wash to the coverts which I hadn't noticed before on any bean I've previously seen in flight. I think this may be due to being an adult, but I can't quite find enough information about it. The only previously bean goose I've photographed was a presumed adult Tundra at Aber Ogwen in Wales and that has dark coverts. It's something I am interested in looking into further.
In the end, I was happy I was watching Taiga Bean Geese and I must say, they have captured my interest absolutely and I can't seem to go a day without googling Bean Geese and trying to find out more about these interesting Ansers.

White-billed Diver – Woodhall Spa – 22nd January 2017

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It's not everyday an inland White-billed Diver turns up and by no means is it every day one turns up 20 minutes from your house! That's exactly what happened when this 1st winter bird graced the River Witham just north of Kirkstead Bridge in late-Janaury just into February.
I saw an adult with full summer plumage off Portsoy on the day Danni and I met in Scotland, so it was nice to see this juvenile so close to home with her (and the dog!).
Like most inland divers, seaducks and grebes, this was particularly bold and didn't really seem bothered by humans pointing expensive tubes at it and allowed for wonderful viewing. A great bird and one I've been back to see since, along with half of the birding world!

Black-throated Thrush – Adwick-upon-Dearne – 16th January 2017

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1st winter female Black-throated Thrush (bottom) with Redwing

Wow, I really have neglected this blog since last summer! A lot has happened since my last post including the remarkable invasion of Siberian Accentors into the UK. I was lucky enough to see the Spurn bird on the second the last day of its stay. I went to Scilly again in October and the only really ‘decent’ bird I managed to see was the 1st winter Eastern Yellow Wagtail which basically was a monochrome yellow wagtail and looked and sounded superb. The call was almost tree pipit-esque
Over the winter, there was a wonderful influx of rare birds and several people I know got more lifers in the month of December than any other month last year. I managed to get Dusky Thrush, Red-breasted Goose and Blue Rock Thrush, but one that I just couldn’t find the time or money to go and see was the St. Asaph Black-throated Thrush.
Black-throated Thrush has been high up on my list of birds to see for years and even the ‘dull’ females are charismatic beyond belief. I think it’s the colour grey with a hint of bright yellow at the base of the lower mandible that does it for me! I love a bird with a yellow bill-base.
I thought my luck was up when the St. Asaph bird disappeared, but I got a second chance when Adam Hutt and Heather found a 1stwinter female at Adwick-upon-Dearne in South Yorkshire. I set off early on the second day arriving just after 09:30 having hit some annoying traffic and walked along the river bank not really knowing where I was going. I soon spotted a group of telescopes all watching something and when I worked out where they were looking, I spotted a grey thrush-sized bird at the top of a Hawthorn. It almost immediately flew low into cover and I only managed to imagine what I’d seen. A few seconds later, I got a whistle from Tim Jones who spotted what he assumed was it flying from behind me over my head. As I turned, I heard a Ring Ouzel-like ‘chacking’ and noted a medium-sized all grey thrush. Excellent! It flew over the river and into deep cover. There were lots of Blackbirds and Redwings about all being very vocal and occasionally you could hear the Black-throated Thrush calling. Suddenly, a thrush appeared at the top of an alder with a Redwing and it was immediately obvious it was the Black-throated. It was obviously all grey and the dark streaking on the breast made it look all over dark from a distance. There was an obvious moustachial streak and weak supercillium and through a scope, you could just see the yellow bill base.
It suddenly flew revealing a warm underwing like a Redwing viewed through mist and flew off high towards Adwick. Most people seemed to stay still and didn’t really react at all which surprised me. I headed off down the river until I got to a spot where I could scan and within about 20 seconds I picked up the striking facial pattern of the Black-throated Thrush at the top of a distant tree maybe 1km away. It stayed at the top of this bush for about 3-4 minutes before flying again and perching in a low hawthorn barely visible and then a load of Redwings flushed nearby thanks to a dog walker innocently walking along a footpath, which flushed the Black-throated too.

The views were by no means jaw dropping, but it was great to see in the flesh , hear it call and also note how big it was compared to Redwing. I always assumed they would be larger than that like a big Ring Ouzel.

Scilly Pelagics – August 2016

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Another August, another set of pelagics. This year I did 7 pelagics with the first pelagic of the year being a private 'charter' for Scott's stag do, or a 'Staglagic'. This was without a doubt the best of the 7 and we were lucky to get 22 Cory's Shearwater and a couple of Great Shearwater (The only Cory's we saw on the trip). However, the star bird, and the species that has taken me back to the islands 3 times so far is Wilson's Storm-petrel. We were treated to at least 5 of these wonderful seabirds and they were on view from 18:25-c9pm. Just absolutely everything I had hoped for and it made for a fantastic evening! We ended up in the Mermaid in celebration and that's about all I can remember!










Later on the trip the weather wasn't quite on my side so there were several extremely quiet pelagics. Saturday's was the best of the further 6 pelagics though. A summary list includes:
Monday 8th - Sooty Shearwater.
Thursday 11th - Sooty Shearwater.
Friday 12th - Wilson's Storm-petrel, Sooty Shearwater, 4 Risso's Dolphin,
Saturday 13th - adult Sabine's Gull (self-found), Great Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, dark Arctic Skua, 5 Risso's Dolphin, 10+ Common Dolphin, 2 Minke Whale, Greenfinch! Also a Hooded Crow on St. Martin's.
Sunday 14th - 2 Sooty Shearwater, c40 Common Dolphin, Ocean Sunfish
Monday 15th - 1st summer Long-tailed Skua (self-found), 3 Common Dolphin




















The F Word

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 Broad-billed Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin and Broad-billed Sandpiper

Frampton Marsh is superb! Wader passage is in full swing now and the interesting waders are starting to show in amongst them. A couple of Pectoral Sandpipers in Lincs started to spark my interest and when a Broad-billed Sandpiper joined a Pectoral Sandpiper at Frampton last weekend, I had to twitch it with Jonnie Fisk. The view from the 360 hide was excellent with a lot of wader mud right in front of the hide. Both birds were only about 60 feet out from the hide and eventually the Pec came to 50ft and the Broad-billed only about 40ft. Really exceptional views of two fabulous waders. Pectoral Sandpiper in particular is a bird I've always thought were one of the smartest looking waders to occur in Britain. Never tire of seeing them. This is also the second Broad-billed Sandpiper I've seen and the second I've seen at Frampton this year! In addition to the two stars, a Little Stint, 2 Curlew Sandpiper Spotted Redshank and several Ruff made for a lovely passage as well as loads of juvenile Little Ringed Plover, again, in front of the hide which made for great viewing.

Later in the week, an adult White-rumped Sandpiper, presumably from Snettisham, appeared on the same pool, but a little further back. I managed to fit in a flying visit and the scope views were decent as it fed amongst Dunlin. The weather was poor and photography was very difficult, so I won't insult you with hideous record video grabs that could be anything. I have only seen one White-rumped Sandpiper before, at Hoylake in 2012, and I was struck by how skinny that was. The same can be said with this bird. Compared to the Dunlin, they are so slender and with the massive long primary projection, they just look so long. The full supercillium stood out even at that range and the monotonal cold grey stood out against the ginger juvenile Dunlin and brown and black-bellied adults Dunlin. Very smart bird

Chamber’s Farm Wood – 5th June 2016

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Enjoying the wonderful weather, I headed to Chamber's Farm Woods in Lincs with the dog looking for Grizzled Skipper, plus the other specialities such as Wood White, Marsh Fritillary and Dingy Skipper. 
Marsh Fritillary
Marsh Fritillary
mating Marsh Fritillary
Mother Shipton moth
Dingy Skipper

Having dipped my only lifer, Grizzled Skipper, I went to the butterfly garden by the car park and was rewarded with two Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoths. Having missed out on these several times, it was excellent to get great views of this enchanting species. 
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

On the way home, I came across two Corn Buntings singing on the edge of patch. A lovely bird to have breeding so close to home.
Corn Bunting

Patch bird race – 23rd January 2016

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 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!

Old Bolingbroke – The new patch #PWC2016

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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.

2015 in short – It was Excellent!

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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!